– February 27, 2015

Air district solicits developers of natural gas engines

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is putting up funding to support the development of ultra-clean natural gas engines for heavy duty vehicles.

The funding is part of a $9-million initiative to spur the technology throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California in order to meet clean air goals.

Besides the Valley air district, other funding partners include the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the California Energy Commission and the $500,000 from Southern California Gas Co.

Financial assistance will go to contractor teams to develop natural gas engines for heavy duty vehicles that emit almost zero nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollutants.

The partners are now calling on interested companies with a request for proposals now online at Proposals are due by July 24.

More information about the initiative can be found on the site. Otherwise, those interested can listen in during a webinar being held June 12 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Registration for the webinar can be completed at

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Latest Local News

Written on 02/27/2015, 8:44 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — The number of Americans signing contracts to buy homes rose at a healthy pace in January, a sign that home sales are poised to accelerate after a...
Written on 02/27/2015, 8:40 am by PAUL WISEMAN, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — Harsh winter weather left U.S. consumers feeling a bit less confident this month, the University of Michigan says. But confidence levels still remain at the highest level in eight years. The University of Michigan says its index of consumer sentiment slid to 95.4 in February from an 11-year high of 98.1 in January. "It is hard not to attribute the small February decline to the temporary impact of the harsh weather," said Richard Curtin, chief economist of the surveys. Consumer confidence sank dramatically in the hard-hit Northeast and Midwest and rose in the South. Overall, consumers' assessment of current economic activity and their expectations for the future both fell. Earlier this week, the Conference Board, a business research group, said that its consumer confidence index fell a bit this month but remained at the highest levels since before the Great Recession began in late 2007. A big drop in gasoline prices — which left money in consumers' pockets and contributed to their improving outlook — has reversed in recent weeks: Gasoline prices have risen to an average $2.37 a gallon nationwide from $2.04 a gallon a month ago, according to AAA. "Consumers remain sensitive to any hint of decreased spending power, " Stone McCarthy Research Associates noted in a report, "and the rise in gasoline prices starting in February after seven months of declines was unwelcome." Still, it noted that confidence "levels remain among the strongest since before the financial crisis and recession."
Written on 02/27/2015, 8:28 am by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — At a taco shop in Southern California, milkshakes are served in mason jars and a chalkboard menu lists "The 1%er" made with lobster meat. The logo is a pink skull and instead of buzzers, customers are given license plates so servers can identify them when bringing out orders. Nowhere is it evident that the U.S. Taco Co. is an outpost of a chain better known for cheesy gut bombs: Taco Bell. Major companies are testing whether it would pay to tuck away their world famous logos in favor of more hipster guises: PepsiCo, for instance, introduced a craft soda called Caleb's last year and McDonald's opened a cafe that lists lentils and eggplant on its menu. The stealth efforts reflect the pressures on the country's biggest food makers, which are contending with the surging popularity of smaller brands that position themselves as decidedly less corporate. For big food companies, the low-key efforts are a way feel out changing tastes and cozy up to new customers, particularly those in their 20s and 30s. Among that age group, marketing experts say there's a growing preference for qualities like "real" and "authentic." Additionally, millennials aren't as impressed by big brands when it comes to food, and instead take pride in discovering and sharing new places and products with friends on social media networks. As such, Allen Adamson of Landor Associates, a brand consulting firm, said companies should keep the images for their latest efforts smaller and more niche: "You don't want to scream from the mountain top that you're Pepsi." Unlike Pepsi cola — which has suffered sales declines since 1998, according to Beverage Digest — PepsiCo's Caleb's Kola comes in a glass bottle and is sweetened with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. There are no signs the drink is from the maker of Mountain Dew and Gatorade, and the bottles bear the words "Honor In Craft." Nick Hammit, who heads Caleb's Kola at PepsiCo, said Caleb's was the creation of a group of "Kola Nuts" at the company who were passionate about making a cola that "takes pride in every little aspect." McDonald's also decided not to use its name recognition when it opened The Corner late last year. The restaurant in Australia has a minimalist white exterior and serves dishes like Moroccan roast chicken, chipotle pulled pork and lentil and eggplant salad. The only sign it's owned by McDonald' is the "McCafe" in small print at the bottom of the restaurant logo. McDonald's spokeswoman Becca Hary said in an email the location is a "learning lab" for testing "new