<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - San Diego Politics and Political News]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.com en-us Thu, 21 Aug 2014 23:11:05 -0700 Thu, 21 Aug 2014 23:11:05 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Family of Slain Rider: Change Lanes to Pass Cyclists]]> Thu, 21 Aug 2014 06:57:02 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/matthew-o%27neill-cyclist-082.jpg

A Chula Vista couple is trying to get the word out about a new law requiring California drivers to stay at least 3 feet away when passing bicyclists.

Michael and Cheri O’Neill’s passion for the change is outweighed only by grief after they lost their 33-year-old son Matthew O’Neill on August 8.

Matthew, an avid cyclist, was riding a quiet Central California road when he was hit by a teenage driver in a pickup truck hauling a horse trailer.

“There’s nothing that’s going to bring him back, but we know he is watching us and he knows that we are going to honor him in a very respectful way” said Cheri O’Neill.

The new law is intended to better protect cyclists from aggressive drivers. It states that if drivers cannot leave 3 feet of space, they must slow down and pass only when it would not endanger the cyclist's safety.

The O’Neill family hopes it will make a difference with fewer cycling fatalities, but they also believe it doesn’t go far enough.

“We’d like to see the law amended so they (drivers) can cross the divided highway when safe for passing a bicyclist” said Michael O’Neill.

Earlier versions of the bill that included that provision were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 and 2012. He cited concerns that it may cause more crashes or make the state liable for collisions resulting from a driver crossing a yellow dividing line.

The family started a Facebook page called “Remember Matthew: Change Lanes To Pass A Cyclist”

A memorial service is planned at Chula Vista’s First United Methodist Church at 1200 East H Street on Saturday, August 30th.

The family is encouraging people to ride their bike to the service.

A demonstration with “share the road” signs and others like it will take place along East H Street immediately after the service.

Current law requires a driver to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist but does not specify distance.

The proposed law was sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an avid cyclist who was injured in 2010 after a taxi driver abruptly pulled in front of him. It was signed into law in September 2013.

The new law goes into effect September 16.

A violation of the new 3-foot requirement would be punishable by fines starting at $35. If unsafe passing results in a crash that injures the cyclist, the driver could face a $220 fine.

Photo Credit: Courtesy O'Neill family]]>
<![CDATA[Former San Ysidro Supe Pleas Guilty]]> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:46:41 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Manuel-Paul-Deposition.jpg

The former superintendent of San Ysidro schools has entered a guilty plea in federal court to the misdemeanor charge of deprivation of benefits for political contributions. In other words, he admitted to extracting political contributions from a prospective contractor by threatening to withhold work.

Manuel Paul, 63, admitted in his plea agreement that he asked contractor Loreto Romero to make a $3,600 campaign contribution to three members of the San Ysidro board, who were running for re-election in the 2010 campaign cycle.

The maximum penalty for the federal charge is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. The plea deal brings the two-year federal probe to an end.

NBC7 Investigates was first to report about a suspicious cash drop-off to Paul in the parking lot of a Chula Vista steakhouse made in 2010.

The former superintendent admitted in his plea agreement that he made it clear to Romero that the contractor's inclusion on a list of potential contractors for future building projects under the district's bond program was contingent on Romero making the payment.

FBI Special Agent in Charge, Daphne Hearn, said: "We demand the best from our public servants and expect them to deal honestly and fairly when conducting the public's business. Mr. Paul did not do that, and will now be held accountable for his actions."

Paul's criminal defense attorney said he had no information regarding whether Paul would be returning his severance package, as he promised to do in April 2013, when he said he would return $186,000 if he was convicted of any crime. Paul could not be reached for comment.

In the plea deal accepted in federal court this morning, Paul stated that he accepted $2,500 cash in a parking lot from Romero, and then took the money to a Tijuana print shop for campaign signs for then-school trustees Yolanda Hernandez, Jason Wells and Jean Romero. Two years later, he submitted receipts totalling $1,400 for the campaign signs.

In addition to Paul's plea agreement, the former educator who worked for the district for 38 years, agreed to pay a $5,000 fine to the state political watchdog agency for accepting a gift in excess of the annual gift limit from a single source.

Paul previously pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge in a separate prosecution by the San Diego County District Attorney's office, related to filing paperwork under the penalty of perjury that did not include all gifts he received from contractors.

The separate federal probe began in 2012 when Paul's cash demand came to light.

"Today’s guilty plea is a stark reminder that illegal money in our elections – regardless of the amount – is a threat to our democratic form of government and will be treated as such by our office. All citizens of our district have the right to elections free from dollars obtained through coercion,” said U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy in a press release today.

Partly in response to Paul's actions, a bill banning administrators from seeking campaign money for the elected officials they serve is set to be signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Top-level administrators who are involved in the making of contracts with district contractors, vendors and employee unions should not be raising campaign cash for the school and college board members, especially when those administrators are employed at the pleasure of those board members,” said the bill's author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. 

As a condition to the plea agreement, both the defendant and the prosecutors agreed to the recommended sentence of three-years probation and no fine, but a judge is under no obligation to adhere to that recommendation, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Paul is scheduled to appear for sentencing on Nov. 18.


<![CDATA[GOP Staffer in Chicken Suit Faces Charges After Clucking at NH Governor, Senator]]> Tue, 19 Aug 2014 08:25:01 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/zona+chicken+suit.jpg

A GOP state committee staff member has been charged with disorderly conduct after heckling New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Governor Maggie Hassan at this past Saturday's Old Home Day parade.

