Watchdog: Water fines rise as tempers flare

There’s that house in Yorba Linda owned by folks who live out of the country: The sprinklers were never adjusted for a state-ordered 36 percent water cut.

In Trabuco Canyon, a homeowner died and the property headed to auction. A company handling the transaction wasn’t keeping a close eye on things and didn’t learn there was a malfunction with the automatic pool-fill valve until water overflowed and gushed into the gutter – several times in one week.

Over five months, county water agencies have slapped more than 10,000 penalty assessments on customers like these for violating conservation rules. Rules vary from agency to agency, as do conservation targets, but they are intended to help hit tough reductions mandated by the state.

Most fines are small, less than $20 or so, but they will escalate for repeat offenders, officials say.

Those on the receiving end of penalties are none too happy.

Jon Hansen, a Yorba Linda homeowner, has gone over allotment several times, paying an extra $20 to $40 a month in “administrative penalties” charged to customers who exceed their allotment.

“I’ve cut back 21 percent from 2013, even while I’ve added five people to my household,” Hansen said. “So using 21 percent less water, my bill has gone up 54 percent.”

Ninety percent of the penalties issued in Orange County came from San Clemente, for reasons we’ll explain later. From April 15 to Sept. 15, the city accounted for 9,078 of the county’s total penalties, which is 15 percent of all penalties issued in California.

The tiny Serrano Water District, which covers mostly Villa Park, kicked out 740 penalties over that period; the South Coast Water District, 185; Newport Beach, 92; Tustin, 48; Yorba Linda Water District, 21; Westminster, seven; Brea, six; Seal Beach and La Palma, three each; and Trabuco Canyon Water District, one.

For a sense of scale, the giant Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issued 68 penalties. The city of San Diego issued 131.

Penalties so far this year, just in Orange County, have generated more than $1 million.

CRACKDOWN STARTS

The spring started off quietly, with only five penalties assessed in Orange County in April. In July, that exploded to 3,947.

Only the city of Clovis has surpassed San Clemente in penalties assessed from April to September, with 23,692.

“When I saw that number, I thought, wow. San Clemente and Clovis are the harshest in the state?” said San Clemente Assistant City Manager Erik Sund.

But the two cities’ tremendous penalty totals don’t mean residents have flooded the streets so that they can sail off in gondolas. Each month, San Clemente and Clovis count each instance of customers using more water than they’re supposed to as a penalty, and they report it to the state as such. Most other agencies do not.

Getting charged more for using excess water in, say, Yorba Linda, is considered an “administrative penalty,” not a violation of the conservation ordinance. Thus it is not logged.

In San Clemente, about 3,000 accounts have exceeded water restrictions for several months, and they’ve been charged “drought penalties” and reported to the state, said Tom Rendina, businesses services officer.

The city has collected $921,000 in drought penalties so far, and that total will be going up. Many accounts exceed their water allocation by only one or two units in a billing cycle, so penalties are in the $7 to $14 range, Rendina explained. A large percentage of the scofflaws are repeat offenders, with the same accounts penalized month after month “as they have not lowered their consumption to comply with the governor’s mandated 24 percent reduction for San Clemente.”

RECYCLED WATER?

Like other agencies, San Clemente must use the penalty money to bolster conservation efforts. The city is putting together a list of options that includes turf replacement and more use of recycled water, Sund said.

Tiny Serrano Water District, which has about 2,400 customers, was told to cut use by 36 percent and has collected $117,896 in fines since April, said general manager Jerry Vilander.

Agencies that fail to meet their mandated reductions face stiff fines from the state, and Serrano simply cannot afford to fail, Vilander said. It let customers know that in April, and the agency has logged 43.2 percent savings from June through September, according to state figures.

About two-thirds of Serrano’s customers are meeting the goal, and much of the remainder have cut back – but not deeply enough.

Then there are customers “who will do anything they can to get out of the penalty,” Vilander said.

