Cal Fire Details Crew’s Struggle With Dangerous Terrain in Santa Cruz Mountains Wildfire

A blaze that began as a house fire spread into surrounding trees and brush in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Oct. 16. (KTVU via YouTube)

Cal Fire has issued its preliminary review of an October fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains that was relatively modest in size but caused an unusually high number of firefighter injuries.

The agency’s “green sheet” report on the 391-acre Bear Fire, near Boulder Creek, details one crew’s struggle to combat the blaze in the predawn darkness while contending with extremely rugged terrain that became almost as dangerous as the fire itself.

The five-member hand crew was among the first to battle the blaze off Bear Creek Canyon Road in the early morning hours of Oct. 17. Hours after the suspected arson fire started, the green sheet says, the team found itself facing extreme danger.

As the blaze burned in a precipitous, heavily forested canyon, the crew faced what wildland firefighters call a “rollout”: Burning logs tumbled down the slope toward them, starting small spot fires outside containment lines and forcing them to try to scramble to safety.

As they headed toward a primary escape route, the rollout intensified, so they needed to find another way to a creek bed below them, according to Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jake Hess, the Bear Fire’s incident commander.

But struggling to negotiate the steep terrain in the dark, team members began falling down the canyon.

“The earth literally gave out underneath these firefighters,” Hess said in an interview.

Two firefighters fell 50 feet down to the creek, yelling as they dropped. A third firefighter fell, his head slamming against a rock on the way down. Then two other firefighter slipped and fell.

“Emergency traffic, firefighter down!” a captain radioed, initiating what Cal Fire calls an “incident within an incident” protocol.

The firefighter who hit his head was seriously injured. Two firefighters created a makeshift harness from his chainsaw chaps and other gear.

As they were pulling him back up the canyon, one of the firefighters shielded his hurt comrade from a falling rock, a move that broke his arm. Another firefighter suffered a broken hand as yet another rock fell out.

The firefighter with the worst injury was taken by helicopter to a hospital. A week later Cal Fire reported the injury to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, prompting the agency’s only investigation into a firefighter injury in connection with the dozens of wildfires that broke out around the state in October, according to Cal/OSHA spokesman Frank Polizzi.

In all, 13 firefighters were injured battling the Bear Fire, according to authorities. Most of the injuries were minor.

The Bear Fire broke out a week after huge, destructive fires swept Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Butte counties. Those blazes killed 43 people, including one firefighter who died when his water tanker crashed in the hills west of the Napa County town of Yountville.

More than 1,000 firefighters battled the Bear Fire, which in addition to burning 391 acres also destroyed two homes, four outbuildings, five RVs and 17 other vehicles, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Marlon Coy, 54, of Boulder Creek for allegedly setting the fire. He was charged with several arson counts.

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Northern California Fire Scams Worse Than Previously Thought

A home burning in Napa’s Atlas Fire. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

Federal officials suspect there have been tens of thousands of fraudulent claims filed for disaster relief following the deadly Northern California fires. That estimate means it’s a much bigger problem than they previously thought.

“It is an awful lot,” said FEMA spokesman Frank Mansell.

A couple of weeks ago FEMA had said fraudulent claims numbered in the thousands.

In some cases, residents have gotten fake mail, phone calls or in-person visits from people claiming to be federal officials.

Officials say the process of vetting claims for disaster relief is thorough, but that people should be prepared to respond if they suspect fraud or identity theft in the wake of the Northern California fires.

Here are common frauds, which you can also find on FEMA’s website.

What you need to know to avoid common types of fraud:

  • Beware of anyone claiming to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the state initiating visits, calls or emails asking for an applicant’s Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information.
  • Avoid scam artists who promise a disaster grant and ask for cash or advance payments in full.
  • Keep in mind federal workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications.
  • Provide your Social Security number and banking information only when registering for FEMA assistance, either by calling 800-621-3362, TTY 800-462-7585, or going online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or the smartphone FEMA app.
  • If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services, call 800-621-3362. Operators are multilingual and calls are answered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Avoid phony housing inspectors: Owners/applicants may be especially vulnerable to phony housing inspectors claiming to represent FEMA or SBA. An applicant should always:

  • Ask to see the inspector’s identification badge. All federal employees and contractors carry official laminated photo identification.
  • Inspectors should also have each applicant’s nine-digit registration number.
  • FEMA inspectors never require banking information.
  • Note that FEMA housing inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. They do not determine your eligibility for assistance.

If you aren’t filing for disaster relief but suspect someone is using your identity, contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or by email at disaster@leo.gov.