and different food and beverages never before seen in our restaurants." The Corner comes as McDonald's suffers ongoing sales struggles, with global sales down 1 percent last year at established locations as customer visits declined in regions around the world. For its part, Taco Bell said in an emailed statement that U.S. Taco's opening was the result of a "segmentation study" that found some people just don't want to eat at traditional fast-food chains. So instead of trying to win them over with Taco Bell, a team known as "intrapreneurs" at the company came up with an entirely separate concept, which charges about $3 to $4 per taco. The shop in Huntington Beach, California caught the attention of Christina Kaoh, a 30-year-old research coordinator who was in the area paddle boarding with friends. "I figured it's going to be a hip version of tacos," Kaoh said. She only learned it was owned by Taco Bell after reading an article that mentioned the link in Mother Jones. Kaoh said she wouldn't go back since she tries to support independent establishments, and didn't particularly enjoy the food. The ownership of smaller brands by major corporations isn't a deal breaker, of course. In the beer industry, Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2006 created Shock Top. Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily, said most people probably don't realize it's owned by the maker of Bud Light. Even if they did, he said it wouldn't matter now that Shock Top is established enough to have its own following. In other cases, companies acquire smaller, fast-growing rivals to tap into trends. But acquisitions can be costly and come with risks, particularly at a time when food trends seem to be changing at an accelerating pace. By developing a brand in house, companies can test the waters without making as much of a financial commitment. If they're lucky, it takes off and becomes a hit. Still, the manufacturing of authenticity can get clumsy. Yum Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, as well as KFC and Pizza Hut, last year opened a Vietnamese sandwich shop in Dallas, Texas. The shop's red star logo — a common symbol of communism — immediately upset the local Vietnamese community. A food blogger for the Orange County Register called the goof by Yum "unbelievable," noting that most the Vietnamese living overseas are refugees from the Vietnam War and hate the country's communist government. Yum quickly apologized and removed the logo.
Written on 02/27/2015, 8:26 am by TOM KRISHER, AP Auto Writer
 (AP) — Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than 467,000 Dodge and Jeep SUVs worldwide to fix a faulty fuel pump relay at the root of a potential stalling problem. It's the same problem that caused the recall of 189,000 other SUVs in September of last year, bringing the total to more than 656,000. A safety advocate says the recall should be expanded even further, contending that problems affect up to 5 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles with similar parts. The recall announced Friday by the company covers 2012 and 2013 Dodge Durangos and 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees outside North America. The Jeeps have diesel engines. Chrysler says fuel pump relays can deform and cause the pumps to malfunction. That can cause unexpected stalling or prevent the engines from starting. The company doesn't know of any crashes or injuries from the problem. Dealers will install a new relay circuit. Chrysler said that it will let customers know when they can schedule service. The September recall affected Grand Cherokees and Durangos from 2011 that were built from Jan. 25, 2010 through July 20, 2011. Chrysler said its investigation into the first recall found that more Durangos and Grand Cherokees could have the same problem if the relays aren't replaced. The relays can become deformed due to several conditions including the environment and vehicle use patterns. Chrysler says that the problem may affect only a small percentage of the SUVs. But the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, maintains that the recall is inadequate because millions of other Chrysler vehicles have the same fuel pump power control module as the Grand Cherokee and Durango. The group filed a petition last year asking the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate power system failures in Chrysler vehicles that could cause them to stall while being driven. The center contends that an electrical power control module used by Chrysler in millions of vehicles since 2007 can go haywire, causing them to stall in traffic and cut off devices powered by electricity. The allegation covered Ram pickup trucks, Chrysler and Dodge minivans, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Dodge Journey SUVs, the Jeep Wrangler, and other models. The safety group said at the time that it received over 70 complaints and that the government has received hundreds. Clarence Ditlow, the center's executive director, said Friday that Chrysler's expanded recall supports the center's petition. The safety agency has not yet decided if it will open a full investigation into the matter. Chrysler says the power control modules don't fail, just the fuel pump relay. It says no other vehicle functions are affected by the relay.