One customer stands out. “They went on Facebook and shamed the water district for being so irrational and horrible” for imposing a fine, Vilander said. “Then they admit (in that same post) they’d had a big party with a water slide and left the water on all day.”

Newport Beach has assessed more than $22,000 in penalties since the beginning of the year. The city expects the number of citations to jump from 44 in September to more than 100 in October. That number could grow exponentially from there.

According to a report on September compliance, 36 percent of single-family households, 54 percent of commercial properties and 50 percent of multifamily facilities were not meeting water-use targets. Like other agencies, Newport Beach spent months educating residents on which days they could irrigate lawns. But the time for door-hangers and pamphlets is over, as the state’s deadline for reductions looms.

“I really did try to hold off,” said George Murdoch, municipal operations director for Newport Beach. The city charges $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second violation and $500 for further violations.

Roughly 300 customers will get “notice of violation” letters warning them they’re going over their limit this month, likely followed by citations in the next billing cycle, Murdoch said. Some users are 100 percent to 200 percent over their allotted water-use limit.

“That’s a big lifestyle change for those users,” Murdoch said.

The vast majority of customers are working hard to conserve and are doing so without too much moaning and groaning, most every agency reported.

Many customers are incensed that they’re using less water but are getting fined nonetheless.

‘GENTLE’ YORBA LINDA

A veritable mutiny is underway in Yorba Linda, where big green lots traditionally have been watered with abandon. With a 36 percent mandated cut and rate hikes, those days are over.

The Yorba Linda Water District is simply “following every state mandate to the letter, and adopted a penalty structure to encourage conservation,” said spokesman Damon Micalizzi. “The penalties are not very punitive. We haven’t had any fines from the state yet for missing our target, and until that happens, we’re taking a gentle, educational approach.”

Mr. Nice Guy may soon be gone. Many officials are anticipating the winter with a greater-than-usual amount of dread.

Cutting back 36 percent in summer is easy, as people can stop watering outdoors, said Luke Serpa, public utilities director for Clovis, the toughest penalty-assessor in the state.

But people don’t water outdoors much in the winter. So where is that 36 percent supposed to come from in January?

In a flash of defiance, Clovis has suspended its conservation ordinance. It will not fine people who fail to conserve 36 percent through the winter months.

If the state follows through with threats to fine scofflaw agencies up to $10,000 a day for failing to conserve enough water – well, Clovis has collected $760,000 in penalties, and it will use that money to pay, Serpa said.

Contact the writer: tsforza@ocregister.com mnicolai@ocregister.com

Paris on edge as stampede at Republique spreads unfounded panic

The guitarist on Location de la Republique was playing via the last chords of Supertramp’s Farewell Complete stranger when the charge started late Sunday.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals had actually collected on the square in the eastern of Paris in a program of solidarity and defiance complying with Friday’s terrorist assaults that claimed the lives of at the very least 132 individuals. They got into spontaneous performances of La Marseillaise and also chants of ‘Liberte’– liberty– just as they had after the January attack on Charlie Hebdo. All it required to shatter that breakable atmosphere was a few firecrackers.

The panic spread from the north-west edge of the square a little before 7 p.m. No-one recognized what had happened yet they just weren’t going to hesitate: everyone ran. Some yelled for the bunch to reduce as the crowd risked ending up being a crush as well as they feared that some may be trampled underfoot.

The crowd left for stairwells as well as public parking lot. They stayed clear of cafes, fearing a repeat of Friday, when bars and restaurants were targeted by the gunmen. Some were in tears, having actually become divided from enjoyed ones in the middle of the complication. Cellphones were drawn out of pockets by trembling hands, at first to attempt as well as find one an additional, after that to set up where they had wound up. Numerous had thoughtlessly run away down streets as well as side street. Motorcycles that revved a little also difficult or automobiles that increased a little too quick motivated individuals afresh to avoid entrances as well as windows.

Panic Mode

When reports circulated that chances had been discharged on Area de la Republique, people sought to put as several wall surfaces as feasible in between themselves and also the roadway. Then word spread that a cafe numerous hundred lawns away had likewise taken gunfire.