Michael Zona, of Manchester, was dressed in a chicken suit when he began to interfere with the parade, reports The Eagle-Tribune.

The 23-year-old allegedly ran out into the parade route toward Shaheen and Hassan, clucking at them.
"I believe Senator Jeanne Shaheen should be holding town halls and I have a First Amendment right to express that point of view. I wasn't bothering anyone. I wasn't disturbing anyone. In fact, I got a good deal of encouragement from people along the parade route," said Zona in response to the incident.
Zona was escorted from the parade after failing to comply with numerous requests to stop. 
“At one point, the governor had to take a few steps back toward her security staff,” Detective Christopher Olson told The Eagle-Tribune.
Julia McClain of the New Hampshire Democratic Party used the incident to blast the state Republicans, saying the party "wastes taxpayer resources and local law enforcement time with these juvenile antics when we should be discussing critical issues that matter--like raising the minimum wage, creating good paying jobs, and protecting social security and Medicare for our state's seniors."

Photo Credit: Twitter: John DiStaso]]>
<![CDATA[Minimum Wage Petition Drive Launched]]> Fri, 15 Aug 2014 19:57:22 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/minimum-wage-supporters.jpg

Get ready to have someone asking for your signature.

A petition drive to collect signatures and put San Diego’s minimum wage increase on the ballot will likely start up as soon as Wednesday.

The move comes after the City Council voted on Monday, as expected, to override Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s veto of San Diego’s Earned Sick Leave-Minimum Wage Ordinance.

The vote was 6-2, with San Diego City Councilmembers Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey voting against. Councilmember Lorie Zapf was not present.

The vote means the ordinance will take effect as scheduled on January 1, 2015.

But hold on. Now, the next phase of this battle begins.

Prior to the council vote, former mayor and Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Sanders took a preemptive swing and said business leaders would begin their efforts to gain 34,000 signatures in the next 30 days to take the matter to the voters.

In anticipation of the petition, City Council President Todd Gloria immediately started up a “Don’t Sign It” campaign, urging voters to ignore signature gatherers.

“Please do not be fooled,” said Gloria at a news conference after the council vote.

"They are being paid by special interest to get rid and overturn the earned sick leave and minimum wage ordinance that the city council just earmarked.”

Sanders accused the group of intimidation and obstructing the democratic process.

“We’re disappointed that union bosses have announce a voter harassment campaign to obstruct voters from having a say,” said Sanders. “They’re literally obstructing the democratic process. It’s undemocratic to obstruct voters from signing a petition and sad they’re so brazen about their voter intimidation.”

At the council hearing, familiar arguments from both sides were, once again, voiced.

Councilmember Sherman, who cut a vacation short to be at the meeting, showed up in a red t-shirt and said the ordinance will increase business costs.

“This won’t raise people up. It will raise prices. It will cost jobs, but it won’t raise people up,” said Sherman.

Minimum wage worker Biviana Lagunas, broke down in tears after the vote.

“I want to thank you for giving us a chance. Thank you, thank you so much. Please do not sign away the ability to put food on the table,” said Lagunas.

<![CDATA[Small Biz Owners Make Last-Minute Plea]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 11:36:16 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/jerry-sanders-minimum-wage.jpg NBC 7's Matt Rascon reports on the meeting of small business owners before the City Council considers overriding a mayoral veto of the minimum wage increase.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Min Wage: Small Biz Pleads, Council Overrides Veto]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 10:47:00 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/jerry-sanders-minimum-wage.jpg

San Diego City Councilmembers voted Monday to override a mayoral veto on a minimum wage increase despite last-minute pleas from small business owners and other opponents.

Opponents of the ordinance argued higher minimum wages would lead to higher prices, less full-time employees and more lay-offs.

CEO of the San Diego County Chamber of Commerce Jerry Sanders said it's important for City Council members to protect San Diego jobs.

"We're not here today opposed to a wage increase, we're here today urging city leaders to allow the 25-percent increase the state just implemented last month to take effect rather than increasing it to 44-percent with automatic increases annually," said Sanders.

Less than two hours later, City Council members voted 6-2 pushing the minimum wage increase through despite the Aug. 8 veto by Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Effective Jan. 1, the proposed ordinance will give approximately 172,000 San Diegans an increase to $9.75 per hour.

Through the proposal, 279,000 will have the opportunity to earn up to five sick days per year.

Already since the state's minimum wage hike some businesses have bumped up prices and stopped accepting coupons.

At the same time supporters of earned sick leave and higher minimum wages urged council members to override the veto.

They argue that nearly 200,000 San Diegans who are struggling to make ends meet would benefit from higher wages and even more from earned sick days.

Student Viviana Laguna works while going to college. She said her entire family gets paid minimum wage.

"We're not asking for riches," she said. "We're just asking for the basic things."

Councilmembers Scott Sherman (District 7) and Mark Kersey (District 5) voted against the measure.

The minimum wage will increase to $10.50 on January 1, 2016 and to $11.50 on January 1, 2017, with indexing to inflation starting in 2019.