If you are trying to apply for disaster relief but someone has used your identity to open an application, bring identification such as a driver’s license or utility bill to a local disaster assistance center and notify FEMA officials there, Mansell says. They will help re-register people and issue a new registration number, he said.

Some people are getting home visits by people claiming to be from FEMA. Mansell said FEMA workers will call before coming to inspect properties and if they schedule an appointment, they will offer their government ID. After the application is initiated, FEMA says the process should include interviews and collection of more details before approval.

“There’s a lot more checks and balances,” Mansell says.

Any suspected fraud cases will be forwarded to the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he said. An official at that agency declined to say how many claims are under investigation.

The deadline to file for disaster relief is Dec. 13.

If you suspect criminal or suspicious activity related to disaster relief or if you received a letter from the U.S. Small Business Administration and you did not apply for disaster relief with FEMA or the SBA, report to the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or by email at disaster@leo.gov and contact SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955.

KQED wants to hear your story. Have you experienced a fraudulent claim or potential scam following the North Bay fires? Please email reporter Devin Katayama at dkatayama@kqed.org.

Sukey Lewis contributed to this report.

Utility Judge Proposed Cost Cut for Nuke Closure Could Mean Higher Rates for Customers

 

Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

By Associated PressNOVEMBER 12, 2017

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A state judge Wednesday recommended that California’s largest utility be allowed to increase customer rates by nearly $200 million for costs tied to the planned closing of the state’s last operating nuclear plant.

If approved, the plan for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is expected to add a few pennies a month to bills for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers.

The proposed decision by California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge Peter V. Allen trimmed tens of millions of dollars from the request from PG&E.

The utility asked for $360 million for employee retention and training, which the judge cut to about $170 million.

The judge also set aside a plan to use $85 million for assistance for local governments, saying it would require legislative authorization.

“The question before this commission is not whether there will be economic impacts, or even the potential size and scope of those impacts, but rather whether PG&E ratepayers should pay to mitigate these impacts,” the judge wrote.

The utility’s proposal stems from a 2016 agreement between PG&E and environmental groups to close Diablo Canyon, located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, by 2025.

The commission could consider the judge’s proposal in December.

PG&E said in a statement it disagreed with the judge’s decision to cut the funds.

The utility said the judge’s recommendation “differs in regards to certain key areas, including the employee, community and energy replacement programs. PG&E strongly disagrees with these proposed adjustments.”

The utility’s proposal is separate from the multibillion-dollar plan to decommission Diablo Canyon, under which the site would eventually be dismantled.

The twin-reactor plant has been operating commercially since the mid-1980s, supplying power to about 3 million homes in Northern and Central California.

The judge endorsed the schedule to retire the reactors, Unit 1 in 2024 and Unit 2 in 2025, when their federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating licenses expire. He wrote it provides “a reasonable amount of time for the transition process.”

EXPLORE: ENVIRONMENTNEWSDIABLO CANYONENERGYNUCLEAR POWERPG&EPOWER PLANT

The Republican tax plan wages war on the housing industry

by Jordan Weissmann –homebuilderREUTERS/Mike Blake

  • The Republican tax plan is a declaration of war against the housing industry.
  • The bill undercuts the mortgage interest deduction by doubling the standard deduction that all Americans can take.
  • It also caps the amount of property taxes that families can deduct at $10,000.

There are lots of ways to think about the tax plan that House Republican leaders finally unveiled today. It is, as expected, a gift to large corporations, which would see their top tax rate plummet from 35 to 20 percent.

It’s also a boon for children of wealth, who would no longer have to worry about the estate tax eating into their inheritance. Accountants should do well too if it passes, since many of the bill’s changes to the tax code are comically complicated.

But the thing that stands out most to me about this legislation is its declaration of war against the housing industry. Politically, that may also be its greatest vulnerability.

The House GOP is looking to make a handful major changes that could put a dent in home prices. First, it lowers the value of the mortgage interest deduction. Today, taxpayers can deduct interest on home loans worth up to $1 million. Republicans would drop the cap to $500,000 for future home  purchases, limiting its value for luxury real estate buyers (or families stuck house-hunting in San Francisco or New York).

The bill undercuts the mortgage interest deduction in another, more subtle way, by doubling the standard deduction that all Americans can take, to $24,000 for couples. As a result, fewer taxpayers are likely to itemize, which will reduce the tax advantages of owning.

Finally, it caps the amount of property taxes that families can deduct at $10,000. This, too, mostly affects the wealthy; it’s sure to be felt in some tony New York, New Jersey, and California suburbs.