Neither account held true: it transpired the panic was started by bit greater than some ‘petards’– the firecrackers which are a staple of French institution playground pranksters.

It was an unlike the dignified grieving of those influenced by the assaults in an additional component of the city. At the Ecole Militaire, the armed forces academy in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, where assistance services were being offered to friends and families of targets, along with those present for the attacks, many hugged and wiped splits from their eyes, consoling each various other as they left the sandstone complex.

Paris is a city quite considerably on side.

Terror in Paris: ISIS claims responsibility for attacks, calls them ‘first of the storm’

PARIS – The Eiffel Tower stood dark in a symbol of mourning Saturday night as France struggled to absorb the deadliest violence on its soil since World War II: coordinated gun-and-suicide bombing attacks across Paris that left at least 129 people dead and 352 injured.

President Francois Hollande vowed that France would wage “merciless” war on the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the mayhem, as investigators raced to track down their accomplices and uncovered possible links to networks in Belgium and Syria.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said three groups of attackers, including seven suicide bombers, carried out the “act of barbarism” that shattered a Parisian Friday night.

He said the attackers in the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people died, mentioned Syria and Iraq during their rampage. Of the hundreds wounded in the six attacks, 99 were in critical condition.

Seven attackers launched gun attacks at Paris cafes, detonated suicide bombs near France’s national stadium and killed hostages inside the concert venue during a show by an American rock band — an attack on the heart of the pulsing City of Light.

Ahsan Naeem, a 39-year-old filmmaker, said he’s been to many of the places that were attacked Friday.

“I’ve seen dozens of gigs at the Bataclan. Eaten at the Petit Cambodge. Sat outside Le Carillon on so many nights,” said Naeem, who has lived in Paris for seven years. “All those places will have been full of my people. My friends. My acquaintances.”

Late Saturday, a crowd of up to 250 people gathered for an impromptu candlelight vigil at the Place de la Republique, the site of a massive demonstration in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings earlier this year.

Adrien Chambel, a 27-year-old law student, said the crowd was much sparser than in January. “You feel that people are petrified,” Chambel said.

Hollande, who declared three days of national mourning and raised the nation’s security to its highest level, called the carnage “an act of war that was prepared, organized, planned from abroad with internal help.”

The president said France would increase its military efforts to crush IS. He said France — which is part of a U.S.-led coalition bombing suspected IS targets in Syria and Iraq and also has troops fighting Islamic militants in Africa — “will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group.”

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility in an online statement in Arabic and French circulated by supporters. It was not immediately possible to confirm the authenticity of the claim, which bore the group’s logo and resembled previous verified statements from the group.

The statement called Paris “the capital of prostitution and obscenity” and mocked France’s air attacks on suspected IS targets in Syria and Iraq, saying France’s air power was “of no use to them in the streets and rotten alleys of Paris.”

Many of Paris’s top tourist attractions closed down Saturday, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Disneyland theme park east of the capital. Some 3,000 troops were deployed to help restore order and reassure a frightened populace.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that all public demonstrations would be banned until Thursday and local governments throughout the country would have the option to impose nightly curfews.

The attacks, on an unusually balmy November Friday evening, struck at the heart of Parisian nightlife, including at a soccer match, which draws together spectators of all social classes and backgrounds.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the attacks had targeted the Paris of diversity, “probably because this example of living together, which is so strong in our city, is unbearable for fanatical people.”

Parisians expressed shock, disgust and defiance in equal measure. Some areas were quiet, but hundreds queued outside a hospital near the Bataclan concert hall to donate blood. As a shrine of flowers expanded along the sidewalk, a lone guitarist sang John Lennon’s peace ballad, “Imagine.”

Authorities said seven attackers died, six in suicide bombings, a new terror tactic in France. Authorities said police shot the other assailant, exploding his suicide vest. Police have detained two relatives of the one attacker who has been identified so far, the prosecutor’s spokeswoman said.