Opponents of the minimum wage increase have said they will collect signatures this week to get a referendum on the ballot allowing the voters of San Diego decide.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Council Speaker Tweets About HPV Diagnosis, Urges Annual Check-Ups]]> Mon, 03 Jun 2013 11:40:26 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/MarkViverito.jpg

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced via Twitter Sunday that she had "high-risk HPV" in an effort to boost awareness about the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in the country and encourage women to have regular gynecological exams.

In a series of tweets, Mark-Viverito divulged that she learned Friday she had the infection, and that she hadn't been to a gynecologist in two years prior to her most recent visit.

"At recent #GYN visit alarmed to find out last one, 2yrs ago. Friday got call re: results. Told have "high risk HPV". #Biopsy needed #ASAP," she tweeted.

"Tuesday I'm there. To say I'm not wee bit worried = lie. "High risk HPV" can POTENTIALLY but NOT definitively lead to cervical #cancer."

Mark-Viverito, 45, tweeted that she is "an extremely private person," but that her position has given her a platform -- and a responsibility to use it.

"Our health should never be compromised," she tweeted. "Annual physicals have to be sacred. Yet our health care system doesn't lend itself to this for many."

Mayor de Blasio called Mark-Viverito's decision to share her experience "brave" and "exemplary."

About 79 million people in the United States have HPV, and another 14 million contract it each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anyone can get it once they become sexually active, and nearly half of the new infections each year occur among people ages 15 to 24, according to the New York City Health Department.

Most people who get HPV have no symptoms of infection. Each year, about 12,000 women diagnosed with HPV nationwide develop cervical cancer, the most common cancer associated with the infection, and about 4,000 of them die from it.

To learn more about HPV treatment and prevention, including a vaccine, click here.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 7 San Diego

Photo Credit: McMullan/Sipa USA]]>
<![CDATA[Minimum Wage May End Up in Hands of Voters]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 09:07:26 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/%5BNECN%5DMinimum_Wage.jpg NBC 7's Matt Rason reports on how people with petitions are preparing to stand outside businesses and on street corners to gather signatures that would put the future of the minimum wage ordinance into the hands of San Diegans.]]> <![CDATA[Former Vt. U.S. Sen. Jeffords Dead at 80]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:57:40 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/James+Jeffords.jpg

Former Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., died Monday at Knollwood, a military retirement home in Washington, D.C., a former aide said. He was 80.

A navy veteran, Jeffords made a name in politics as a state senator and attorney general before he was elected to seven terms in the U.S. House, once splitting with his fellow Republicans in opposing a President Reagan tax cut plan. Vermonters voted him into the Senate in 1988, where he was a champion for environmental causes.

The moderate, even liberal, Republican shocked Washington in 2001 when he said the GOP had drifted too far to the right for him. He quit the party, became an independent, and caucused with democrats.

“I am confident it is the right decision,” Jeffords said upon making his famous “jump.” “I hope that the people of Vermont will understand it.”

Jeffords announced in 2005 he would not seek re-election the next year, citing declining health.

"I think we have to bring back people like Jim Jeffords, who say running for office is really a form of public service," former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin said Monday.

Kunin remembered Jeffords as a good-hearted guy who just wanted to do what he thought was right; not tow some party line. "The comparison is rather painful, where we now have a Congress that prides itself on doing nothing, where in those days, people really went there to get things done and to improve the lives of the public," Kunin said.

"He's going to be very sorely missed," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who was in the U.S. House when Jeffords was in the Senate. "He was a guy who, I think, much preferred to be around Vermonters here in Vermont than among the big shots in Washington. It wasn't who he was."

Tom Vogelmann, the University of Vermont's agriculture and life sciences dean, told New England Cable News he thinks of Jeffords as "one of the giants." The University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is housed in the building that bears Jeffords' name.

"He was a very strong supporter of education, a very strong supporter of environmental legislation, and that's the curriculum that's basically taught in this building," Vogelmann told NECN. "So we have thousands of young people who are training here and that's all adding to his legacy."

Reflections on the life and legacy of Jim Jeffords poured in Monday. Here are several of those:

President Barack Obama:

Michelle and I send our deepest sympathies to the family of Senator James M. Jeffords on his passing. Jim devoted his life to service - as a Naval officer, a local leader in his hometown of Shrewsbury, and eventually as a U.S. Senator representing his beloved Vermont. During his more than 30 years in Washington, Jim never lost the fiercely independent spirit that made Vermonters, and people across America, trust and respect him. Whatever the issue - whether it was protecting the environment, supporting Americans with disabilities, or whether to authorize the war in Iraq - Jim voted his principles, even if it sometimes meant taking a lonely or unpopular stance. Vermonters sent him to Washington to follow his conscience, and he did them proud.

Our prayers are with the Jeffords family, including his son Leonard and daughter Laura. And we're grateful to Jim for his legacy of service to Vermont and the United States of America.

Vice President Joe Biden:

Jim Jeffords was a personal friend, a great senator, and a good man. He was not only beloved by the people of Vermont, but by anyone who ever worked with him. For the nearly four decades I served in the United States Senate, nearly half were spent with Jim as a colleague. Jim knew that with a country as diverse as ours, there is a need for consensus to move the country forward. He was a man who dealt with his colleagues without pretext and with complete honesty. And he always knew what he was talking about—and his colleagues and constituents always knew where he stood on an issue. Jim was a reflection of Vermont—independent and non-ideological and always about solving problems. Jill and I are saddened by his passing and join his family, friends, and his former staff in remembering all that he stood for: basic fairness and principled independence.