There are some things to like about these changes. As I’ve written before, the mortgage interest deduction is a terrible piece of public policy in desperate need of reform. It’s a historical accident that, according to most analyses, has largely failed to encourage home-ownership, instead prompting Americans who can already afford a down payment to buy bigger houses.

Its benefits also skew towards the wealthy. The GOP plan attacks it from both above and below, significantly narrowing its benefits. Few voters will lose sleep over the fact that hedge funders in Greenwich, Connecticut won’t be able to deduct as much of their property taxes.

paul ryanAlex Wong/Getty Images

With all that said, these overnight changes are also very likely to drag down real estate prices all across the country. The mortgage-interest deduction is baked into the value of today’s homes, and seriously curtailing it will hurt their worth (though exactly how much is a little difficult to say).

That may sound appealing to young renters looking to one day buy. It’ll be less pleasing to the nearly two-thirds of Americans who currently own.

And it’s going to cause a riot among people who make a living buying and selling houses. The National Association of Home Builders has come out hard against the bill, warning that it could cause “a national housing recession.” The realtors lobby says the bill appears to “confirm many of our biggest concerns” about the GOP’s plan. “Eliminating or nullifying the tax incentives for homeownership puts home values and middle class homeowners at risk, and from a cursory examination this legislation appears to do just that.”

These are powerful interests spread across every congressional district in the country, who are threatening campaign aimed at convincing home-owners that this tax bill will kill their home equity. I’d say that it’s impressive that Republicans decided to pick this battle, except that they’re doing it largely for the sake of tax cuts aimed at Walmart and Exxon shareholders.

The bill fires a much larger shot at the housing industry than most expected. The changes to the standard deduction were long anticipated, and there had been lots of speculation that the GOP would do away with the state and local tax deduction entirely (in comparison, simply capping property tax breaks is a gentler move). People did not expect Republicans to go after the mortgage interest deduction directly by lowering its cap. In doing so, they’ve upped the ante.

You can sort of see the political logic if you squint hard enough. The home building lobby announced it would oppose the bill last week, as soon as it became clear the legislation would not contain a new credit for homeowners. Republican leaders may have figured that if they were picking a fight with real estate interests, they might as well try to squeeze as much revenue out of them as possible, since they’re already struggling to limit the budget done by this bill.

But as a result, they’re setting up an extremely high-stakes battle — not just with a powerful industry, but possibly with every homeowner in America.

Read the original article on Slate. Copyright 2017. Follow Slate on Twitter.

GOP leaders unveil key details in new tax plan

House Speaker Paul Ryan described the proposal, which lowers the number of tax brackets from seven to four and increases the standard deduction, as a series of tax cuts and breaks aimed at helping most Americans.
“It’s very clear and obvious that the whole purpose of this is a middle-class tax cut,” Ryan said shortly after the bill was made public. “And more to the point, we need to get faster economic growth.”
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said during Republicans’ news conference that the tax bill “has President (Donald) Trump’s full support.”
The President issued a statement applauding the bill’s release but added “there is much work left to do.” Trump later told reporters in the Oval Office that a tax reform bill will be done “before Christmas,” calling it “one of the great Christmas presents.”
However, not all Republicans were happy. Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York tweeted that he planned to vote no on the bill in its current form, citing the proposal’s elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes, also known as SALT.
“I am a NO to House #TaxReform bill in its current form. A lot of good aspects, but its not there yet,” he tweeted, linking to a longer statement.
According to the bill, individuals would still be able to deduct their local and state property taxes but only up to $10,000.
For that reason, the legislation has struck a nerve with other New York and New Jersey Republicans. Brady already made a key concession when he said that he said he would still allow individuals to deduct their property taxes in the new bill. But that wasn’t enough for some who wanted to see the income deduction restored as well.
The bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, would permanently lower the corporate tax rate to 20% and limit the home interest deduction to loans up to $500,000. The bill would also increase the standard deduction for individuals and households, repeal the alternative minimum tax and increase the child tax credit to $1,600. The House GOP bill would also repeal the estate tax in 2024.