Molins, the prosecutor, said all seven attackers wore identical suicide vests containing the explosive TATP.

Molins said one was identified from fingerprints as a French-born man with a criminal record.

In addition, a Syrian passport found near the body of another attacker was linked to a man who entered the European Union through a Greek island last month.

Officials in Greece said the passport’s owner entered in October through Leros, one of the islands that tens of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in Syria and elsewhere have been using as a gateway into the European Union. Molins said the Syria-linked attacker was not known to French intelligence services.

If the attack does involve militants who traveled to Europe amid millions of refugees from the Middle East, the implications could be profound.

Poland’s prospective minister for European affairs, Konrad Szymanski, said that in light of the attacks, Poland would not comply with an EU plan to accept refugees unless it received “guarantees of security.”

The attack brought an immediate tightening of borders as Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced renewed border checks. Germany also stepped up border checks.

Belgian authorities conducted raids in a Brussels neighborhood and arrested three people near the border with France after a car with Belgian license plates was seen close to the Bataclan theater. Molins said a French national was among the three arrested.

The militants launched six gun and bomb attacks over the course of 20 minutes Friday in areas of the capital packed with people.

Three suicide bombs targeted spots around the national Stade de France stadium, in the north of the capital, where Hollande was watching a France-Germany soccer match. Fans inside the stadium recoiled at the sound of explosions, but the match continued.

Around the same time, fusillades of bullets shook a trendy Paris neighborhood as gunmen targeted a string of crowded cafes.

The attackers next stormed the Bataclan concert hall, which was hosting the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal. They opened fire on the panicked audience and took many hostage. As police closed in, three detonated explosive belts, killing themselves, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot.

Another assailant detonated a suicide bomb on Boulevard Voltaire, near the music hall, the prosecutor’s office said.

Video shot by Le Monde reporter Daniel Psenney from his balcony captured scenes of panic as people fled the Bataclan, some bloodied and limping, others dragging two bodies. Three people could be seen clinging to upper-floor balcony railings in a desperate bid to stay out of the line of fire.

A tall 38-year-old concert-goer named Sylvain collapsed in tears as he described escaping from the chaos during a lull in gunfire.

“There were shots everywhere, in waves,” Sylvain told The Associated Press. “I lay down on the floor. I saw at least two shooters, but I heard others talk. They cried, ‘It’s Hollande’s fault.’ I heard one of the shooters shout, ‘Allahu Akbar.“’

He spoke on condition that his full name not be used out of concern for his safety.

The Paris carnage was the worst in a series of attacks claimed by the Islamic State group in the past three days. On Thursday, twin suicide bombings in Beirut killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 200, and 26 people died Friday in Baghdad in a suicide blast and a roadside bombing that targeted Shiites.

The militant group also said it bombed a Russian plane that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31, killing 224 people.

IS also suffered significant reversals this week, with Kurdish forces launching an offensive to retake the strategic Iraqi city of Sinjar and the U.S. military saying it had likely killed Mohammed Emwazi, the British-accented militant known as “Jihadi John” who is seen in grisly IS beheading videos. The Pentagon also said an American airstrike targeted and likely killed Abu Nabil, a top Islamic State leader in Libya.

France has been on edge since January, when Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and a kosher grocery. Twenty people died in those attacks, including three shooters.

Paris resident Olivier Bas was among several hundred people who gathered at the site of the Bataclan massacre Saturday, laying flowers and lighting candles only a few hundred yards (meters) from where a police officer was murdered during the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Although Paris was quiet and jittery, Bas said that he intended to go out for a drink — “to show that they won’t win.”

Meanwhile, French authorities continued their investigation. They are particularly concerned about the threat from hundreds of French Islamic radicals who are known to have traveled to Syria and have returned home, potentially with skills to mount attacks.

“The big question on everyone’s mind is: Were these attackers — if they turn out to be connected to one of the groups in Syria — were they homegrown terrorists or were they returning fighters?” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert.