Former President Bill Clinton:

Hillary and I are saddened by the passing of our friend Senator Jim Jeffords, who served the people of Vermont and the United States for more than 30 years. Jim was one of our strongest advocates for better health and education, a cleaner environment, and increased opportunities for people with disabilities. I will always be especially grateful for his support of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Brady Bill, and our 1993 health care reform effort. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and his many friends across the country.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.:

He was a partner in our work for Vermont, and he was a friend. He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation. Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate's history.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.:

I know I share the view of all Vermonters today in expressing condolences to the family of Senator Jim Jeffords on his passing, and our gratitude to him for his life of service.

While Jim would certainly wave away the notion, he was indeed a legend in Vermont and the nation. With characteristic decency, humility and civility, and a dogged persistence, he made his mark in Congress. Millions of children with disabilities are better off today because he lead the charge for their equal access to education. Americans are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water because of his fierce advocacy for the environment and clean energy. And budding artists across the nation receive the boost of his encouragement every year thanks to his legacy as the founder of the annual Congressional Arts Competition.

And, in 2001, the world saw what his fellow Vermonters already knew: Jim Jeffords, above all, had the courage of his convictions.

Jim and his wife, Liz Daley Jeffords, were mentors to me in my early days in the House of Representatives. I am deeply grateful to them both for their friendship, their support and their contributions to Vermont and our country.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt.:

I join Vermonters and citizens nationwide today in celebrating the life of Jim Jeffords, a true gentleman and an independent-minded maverick in the best tradition of our state. Jim followed in the footsteps of Senators Bob Stafford and George Aiken, always putting the interests of Vermonters and the nation ahead of partisan politics. He followed his sense of right in all that he did, and was never afraid to seek compromise by reaching across the aisle for the good of our country. Jim’s contribution to Vermont spanned his service in the Vermont House, as Attorney General, and as Vermont’s Representative in the U.S. House, where he developed his passion for high quality public education that forged his policy work on behalf of our kids and continued throughout his career. The passing of Senator Jim Jeffords will be felt throughout Vermont and our country. We need more like Senator Jeffords. My heart goes out to his children and extended family.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vt.:

The story of Vermont politics cannot be told without Jim Jeffords. He served in the most honorable way a person can serve: Selflessly, and always with the best interests of others at heart. He did what he felt was right, not what he felt would make him popular. Whether it was during his time in the Vermont Senate, or as Attorney General, or in the United States House of Representatives, or in the United States Senate, Jim valued the voices of Vermonters and leaves a legacy we can all learn from: Respect over rhetoric, pragmatism over pandering, and love for Vermonters overall.

In our large, and largely faceless, system of government, he demonstrated the power that one person speaking for their constituents can have. His example of moderation and independence is what I’ve tried to model my own career off of. My sincere condolences go out to Laura, Leonard, and the entire Jeffords family.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["Six Californias" Wouldn't Help Republicans: Study]]> Thu, 03 Jul 2014 08:10:53 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/193*120/0623-SixCalifornias1.jpg

Dividing blue California into six states wouldn't do much to improve the lots of Republicans hoping to gain more sway and political seats under a new proposal to split up the state, according to a new study,

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper is the one pushing the idea that 38 million people is many for a single state. He's vying to get his "Six Californias" proposal on the 2016 ballot, where voters would decide whether to back his idea that splitting the state could be a solution to California's governing woes.

But even a state with a capital in San Diego or Fresno -- as "South California" and "Central California" might have, respectively -- would send mostly Democrats to Washington, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times about a study from a pair of UC Berkeley researchers. 

Of the six Californians, only "South California," which could include Orange County as well as San Diego and San Bernandino, would be "highly competitive" between the two parties. Central California would be a tossup -- as would "Jefferson," the land of Humboldt County marijuana growers as well as small-government activists.

The researchers, Jack Citrin and Ethan Rarick, based their guess on election returns from those areas.

All that said, the likelihood of Draper's measure passing is near-zero, the newspaper reported.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Florida Ad Tries to Connect Pot With Date Rape]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:30:39 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/potdaterapead.jpg

The campaign against medical marijuana in Florida is in high gear as it tries to link easier access to pot to date rape in a new online ad campaign.

The website, "Vote no on 2," claims that if the medical marijuana bill is passed, teenagers will have easier access to pot. A Twitter picture then asks if the new face of date rape will look like a marijuana cookie.

“These are products that are very dangerous,” said Javi Correoso of Vote No on 2. “They are a lot more powerful than smoking a joint and they can lead to various serious situations and circumstances.”

Correoso said that “potentially” includes date rape. But Dr. Jorge Bordenave of Larkin Community Hospital insisted that Correoso is wrong.

"Right now, as we know, you can get pot anywhere, on the corners, kids get pot,” said Dr. Bordenave, who supports legalizing medical marijuana. "There has been no incidents of date rape with the pot they are smoking currently. So what they are saying is trying to scare the people; trying to lie to the people."

Other organizations like United for Care said there are plenty of benefits for patients with cancers, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other ailments. Dr. Bordenave also pointed out that other legal vices are doing major damage.

“We have more people dying of alcohol, tobacco smoke than marijuana,” Bordenave said. “I did research recently; out of the 25 FDA approved drugs most commonly sold in the United States, in one year there were 10,000 deaths. There were no deaths from marijuana.”