GOP leader quotes Reagan

According to another source in the GOP meeting, Brady started his tax presentation with a quote from Ronald Reagan, the last President to sign a massive tax reform bill.
“I feel like we just played the World Series of Tax Reform and the American people won,” Brady said, quoting remarks Reagan made when signing his tax overhaul from the 1980s. Brady is a Texas Republican whose Houston Astros won the World Series just hours before.
Despite the optimistic tone set by GOP leaders, there are still key questions about what will be in the bill and whether the leadership can wrangle the votes they will need to deliver President Donald Trump a major legislative victory by the end of the year.
Now, the hard work begins of both selling the bill and keeping special interests at bay. Many lobbyists on K Street and outside groups admit the GOP lawmakers have kept a tight lid on the process. Once groups see what has been cut and what has been saved, winners and losers will be defined and the fight to preserve valuable tax breaks will begin. Over the weekend, one group, the National Association of Home Builders, already came out against the not-even-released bill.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, notes he’s from a state with high state and local taxes and says lawmakers pushing for changes need to take a broader look at how the reform package will benefit their constituents.
“What’s happening is people are looking at this as one item instead of looking at everything we are doing, lowering the rate, doubling the standard deduction,” McCarthy told CNN. “You’re better off with this.”
In advance of the bill’s release, some Republicans were already criticizing the details. On Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the $600 proposed child tax credit increase in the House’s tax reform plan wasn’t enough.
“House #TaxReform plan is only starting point.But $600 #ChildTaxCredit increase doesn’t achieve our & @POTUS goal of helping working families,” he wrote.
During a conversation with reporters last Wednesday, Rubio said a $2,000 child tax credit was necessary to provide tangible relief to middle-class families. In 2015, Rubio, joined by Republican Sen. Mike Lee, proposed a child tax credit worth $2,500 per child.

Lessons from health care failure

Republican leaders have argued that the party learned valuable lessons from the health care debate that crashed and burned in the Senate this summer.
But, already, the GOP encountered a setback Tuesday with deadlines when Brady announced that the bill’s release would be delayed by a single day. Some members also fear the GOP’s tax effort in the House has shared some frustrating parallels with Obamacare repeal.
For one, Republicans are spooked by the ambitious timeline that has been laid out by their leadership. Members are expecting to get a massive tax bill Thursday only to turn around and amend it in committee days later.
“We started differently on tax reform than we did health care, but I hope that we don’t end up back on the same tracks that led us to the debacle on health care,” said Rep. Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “We know this is going to be hundreds of pages and being able to take the time to process it fairly is something that is crucial.”

Repealing Obamacare mandate?

Another twist that came up in the hours before the bill was released came from Trump himself.
The President tweeted Wednesday morning that he wanted to see a repeal of the individual mandate in the tax bill, a move that many House and Senate republicans openly admitted would complicate the process.
“Wouldn’t it be great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare and use those savings for further Tax Cuts for the Middle Class. The House and Senate should consider ASAP as the process of final approval moves along. Push Biggest Tax Cuts EVER,” Trump wrote in a series of two consecutive tweet“I do not believe you are going to see anything health care related in this bill — at the eleventh hour 59 minute, 58 second mark, I don’t,” Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York told reporters.
There’s no time to even deal with it, that I see,” Collins said flatly, adding, “I believe we are too far along.”
New Jersey GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur, who has been pressing leaders to maintain a tax deduction for property taxes told reporters he’s still negotiating with leaders, and if he and others from high tax states don’t get what they want in the bill unveiled tomorrow they will keep pushing as the measure moves through the legislative process.
“If the bill can’t pass, there will be compromises,” MacArthur said. “I guarantee you that.”

All That Online Shopping You’re Doing? It’s Also Bringing Jobs to Inland California

Distribution centers are becoming more automated, but increased demand from consumers is still creating more jobs. (Erasmo Martinez/KQED)

The unemployment rate in Santa Clara County — the heart of Silicon Valley — is 3.8 percent. The rate is even lower in other tech-focused cities in the region, such as Cupertino, Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

The tech sector is driving those jobs, from Apple to Google to Facebook.

One of the biggest areas of growth continues to be within e-commerce. E-commerce jobs have existed in Silicon Valley since the dawn of the first dot-com era, way back in the late 1990s. Remember, if you will, Pets.com.

But the Silicon Valley e-commerce jobs aren’t stockers and shippers and blue-collar jobs — the office parks for e-commerce companies in Silicon Valley are filled with software engineers, web developers and marketers.

But as e-commerce, or online shopping, has grown, it has fueled another type of job: Jobs in warehouses and distribution centers, where the stuff we order gets sorted, packed and shipped.

One measure of this growth is in jobs labeled as “general warehousing” by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In California, those jobs jumped dramatically from 57,047 in 2007 to 90,263 in 2016. The growth has been concentrated in places like the Inland Empire, which helps fill demand from customers in and around Los Angeles. In Riverside County, for instance, warehouse jobs quadrupled from 4,944 to 20,567 between 2007 and 2016.