More than 100 dead in string of Paris attacks

PARIS – A series of unprecedented attacks on popular night spots killed more than 100 people in the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II, officials said. President Francois Hollande condemned it as a terrorist attack and pledged that France would stand firm against its foes.

The worst carnage was at a concert hall hosting an American rock band, where scores of people were held hostage and attackers hurled explosives at their captives. Police who stormed the building, killing two attackers, encountered a bloody scene of horror inside.

Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country’s borders. The violence spread fear through the city and exceeded the horrors of the Charlie Hebdo attack just 10 months ago.

Paris police officials said security officials had launched an assault on the concert hall, killing at least two attackers. One described “carnage” inside the building, saying the attackers tossed explosives at the hostages.

In addition to the deaths at the concert hall, a police official said 11 people were killed in a Paris restaurant in the 10th arrondissement and other officials said at least three people died when bombs went off outside a stadium.

All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named in the quickly moving investigation.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the One World Trade Center spire will be lit blue, white and red in honor of dozens killed in the Paris attacks.

Cuomo says the 408-foot (125-meter)spire will be illuminated Friday night and in the days to come. The governor says the act shows New York will stand with the people of France.

New York City officers have been deployed to various parts of the city, including French government buildings. Heavily-armed officers stood outside of the French Consulate in Manhattan as passers-by brought flowers.

Police have stressed there is “no indication that the attack has any nexus to New York City.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, and no clear picture of how many attackers were involved and if any were on the run. Jihadists on Twitter immediately praised the attack and criticized France’s military operations against Islamic State extremists.

Hollande, who had to be evacuated from the stadium when the bombs went off outside, said in a televised address that the nation would stand firm and united.

“This is a terrible ordeal that again assails us,” he said. “We know where it comes from, who these criminals are, who these terrorists are.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Washington, called the attacks on Paris “outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians” and vowed to do whatever it takes to help bring the perpetrators to justice. He called the attacks a “heartbreaking situation” and an “attack on all of humanity.”

Earlier Friday, two explosions were heard outside the Stade de France stadium north of Paris during a France-Germany friendly football match. A police union official said there were two suicide attacks and a bombing that killed at least three people.

The official, Gregory Goupil of the Alliance Police Nationale, whose region includes the area of the stadium, said explosions went off simultaneously near two entrances and a McDonalds.

An Associated Press reporter in the stadium Friday night heard two explosions loud enough to penetrate the sounds of cheering fans. Sirens were immediately heard, and a helicopter was circling overhead.

The attack comes as France has heightened security measures ahead of a major global climate conference that starts in two weeks, out of fear of violent protests and potential terrorist attacks. Hollande canceled a planned trip to this weekend’s G-20 summit in Turkey, which was to focus in large part on growing fears of terrorism carried out by Islamic extremists.

Emilio Macchio, from Ravenna, Italy, was at the Carillon restaurant that was targeted, having a beer on the sidewalk, when the shooting started. He said he didn’t see any gunmen or victims, but hid behind a corner, then ran away.

“It sounded like fireworks,” he said.

France has been on edge since January, when Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and a kosher grocery. Twenty people died, including the three attackers. The Charlie Hebdo attackers claimed links to extremists in Yemen, while the kosher market attacker claimed ties to the Islamic State group.

This time, they targeted young people enjoying a rock concert and ordinary city residents enjoying a Friday night out.

One of at least two restaurants targeted Friday, Le Carillon, is in the same general neighborhood as the Charlie Hebdo offices, as is the Bataclan, among the best-known venues in eastern Paris, near the trendy Oberkampf area known for a vibrant nightlife. The California-based band Eagles of Death Metal was scheduled to play there Friday night.

The country has seen several smaller-scale attacks or attempts since, including an incident on a high-speed train in August in which American travelers thwarted an attempted attack by a heavily armed man.

France’s military is bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq and fighting extremists in Africa, and extremist groups have frequently threatened France in the past.