Still, opponents say that the medical marijuana oil recently approved by the legislature is enough and there should be no smoking of marijuana allowed, despite any medical benefits.

“What Amendment 2 is is an amendment that has so many loopholes that it allows for marijuana to be used for non-medical reasons such as pot cookies and pot smoking,” Correoso said.

Voters will have the final say in November when the state constitutional amendment is on the ballot.

Photo Credit: Vote No on 2]]>
<![CDATA[New Indictment Unsealed in Campaign Finance Scandal]]> Tue, 18 Mar 2014 17:16:22 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Azano-0609_2.jpg

Three men face new charges in a conspiracy to control the outcome of local elections in San Diego, federal prosecutors allege in a new indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Mexican millionaire Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, 48, Ravneet Singh, 41, of Washington, D.C., Singh’s business ElectionMall Inc. and San Diego lobbyist Marco Polo Cortes, 44, are named in the revised indictment.

Prosecutors list 20 instances in which campaign finance records were falsified to send money from Azano to three candidates in local elections.

The defendants are accused of hiding the source of campaign donations or concealing a donation altogether in records with the San Diego City Clerk, the Federal Election Commission, or the California Secretary of State.

Azano, referred to as "Mr. Lambo" in the indictment, is accused of making more than $600,000 in illegal contributions to former Mayor Bob Filner, failed mayoral candidate Bonnie Dumanis, and other candidates.

In the indictment, the candidates are identified only by the numbers "1, 2 and 3." A fourth unidentified candidate was unaware of the defendants' attempt to donate to his/her campaign, officials said.

It is illegal for a foreign national to donate to a U.S. political campaign.

Under the new indictment, federal prosecutors allege that defendants would survey candidates for various elective offices to determine which ones to support.

Once Azano met with the candidate privately, the group would allegedly come up with secret ways to fund the candidate’s campaign.

For the first time, prosecutors allege that Singh tried to bribe a federal official as recently as January.

The new documents show Azano has also been charged with illegally possessing a firearm, a black Sig Sauer P225 semi-automatic pistol.

He remains under house arrest at his Coronado mansion.

Attorney Michael Lipman, who represents Singh, said the government used at least one wiretap to build its case against Azano, Singh and the other defendants. Lipman said defense attorneys will challenge the legality of that wiretap.

The next hearing in the case was set for September 15.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Sunroad Hires Former Deputy City Attorney ]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:41:22 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/San-Diego-Skyline-Feb-2014.jpg

A former city employee who played a pivotal role in the lawsuit involving a controversial real estate development has accepted a position as vice president with the private company.

Former Deputy City Attorney Andrea Contreras left her job with the city this summer and went to work for Sunroad Enterprises.

Contreras previously defended the city, and by extension, Sunroad, in an ongoing lawsuit brought by San Diegans for Open Government that questions the legality of two nine-foot easements granted by the City Council in 2013 to Sunroad Enterprises.

"The lawsuit is a sham," wrote Contreras on behalf of the city, according to The Reader, in an August 2013 court document.

Court papers she wrote argue against San Diegans for Open Government’s position that the 18-feet of easements were illegally granted after Sunroad made $100,000 in donations in exchange for the land.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Contreras’ then-boss, originally raised the alarm about the land giveaway, pointing out the land-grant could be viewed as a “quid-pro-quo” arrangement made at the behest former Mayor Bob Filner. Then, Goldsmith evidently changed his mind about the legality of giving away public park space to Sunroad because Contreras argued in subsequent court records that granting the easements was legal after all.

After the lawsuit was filed, the nonprofit organizations that received the donations returned the money.

"The project obviously is not a sale of City property," wrote Contreras, while she was still working for the city, in the August 2013 court document.

Contreras became Vice President of Sunroad Enterprises in June 2014, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Reached at her new office, she declined to comment on when she was offered her new position with Sunroad.

NBC7 Investigates asked the City Attorney’s office if there is a “revolving door” policy that prevents city employees from immediately going to work for a company for which they had the opportunity to influence city decisions.

A spokesman for the City Attorney’s office said there are rules in place preventing former city employees from lobbying current officials on behalf of their new employers within a certain time period after they leave the city.

“There are legal restrictions as discussed above, but we cannot ban employees from obtaining other employment,” City Attorney Spokesman Michael S. Giorgino said.

Contreras is not the first city “talent” snagged by Sunroad.

Former chief of staff to Mayor Dick Murphy, Tom Story, also left the city in 2005 to go work for Sunroad.

<![CDATA[CA Mulls Military Sex Assault Bill]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 10:29:16 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/us-marine-generic.jpg

California could soon be the first state in the nation to separate investigations and prosecutions from the chain of command in the state's military departments.

National Guard members in trouble for sexual assault could soon be investigated by local police or district attorney staffers under a proposed bill in the California legislature.

State Senator Alex Padilla authored a bill that he hopes will set the standard for the U.S. Armed Forces.

The bill would make it law that sex assaults involving California's Military Departments or CMDs be adjudicated by local, civilian authorities.

“If we can be example for other states to follow and for our nation to follow then California will be a leader when it comes protecting and respecting the men and women of the military," Padilla said Monday.

Part of Padilla's rationale-- the military's insular culture doesn't allow victims to be heard.

According to the Department of Defense, the number of reported sexual assaults in the military rose 50 percent last year over 2012.