Written on 02/27/2015, 7:55 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Officials in Northern California are warning Bay Area Rapid Transit commuters for a second time this month that they may have been exposed to measles on trains. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that an infected person commuted from the Millbrae station to the Civic Center Station on Friday from about 4:30 to 5 p.m. Public health officials say the risk to other riders is low, and almost negligible for anyone who has been immunized. Still, the virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. Contra Costa County public health officials reported earlier this month that someone diagnosed with measles rode BART trains between Lafayette and San Francisco on Feb. 4, 5 and 6.
Written on 02/27/2015, 7:36 am by CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press
(AP) — Dressed in red and raising signs into the air, thousands of teachers filled a downtown Los Angeles park on Thursday in demand of higher wages and smaller class sizes amid stalled contract negotiations. "Everybody in this country is watching this struggle," said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. "It's a fight about the nature of public education. What is public education going to look like?" The rally was the largest action yet amid an escalating standoff between union and Los Angeles Unified district leaders: United Teachers Los Angeles is demanding an 8.5 percent salary increase, a demand interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines contends the district cannot meet without significant layoffs. The union declared an impasse in February and is set to meet with the district and mediators in March. If a resolution is still not reached, a fact finding panel will convene. Though still several steps away, union officials say they are prepared to strike if needed. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl and other union leaders have visited hundreds of schools in recent months, talking to teachers and handing out commitment cards. The cards ask teachers to pledge support for a variety of actions, from leafleting to a strike. About half have been returned so far. "The vast majority of our members have checked off, 'Are you willing to strike?' with a, 'Yes I am willing to strike,'" Caputo-Pearl said to applause and cheers at the rally. The last major urban district to strike was Chicago Public Schools in 2012. That contract dispute centered largely on the role of student test scores in teacher evaluations. In contrast, the Los Angeles contract standoff has focused mostly on teacher salaries, class sizes and increasing the number of support staff members like nurses and counselors. The union notes that teachers have gone eight years without a salary increase or cost of living adjustment. Union leaders contend the negotiations highlight an ongoing post-Great Recession concern: That while economic conditions have improved, cuts made during the height of the crisis have been disparately restored. They point to new pockets of money that could be used to finance their demands, including the governor's proposed budget, which would increase spending on K-12 education by at least 8 percent. Contines, meanwhile, is projecting a $160 million deficit for the next school year. He is asking every department to reduce expenses by 8 to 15 percent. In a letter to Caputo-Pearl Thursday, he also warned that $171 million is at risk if union leaders don't agree to evaluation requirements necessary for the district to receive its No Child Left Behind waiver. Congress is currently attempting to revamp the George W. Bush-era law."We're entering a tough phase because of the significant decline in enrollment, primarily," said Tom Waldman, a spokesman for the district. There were 677,538 student enrolled in Los Angeles Unified in the 2009-10 school year. In the 2013-14 school year, that number had declined to 653,826. A recent survey by the Schools Superintendents Association found that about half of superintendents described their districts as stable, while nearly four in 10 believe their district's economic situation has gotten worse; but the study concluded that over the last three years, conditions have mostly improved. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said what happens in Los Angeles will have national implications, as districts weigh what to prioritize as the economy improves. "The teachers here are pulling out of their own pockets," she said in an interview with The Associated Press Thursday. "They feel the district has not met them halfway." At the rally, teachers waved signs demanding, "Safe and clean schools now!" and "Don't want to but I'm ready to strike!" A band played songs with protest-themed lyrics."Cortines let me tell you straight, we've got some things to negotiate," one singer crooned. Kindergarten teacher Maria Arevalos said she spends at least $100 on school supplies not provided for the district for her students each month."They expect us to do a lot with a lack of support," she said.
Written on 02/26/2015, 1:27 pm by 
The Associated Press
U.S. stock indexes are drifting mostly lower, pulling the Dow Jones industrial average slightly below its latest all-time high. The Dow fell 10 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 18,214 Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell three points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,110. The Nasdaq composite rose 20 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,987. Energy stocks fell more than the rest of the market as the price of oil plunged again. Chevron and Exxon Mobil were among the biggest decliners in the Dow. Sears fell 5 percent after the company reported its fourth straight year of falling profit and revenue. Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.03 percent from 1.97 percent late Wednesday.
Written on 02/26/2015, 12:55 pm by KRISTIN J. BENDER, Associated Press