French authorities are particularly concerned about the threat from hundreds of French Islamic radicals who have travelled to Syria and returned home with skills to stage violence.

Though who was responsible for Friday night’s violence remained a mystery, the Islamic State is “clearly the name at the top of everyone’s list,” Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert and senior adviser to the president of RAND Corp., said.

Jenkins said the tactic used — “multiple attackers in coordinated attacks at multiple locations” — echoed recommendations published in extremist group’s online magazine, Dabbiq, over the summer.

“The big question on everyone’s mind is, were these attackers, if they turn out to be connected to one of the groups in Syria, were they homegrown terrorists or were they returning fighters from having served” with the Islamic State group, Jenkins said. “That will be a huge question.”

While others allow pot, Newport Beach the latest O.C. city to ban medical marijuana

Newport Beach is the latest Orange County city moving to ban medical marijuana operations in the ongoing tug of war over drug policy.

City, state and federal laws are often at odds, leaving dispensary operators and patients often crying foul.

While some local cities are cracking down, Santa Ana recently became the first in the county to grant permits for legal pot shops. Yet that process has been slow, and Santa Ana police have been shutting down illegally operating dispensaries, often only to find them open again the next day.

Newport Beach, on the other hand, has decided on a no-tolerance policy, citing safety concerns and nuisance issues. The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to prohibit marijuana cultivation, processing, delivery and dispensaries. The measure will return to the council for a final vote later this month.

Randall Longwith, an attorney who has worked with dispensaries and cities throughout Orange County, said the cities banning dispensaries are reacting to a stigma he says is quickly fading away.

“If you’re a city like Newport Beach … you may not want that stigma associated with your city,” Longwith said. “The problem with that line of thinking is, that stigma isn’t necessarily there for them to fight against anymore. It‘s a thing of the past. … People’s beliefs are changing.“

Huntington Beach, Laguna Hills and Rancho Santa Margarita also have bans on medical marijuana dispensaries. In Anaheim, at least 163 dispensaries have been put out of business through a variety of crackdown measures, including fining landowners and property managers who rent to dispensaries or shutting off utilities.

Others have looked at bringing dispensaries into the mainstream. Santa Ana initiated a lottery and allowed 20 nonprofits to apply for permits to operate dispensaries under strict regulations, and Laguna Woods also allows medical marijuana. In Costa Mesa, voters are expected to consider two measures that would create a legal permitting process on the November 2016 ballot.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act in October, which further regulates cultivation, processing, transportation, testing and distribution of medical marijuana beyond the parameters of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. The new legislation also allows cities to prohibit the activities within their borders.

Newport Beach Councilman Keith Curry said Wednesday he had asked the city’s police chief and city attorney whether the council could bolster the city’s informal ban on dispensaries in light of the new legislation, which resulted in Tuesday’s ordinance. Curry said those using medical marijuana could go to nearby cities for the services they’re looking for.

“I don’t believe it contributes to our community,” Curry said. “(Dispensaries) have generally tended to breed crime.”

Longwith said while he can understand that argument, a lot of problems can be mitigated with the addition of a highly-trained security guard. Others are working to set up credit unions that dispensaries and other medical marijuana businesses can use.

“It defies logic, after all we know, to deny patients access to this,” Longwith said.

While no members of the public spoke at the meeting Tuesday, several residents wrote the council saying the city was at odds with the changing public perception of marijuana and asking them to reconsider the impact the ordinance would have on medical marijuana access. It could also encourage illegal distribution, they wrote.

Resident Mark Wyland wrote in an email that his girlfriend’s son uses medical marijuana to treat his condition, and the ordinance would hinder his ability to get it.

“Are you trying to make it illegal for him to use a legal marijuana product in our home?” Wyland wrote. “Please think this out carefully. You might cause much harm to your citizens unwittingly.”

Staff writers Art Marroquin and Greg Mellen contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7990 or mnicolai@ocregister.com