Military criminal defense attorney and retired Marine Colonel Jane Siegel has been involved in a lot of sexual assault cases.

Seigel applauds the bill saying its good in theory but notes California has no jurisdiction over the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Right now it’s a paper tiger,” she said. “They're doing the right thing for the right reasons but it doesn’t have the legs.”

CMD's don't have dedicated judicial departments to adjudicate sexual assaults so policy dictates the cases get farmed out to local authorities. Padilla's bill would make it a law not just policy.

The bill could make it to the governor’s desk later this week.

Photo Credit: NBC10 Philadelphia]]>
<![CDATA[Mayor Vetoes Minimum Wage Increases]]> Mon, 04 Aug 2014 14:05:38 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Mayor-Vetoes-minim-wage.jpg

Mayor Kevin Faulconer vetoed the City of San Diego’s minimum wage ordinance, saying the measure would make it harder to hire and employ San Diegans who need work.

Faulconer appeared with a group of small business owners and employees and said the city needs to work to create more job opportunities instead of increasing the minimum wage.

"We need to build more ladders, not pull them out of reach," Faulconer said.

"That's what I want... to have San Diego moving forward and not put us at a disadvantage compared to other cities around the county and other municipalities,” he said.

The minimum wage ordinance, approved by a 6-to-3 super-majority last month, would make some 200,000 minimum wage earners in San Diego eligible for an increase over the state's new benchmark of $9 an hour to $9.75 on Jan. 1.

Further wage hikes would be phased in to $11.50 an hour by 2017, followed by automatic inflation escalators.

Friday was the 10th and final day Faulconer could veto the measure.

City Council President Todd Gloria called the mayor’s decision “disappointing” and told NBC 7 that councilmembers will consider overriding the mayor’s veto.

Six votes are needed to override the veto. A vote could be scheduled in the next 30 days.

Faulconer said if the council does override his veto, there will likely be a referendum effort.

Critics say one in six businesses in San Diego would be inclined to move elsewhere if the minimum wage increases occur.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 7 San Diego

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Doc: I Was Taking 100 Pills a Day ]]> Fri, 08 Aug 2014 17:48:17 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Stephen-Loyd-Prop-46.jpg

Although we're still months away from the November election, there is controversy over one ballot measure – Proposition 46 or the Patient Safety Act.

Prop 46 would increase the cap on damages in malpractice lawsuits and allow for drug testing of doctors.

“My colleagues all knew something was wrong,” said Dr. Stephen Loyd. “At my worst I was taking 100 pills a day every day and I was working at my job.”

Loyd was practicing medicine in Tennessee and by 2004 his dependence on pain pills to relieve stress had grown to a daily problem.

“I had the possibility of hurting a lot of people,” Loyd said.

Loyd knows he put patients at risk, which is why he supports Prop 46.

Among other things, it would increase the state's cap on damages in malpractice lawsuits, require drug and alcohol testing of doctors, and report positives tests.

Consumer Watchdog released a report Thursday showing that in the past year, 511,000 medical professionals in the country abused or were dependent on drugs or alcohol. That's about 6.8 percent of the total number.

NBC 7 found at least six doctors in the county with drug and alcohol issues.

Former La Jolla sleep medicine expert Bradley Schnierow admitted to smoking meth with his girlfriend and is charged with helping her get dangerous, prescription narcotics.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges, but surrendered his license.

Supporters say if approved, Prop 46 will save lives while opponents argue it will increase your healthcare costs and drive doctors away.

Doctor and Speaker of the California Medical Association House of Delegates, Ted Mazer, said the measure is deceptive.

If passed, healthcare costs will increase and access to care will decrease he said.

“What we're opposed to is how the proposition is written,” Mazer said.

“Behind this proposition are attorneys looking to increase the awards given to non-economic damages in malpractice lawsuits that also means they increase their take home,” he said.

While Mazer agrees there's a problem, he says this proposition isn't the answer.

As for Dr. Loyd, he has been a recovering drug addict for 10 years. 

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Bill to Fund Diapers for Low-Income Families]]> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 19:29:14 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/baby21.jpg

A state bill introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) proposes giving low-income families a monthly stipend to buy diapers.

If passed, Assembly Bill 1516 would give families on welfare $80 per month for each child under 2 years old.

According to the measure, federal law prohibits families from buying diapers under CalFresh or the California Special Supplemental Food Program, listing the hygiene products under the same category as cigarettes, alcohol and pet food.

However, most free or subsidized child care facilities require parents to bring disposable diapers with their children, and without them, parents must keep kids at home.

The bill suggests this situation continues the cycle of poverty, for without child care, parents will not be able to go to work and make a livable wage to raise their family’s income.

It also warns that lack of diapers can have severe health and social consequences for babies.

Families in need already receive aid through the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program using a mixture of federal grants and state and county funds.

AB 1516 proposes that because the program would be state-mandated, any of its costs covered by local agencies would be reimbursed by the state.

<![CDATA[Obama Discusses New Ebola Drug]]> Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:39:39 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Obama-Presser-Ebola.jpg

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t have enough data right now to consider fast-tracking a new, unapproved Ebola medicine created by a San Diego-based pharmaceutical company, he confirmed at a press conference Wednesday.

The president was asked about the Z-Mapp drug during his press conference to wrap up this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, specifically about whether he’s considering sending supplies of this drug to Ebola outbreak patients in West Africa.