(AP) — Two stolen Italian books dating to the 17th century that were discovered in the San Francisco Bay Area and many other plundered ancient artifacts will be returned to their country of origin, federal officials say. The books, "Stirpium Historiae" and "Rariorm Plantarum Historia Anno 1601," were taken from Italy's Historical National Library of Agriculture and sold to an antiquities dealer in Italy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement. The Bay Area buyer willingly surrendered the books to investigators. ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit will return other cultural treasures to the Italian government this week, including a 17th century cannon, 5th century Greek pottery and items dating to 300-460 B.C. The items were stolen in Italy and smuggled into the U.S. over the last several years. Their value was not released. "The cultural and symbolic worth of these Italian treasures far surpasses any monetary value to the Italians," Tatum King, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Francisco said in the statement. Agents also recovered four stolen artifacts reported missing in July 2012. Three Roman frescos dating to 63-79 A.D. and a piece of dog-figure pottery from the 4th century B.C. that were illegally pilfered from Pompeii were recovered from a private art collection in San Diego and will be returned to Italy. Eleven investigations nationwide led to the recovery of the antiquities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Rome's force for combatting art and antiquities crimes helped Homeland Security Investigations officials in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Miami, San Diego and San Francisco. "This repatriation underscores the strong level of judicial cooperation between the U.S. and Italy, and the great attention that both countries assign to the protection of cultural heritage," said Claudio Bisogniero, Italy's ambassador to the U.S. The U.S. government has returned more than 7,200 artifacts to 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; and items from China, Cambodia and Iraq, the statement says.
Written on 02/26/2015, 12:46 pm by MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer
Facebook users who don't fit any of the 58 gender identity options offered by the social media giant are now being given a rather big 59th option: fill in the blank. "Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own," said a Facebook announcement published online Thursday morning and shared in advance with The Associated Press. Facebook software engineer Ari Chivukula, who identifies as transgender and was part of the team that made the free-form option, thinks the change will lead to more widespread acceptance of people who don't identify themselves as a man or woman. "We're hoping this will open up the dialogue," Chivukula said. Alison C.K. Fogarty, a gender identity researcher at Stanford University, said giving users control over the words describing their gender is a significant step in social recognition of a growing trans community, especially coming from the world's largest social media company. "People are still fighting to make room for gender identity within the socially constructed binary of male and female," Fogarty said. "Labels and identities are powerful in that they give a sense of community, a way of articulating one's experience." In February 2014, Facebook expanded gender identity from male and female to a list of dozens of options, including Androgyne, Gender Fluid, Intersex, Neither and Transgender. Those choices will all still be available. People who choose a custom gender can also choose the pronoun they would like to be referred to publicly: he/his, she/her or they/their. Facebook has a setting for users to control the audience who sees their gender. Last year's changes created an online stir, with thousands of comments — some grateful, others confused or hostile. But staff at Facebook said there was full support to take it even further this year, from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on down. As of Thursday, the free-form option rolled out to U.S. users, while the custom gender identity option with a list of words was available in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Argentina and Denmark. One thing that has not changed is an "interested in" option for Facebook users to define whom they might want to date. That option still only allows men or women, but users can click both options, one option or neither option. They can also hide it entirely. Facebook, which has 1.23 billion active monthly users around the world, would not release how many users have chosen gender identity options beyond man or woman, citing privacy concerns and a general practice of not sharing user information. The Williams Institute, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates there are at least 700,000 people in the U.S. who identify as transgender, an umbrella term that includes people who live as a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth. Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and president of the advocacy group GLAAD, said that the past few years have brought "real movement in trans visibility" and that Facebook has been a leader in making that happen. "This helps to accelerate trans acceptance in our country," Ellis said. "I'm excited about the future for gender identity."
Written on 02/26/2015, 12:44 pm by 
ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press
