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KSBR News Briefs on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018


Parents say college student killing may have been hate crime

The Lake Forest parents of a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student killed and buried in a Lake Forest park said the killing may have been a hate crime against their gay son.

The family statement came after a search warrant affidavit obtained by a newspaper revealed that high school friend, 20-year-old Samuel Woodward who was arrested on suspicion of killing Blaze Bernstein, told investigators that Bernstein had kissed him and he had pushed him away before they went to the park.

Investigators wrote in the affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register that as he described the kiss, Woodward clenched his jaw and his fists, saying "he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him."  Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Bernstein said "Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything." "We were proud of everything he did and who he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community."

The couple added, "If it’s determined that this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear or who have been victims of hate crime."

The Register and the Los Angeles Times reported Bernstein was then stabbed more than 20 times and buried in a shallow grave at the park.


Insurance bills look to address complaints about wildfires

State lawmakers say they're introducing a variety of bills to protect consumers who lose their homes in major disasters — a response to complaints about insurance companies from people who lost their homes in last year's destructive wildfires.

The measures would require insurers to waive paperwork requirements or extend coverage, but little in the legislation would help fire victims or others who have already lost homes.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones who is a Democrat running for attorney general says the laws in place now need to be strengthened. "Californians hard hit by these disasters shouldn’t be hung up by insurance company red tape as they rebuild their lives."

October wildfires in our state’s wine country killed 44 people, damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 homes and generated $9 billion in insurance claims. Those fires were followed by another wave of destruction in December, when fires swept through areas of Southern California.


Cost climbs by $2.8 billion for California bullet train

The estimated cost for the first phase of our state’s bullet train climbed by 35 percent to $10.6 billion, the latest increase for the project to run a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The $2.8 billion price hike for a 119-mile segment in the Central Valley puts the entire cost of the project at roughly $67 billion, although officials say they hope to recover the newly announced costs later. It was projected to cost $40 billion in 2008 when voters approved bond financing.

California High Speed Rail Authority's board chair Dan Richard says he wants the public to count on his department to tell the truth, whether it's good, bad or ugly. And it will do every single thing in its power to drive the costs down.

Some of the fresh costs stem from trouble acquiring the rights of way for the track in the Central Valley. The authority entered into construction contracts before fully securing rights of way in all areas, a decision officials say they wouldn't make again. The decision to enter into contracts quickly was partly due to the need to spend $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money by last fall.

Critics seized on the news at the latest evidence the project is destined for failure.

A 2008 ballot measure passed by voters promised a train that would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours by 2029, with the track eventually expanding to Sacramento and San Diego.


California governor proposes one-tunnel water plan

Gov. Brown is paring down his proposal for redoing our state’s north-south water system in hopes of launching the mega-project before he leaves office this year.

The new plan calls for just one giant tunnel to ship Northern California water south instead of two. It would put Southern and central California water agencies directly in charge of designing and building the project instead of the state.

The state posted the new proposal for state contracts on its website late Friday.

Brown had been pushing to launch construction of two giant $16 billion water tunnels to supply farms and cities to the south, but the project has failed to gain enough support from water agencies that would pay for it.

Environmental groups also oppose it.


LA County deputy charged with running drug-trafficking ring

A 50-year-old Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy has been charged with running a drug-trafficking ring.

Federal prosecutors say FBI agents arrested Deputy Kevin Collins in a sting operation. They say Collins thought he was arriving to provide security for a drug deal when he was taken into custody in Pasadena.

Prosecutors say Collins is charged with twice accepting payments to oversee the delivery of narcotics and other contraband.

The charging documents allege that Collins bragged to undercover agents about his ability to make drug deals go smoothly and make problems go away.

Two other men were arrested with him: 51-year-old David Easter and 34-year-old Grant Valencia.


Wave of lawsuits filed to block net-neutrality repeal

The expected wave of litigation against the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net-neutrality rules has begun.

A group of attorneys general for 21 states and the District of Columbia sued to block the rules. So did Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser, public-interest group Free Press and New America's Open Technology Institute. Others may file suit as well, and a major tech-industry lobbying group has said it will support litigation.

The rules barred companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from interfering with internet traffic and favoring their own sites and apps. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's push to undo them inspired both street and online protests in defense of the Obama-era rules.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the suit, said the end of the net neutrality rules would hurt consumers and businesses.

FCC spokesman Brian Hart declined to comment on the litigation.

The lawsuits are part of a multi-pronged approach against the net-neutrality repeal. There are efforts by Democrats to undo the repeal in Congress. State lawmakers have also introduced bills to protect net neutrality in their own states. However, the FCC's order bars state laws from contradicting the federal government's approach. The FCC's new rules aren’t expected to go into effect until later this spring.


New small cars unveiled at auto show but will anyone buy?

Among the many shiny models vying for attention at Detroit's North American International Auto Show are the revamped Volkswagen Jetta, Hyundai Veloster and Kia Forte.

But cars — particularly small ones — are having a tough time getting buyers to look their way as SUVs grow in popularity.

Car sales are expected to hit a record low this year after steadily declining for several years. SUVs surpassed cars for the first time in 2016, and the gap only widens: Auto shopping site Edmunds.com forecasts the utilities will make up 43.5 percent of new vehicle sales this year, while cars will fall to 34.5 percent. The reasons are plenty, including relatively low gas prices, growing millennial families and small, attractive SUV models that are becoming more fuel efficient and affordable.

The small car slump and utility boom has spurred industry changes: Ford is converting a Michigan plant that currently makes the Focus for Bronco SUV production. The automaker plans to move Focus production to China.


McDonald's sets recycling goals for 2025

McDonald's says it aims to use all recycled or other environmentally friendly materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging by 2025.

The world's biggest burger chain also wants all of its 37,000 restaurants worldwide to recycle customer waste by that year.

It has a ways to go: The company says 50 percent of its packaging now comes from recycled or other environmentally friendly sources and about 10 percent of its restaurants recycle customer waste.

McDonald's Corp. says it is also seeking to use renewable materials or those certified as coming from responsibly managed forests.

The Illinois-based company says that packaging waste was the top environmental issue customers wanted to see addressed. It says it will work with municipalities, since local regulations vary.