“We gotta let the science guide us. Not all the info is in as to whether this drug is helpful,” said the president, adding that it’s “premature” to consider fast-tracking the approval of the drug.

“Let's get all the health workers we need on the ground, nip early outbreaks, and then during the course of this process, appropriate to see if additional drugs can improve survivability,” President Obama continued.

The president said it’s important to remember that “Ebola is controllable if there is a public health system in place.”

“Despite the pain and hardship, and despite the fact we have to take this seriously, it’s important to remind ourselves that this is not an airborne disease and can be contained,” he added. “We're focusing on the public health approach now because we know how to do that and will continue to seek info.”

Z-Mapp, developed at Mapp Biopharmaceutical in Sorrento Valley over the course of 10 years, was the drug given to the two Ebola victims from America.

The secret drug cocktail had not been tried on humans before, but has shown effective signs of improving symptoms in monkeys. The drug, developed from antibodies in mice fighting the Ebola virus, was credited with saving four monkeys infected with Ebola after it was given to them 24 hours after infection.

Three experimental samples of the drug at subzero temperatures were flown to Liberia last week to save the two Americans infected with Ebola, according to CNBC.

Dr. Kent Brantly was given a dose and by the next day was showing signs of improvement. After two doses, American patient Nancy Writebol’s condition also was improving.

Z-Mapp is not FDA-approved. Use of it was granted under the FDA's "compassionate use" clause only given in extraordinary circumstances. There are only a handful of doses available.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[San Diego to Pay for Good Ideas]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 14:35:08 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/San-Diego-Skyline-Feb-2014.jpg

The City of San Diego wants to find the "right idea" - one  that can save taxpayer money and make City Hall more efficient.

The program, called San Diego Works, aims to pay city employees for those ideas – up to $5,000 per individual.

“City Hall should be as effective as possible,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said Tuesday. “The money saved from these ideas can be put towards things like new street lights, freshly paved roads and increased public safety.”

“There’s literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, I believe, that we can save when we unleash this creativity,” he added.

Starting August 15, city employees will be able to submit ideas on how to do things differently and save money in the process.

Rewards will depend on the savings. An employee and their team get to share in 10 percent of the savings anticipated from their idea - up to $100,000 for the team to share equally among its participants and up to a maximum of $5,000 per person.

The good idea doesn’t have to save money. If an employee comes up with a way to improve customer service, they will still be eligible for a $50 award.

City Councilmembers will vote Thursday on whether to approve the proposed initiative.

<![CDATA[Critics Question Legislative Recesses]]> Fri, 01 Aug 2014 20:49:24 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/san+diego+city+council+generic+080114.JPG

For thousands of American lawmakers, Friday marked the first day of a spell that's free of regular meetings.

They call it "legislative recess" but emphasize it's nothing like the summer down-time that schoolkids enjoy.

From Capitol Hill to state legislatures and the grass-roots halls of local government, hearing chambers will go dark for five weeks for most elected officials.

Critics suspect there will be too much slacking off during that time.

"With a legislative recess, you don't know what they're addressing, if anything,” said Hud Collins, an attorney and former San Diego mayoral candidate who frequently has scolded mayors and council members in public hearings.

"There's nothing wrong with getting a week or two of vacation as a break,” Collins added in an interview Friday. “But you don't take off four weeks, two weeks, four weeks. The total of legislative time in the city -- they have three months off."

Legislative recesses add up to about 20 weeks a year for both the San Diego City Council and County Board of Supervisors.

But their members and defenders argue that it's not real time "off", as in idle leave -- it's just an absence of official "quorum" sessions that take many hours of research, fact-finding and committee vetting before votes are cast.

Attorney Bob Ottilie, who chairs the city’s salary setting commission, insists that council members are vastly underpaid for the heavy volume of public service they undertake.

"They're working a 60-hour week outside of the legislative sessions,” Ottilie told NBC 7. “So they're doing a tremendous amount of work. In fact, arguably, they can focus better on projects and their agenda a lot better when they have some time away from the legislative sessions … the average councilmember is probably taking only one to two weeks of vacation a year."

Council President Todd Gloria said there's no shortage of business in the councilmembers’ districts and intergovernmental issues to attend to during legislative recesses.

"When we don't have meetings, that's really what gets freed up,” he noted, citing -- as examples -- consultations with council and city staff, site surveys for projects under development and responding to constituents on problems such as street light repairs.

"I can just tell you myself, I'll spend the month meeting with constituents, going to community events, working on legislation to bring forth in the fall,” Gloria continued. “So it really isn't a time to put your feet up and relax. I'd like to do that. The reality is that this is the eighth largest city in the country; work continues to go on. I expect my Councilmembers will be working pretty hard this summer."

As it turns out, the Council's in special session on Thursday to consider a tentative settlement of the "Jane Doe" lawsuit against the police department, and renew routine emergency declarations.

An expected mayoral veto of the just-adopted minimum wage ordinance also figures to be dealt with.

<![CDATA[Convention Center Plan Is Unconstitutional: Judges]]> Fri, 01 Aug 2014 15:57:27 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Luke-Convention-Center.jpg

 The city of San Diego’s plan to expand its convention center could be dead in the water after a court of appeals ruled the funding strategy for the $520 million project is unconstitutional.

The panel of judges decided Friday that surcharges hoteliers planned to collect on room rates needs to go to a citywide vote.