(AP) — Internet activists declared victory over the nation's big cable companies Thursday, after the Federal Communications Commission voted to impose the toughest rules yet on broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to prevent them from creating paid fast lanes and slowing or blocking web traffic. The 3-2 vote ushered in a new era of government oversight for an industry that has seen relatively little. It represents the biggest regulatory shake-up to telecommunications providers in almost two decades. The new rules require that any company providing a broadband connection to your home or phone must act in the "public interest" and refrain from using "unjust or unreasonable" business practices. The goal is to prevent providers from striking deals with content providers like Google, Netflix or Twitter to move their data faster. "Today is a red-letter today for Internet freedom," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, whose remarks at Thursday's meeting frequently prompted applause by Internet activists in the audience. Verizon saw it differently, using the Twitter hashtag #ThrowbackThursday to draw attention to the FCC's reliance on 1934 legislation to regulate the Internet. Net neutrality is the idea that websites or videos load at about the same speed. That means you won't be more inclined to watch a particular show on Amazon Prime instead of on Netflix because Amazon has struck a deal with your service provider to load its data faster. For years, providers mostly agreed not to pick winners and losers among Web traffic because they didn't want to encourage regulators to step in and because they said consumers demanded it. But that started to change around 2005, when YouTube came online and Netflix became increasingly popular. On-demand video began hogging bandwidth, and evidence surfaced that some providers were manipulating traffic without telling consumers. By 2010, the FCC enacted open Internet rules, but the agency's legal approach was eventually struck down in the courts. The vote Thursday was intended by Wheeler to erase any legal ambiguity by no longer classifying the Internet as an "information service" but a "telecommunications service" subject to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. That would dramatically expand regulators' power over the industry and hold broadband providers to the higher standard of operating in the public interest. "Despite the cable industry's best efforts to undermine our cause, we secured an open Internet, free from gatekeepers and corporate monopolies. We have an Internet for the people," said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a progressive Internet activism group. Industry officials and congressional Republicans fought bitterly to stave off the new regulations, which they said constitutes dangerous overreach and would eventually raise costs for consumers. The broadband industry was expected to sue. "With years of uncertainty and unintended consequences ahead of us, it falls to Congress to step in," said Michael Powell, head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. GOP lawmakers said they would push for legislation, although it was unlikely Obama would sign such a bill. "Only action by Congress can fix the damage and uncertainty this FCC order has inflicted on the Internet," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. Complicating the issue is that not every broadband provider agrees on what should be done. Sprint, for example, has said it doesn't think the new regulations would hurt investment. AT&T, however, supports the less stringent rules previously in place by the FCC but which were struck down in court. On Thursday, a senior company official said the FCC had gone too far and could cause irreversible harm. "Does anyone really think Washington needs yet another partisan fight? Particularly a fight around the Internet, one of the greatest engines of economic growth, investment, and innovation in history?" said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs. The FCC says it won't apply some sections of Title II, including price controls. That means rates charged to customers for Internet access won't be subject to preapproval. But the law allows the government to investigate if consumers complain that costs are unfair. Also at stake Thursday was Obama's goal of helping local governments build their own fast, cheap broadband. Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, have filed petitions with the agency to help override state laws that restrict them from expanding their broadband service to neighboring towns. The FCC was considered likely to approve these petitions, which could set a precedent for other communities that want to do the same. Nineteen states place restrictions on municipal broadband networks, many with laws encouraged by cable and telephone companies. Advocates of those laws say they are designed to protect taxpayers from municipal projects that are expensive, can fail or may be unnecessary.

Latest State News

Written on 02/27/2015, 7:55 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Officials in Northern California...
Written on 02/27/2015, 7:36 am by CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press
(AP) — Dressed in red and raising signs...
Written on 02/26/2015, 12:55 pm by KRISTIN J. BENDER, Associated Press
(AP) — Two stolen Italian books dating...
Written on 02/26/2015, 12:46 pm by MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer
Facebook users who don't fit any of the...

Latest National News

Written on 02/27/2015, 8:44 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — The number of Americans signing...
Written on 02/27/2015, 8:40 am by PAUL WISEMAN, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — Harsh winter weather left U.S....
Written on 02/27/2015, 8:28 am by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — At a taco shop in Southern...
Written on 02/27/2015, 8:26 am by TOM KRISHER, AP Auto Writer
 (AP) — Fiat Chrysler is recalling more...