According to economist Michael Mandel with the Progressive Policy Institute, online shopping has the potential to bring employment to areas far beyond Silicon Valley, including areas like Riverside County, which are in need of jobs and growth.

“These are jobs that are fairly well paid. They are not entry-level retail jobs,” said Mandel. “They’ve got decent salaries and very often are full benefits. So this really makes a difference to the growth of a region like this, helping pull jobs out of the concentrated center cities, those really dense areas, to areas that really need it.”

Mandel said the growth in the number of warehouse-related jobs has more than offset the stagnation of jobs in the world of brick-and-mortar retail. Mandel acknowledged that the jobs are quite different, and in some cases more difficult.

“These are basically industrial jobs,” said Mandel. “They’re hard work. They’re physical labor.

“They’re hard work, but they’re also decently paid,” he added.

However, there have been complaints and concerns that the jobs don’t, in fact, pay well enough. That’s especially true in the Central Valley town of Tracy, which is home to two large Amazon distribution centers among many others.

In San Joaquin County, where Tracy is located, warehouse jobs increased from 4,338 in 2007 to 11,691 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, housing costs in Tracy have skyrocketed, and warehouse wages haven’t been able to keep up.

As companies like Amazon push the boundaries of automation in their distribution centers, there is a fear that these jobs could be short-lived. A recent study from McKinseyranked different job sectors where machines are most likely to replace humans, and “Transportation and Warehousing” ranked near the top. That’s because jobs with lots of repetitive tasks, like those often done in warehouses, are most at risk from automation.

For now, however, there are some jobs that people do better than robots — things like picking delicate or oddly-shaped items from a shelf. In many cases, people and machines are working side by side. And it appears that ever-growing demand for online shopping is only creating more jobs.

The map below shows data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for general warehouse jobs in 2016. Counties in a darker shade of red had more jobs. The average county had 3,600 general warehouse jobs in 2016.

https://kqednews.carto.com/builder/1890cc75-cd7d-4123-b27c-ef24553dd6ea/embed

The Associated Press contributed data to this report.

Tips from an HOA Board for a Safe Halloween in Your Association

by HOA Manager –

little_girl_dressed_for_Halloween

Halloween is a kid’s delight. It’s a blast to dress up in costumes, go trick-or-treating, attend parties and most of all, eat a lot of candy. At the same time, Halloween can be scary for parents. Costumes can be dangerous, too much candy can be sickening and walking around at night can be risky, even in your homeowners association community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionoffers the tips below to make sure your little ghouls and goblins have a SAFE HALLOWEEN. It’s not too late for your HOA board to hand them out to the members in your Association.

Halloween Safety Tips:

S – Swords, knives and similar costume accessories should be short, soft and flexible.

A – Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Children should walk in groups or with a trusted adult.

F – Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see trick-or-treaters.

E – Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before they’re eaten.

 

H – Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help see and help others see you.

A – Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it when done to avoid skin irritation.

L – Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.

L – Lower the risk for serious eye injury by avoiding decorative contact lenses.

O – Only walk on sidewalks or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.

W – Wear well-fitting masks, costumes and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips and falls.

E – Eat only factory-wrapped candy. Avoid eating homemade treats unless you know the cook.

E – Enter homes only if you’re with a trusted adult.

N – Never walk near lit candles or other open flames. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

If members will be hosting a party in your homeowners association or expecting trick-or-treaters recommend they:

  • Provide healthy treats, such as individual packs of raisins, trail mix or pretzels. Offer fruits, vegetables and cheeses to party guests.
  • Use party games and trick-or-treating as an opportunity for kids to get their daily dose of 60 minutes of physical activity.
  • Be sure walking areas and stairs are well-lit and free of obstacles that could cause falls.
  • Keep candlelit jack-o-lanterns and other open flames away from doorsteps, walkways, landings and curtains. Place them on sturdy tables, keep them out of reach of pets and small children, and never leave them unattended.
  • Drive safely and watch out for trick-or-treaters.
  • Be aware of the Association rules, especially regarding decorations, parking, and noise.

It’s the role of the HOA board to protect, maintain, and enhance the homeowners association. Keeping members informed or even providing a place where they can gather to celebrate Halloween – such as the clubhouse – will help everyone have a fun and safe Halloween.

Encourage your HOA board members to pass out these simple guidelines to members to promote a safe environment to enjoy Halloween in your homeowners association for parents and kids too!