Two years ago, hotel owners voted to self-assess a fee of 1 to 3 percent to be paid by hotel guests. That surcharge would fund the bulk of the center expansion, and the plan sailed through the San Diego City Council with a 7-1 approval.

However, opponents -- including San Diegans for Open Government (SDOG) -- took the issue to San Diego County Superior Court, arguing the tax is illegal because those who will pay the fee did not get a vote on it.

In March 2013, Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager sided with the city. He ruled the funding mechanism is a legitimate method of generating money to cover construction costs for community facilities.

Challengers soon requested an appeal, which landed the case on the Court of Appeals desk this year.

On Friday, opponents got the ruling they were hoping for: the plan is unconstitutional.

The appeals judges, who voted unanimously against the plan, wrote in its conclusion, "while we understand the City would like to expand the convention center, we are duty bound to uphold the provisions of the California Constitution and the City Charter that require that the City’s registered voters approve the special tax at issue in this case."

Cory Briggs, an attorney for SDOG, said the surcharge should have needed the approval of two-thirds of San Diego’s electorate, not just hoteliers.

"Because if you just ask the people who benefit from taxes to approve them, you're completely leaving out the people who bear the burden of the tax,” said Briggs.

Thomas Mitchell, a spokesperson for the city attorney’s office, said the 2012 city council and mayor was testing legal boundaries when it agreed to the funding system.

On Friday, he echoed what his office stated in 2012, that “the most reliable way to impose this tax is to place it on the general ballot. Two and a half years later, it still is.”

But now, the future of the convention center is up in the air, possibly jeopardizing future events.

For example, the contract with Comic-Con International – a $178 million cash cow for the city – is set to expire in 2016, and without a bigger space, organizers could decide to relocate the mother ship.

Former Mayor and Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Sanders weighed in on the ruling Friday, calling it a “great loss for our city.”

“It is unfortunate that this project will now be delayed even further, increasing the strain on our city’s ability to attract convention business that bolsters the economy and creates thousands of jobs for San Diegans,” Sanders said in a statement.

The city must now decide if it wants to appeal the court’s ruling to the California State Supreme Court or revise its plan to fund the convention center expansion.

<![CDATA[5 Things to Know About New House GOP Leader McCarthy]]> Thu, 19 Jun 2014 12:27:45 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/450883992.jpg

House Republicans are getting a new second-in-command this week, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy takes over for outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The California native was selected for the position in June, after Cantor was handed a surprising defeat by a little-known GOP challenger in Virgnia's primary election.

The promotion puts the 49-year-old McCarthy, who has quickly risen through the leadership ranks during his four terms in Congress, next in line to potentially succeed House Speaker John Boehner.

Here are five things you may not know about the new majority leader:

He got his (lucky) start in sandwiches.

A young McCarthy used a $5,000 lottery prize to start his own business, opening a sandwich shop called Kevin O's Deli at age 19. The shop he has descibed as "Subway before there was Subway," offered "fresh Dutch Krunch white rolls every day," and sandwiches "hot upon request," according to The Orange County Register. McCarthy says he used the profits from later selling that deli to finance his college education. The experience of building a business before hitting 21, he says, helped shape his views on limited government regulations and taxes.

He sees (some of) himself in “House of Cards.”

When Netflix’s popular political drama debuted in 2013, a few things felt a little too familiar to McCarthy, who, like the show’s fictional lead, Rep. Francis Underwood, served as majority whip. That framed whip hanging in Underwood’s office? A spitting image of the one McCarthy received as a gift from Cantor. The scene where Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, tells members “Vote your district, vote your conscience, don't surprise me"? Sounds strikingly like what McCarthy says he tells his own conference. The real-life whip believes those nods came out of a meet-and-greet he had with Spacey before the show started filming. He says the similarities between him and Underwood, a Democrat known for his duplicitous and Machiavellian ways, stop at those superficial references, though. "This one is made professionally about Washington, but it's not Washington," he said of the show during an appearance in Sacramento. "Don't believe what you see in there, but it's intriguing."

He co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the California state Capitol, that is. McCarthy, first elected to represent his home district in Kern County in the state Legislature in 2002, rose to leader of the Assembly’s Republican caucus during his first term. That put him at the bargaining table with then-Gov. Schwarzenegger, who entered office via a 2003 recall election, on state budget negotiations and other major issues facing the Golden State. McCarthy left California's Capitol for the halls of Congress after the 2006 election, when he won the House seat vacated by his own political mentor and former boss, former Republican Rep. Bill Thomas.

He’s an all-star Instagrammer.

McCarthy’s filter-laden Instagram account has attracted more than 12,000 followers to date. While cameos from the likes of Beyonce, Ringo Star and cute dogs don’t hurt, the GOP congressman also uses the social platform to post behind-the-scenes photos from his political and personal life (including frequent “Throwback Thursday” pictures). His social media savvy led BuzzFeed to name him the “best Republican congressman on Instagram” in 2013.


He splits with some GOP conservatives on immigration.

McCarthy hails from one of the nation's bluest states. But the California native hasn’t strayed much from the GOP line in his own time in office, voting with his party 96 percent of the time, according to one Washington Post analysis.  Still, he's split with the more conservative factions of his caucus on at least one key issue seen as a potential factor in Cantor’s primary defeat: immigration reform. Unlike his tea party-aligned colleagues, McCarthy has expressed support for creating a path to legal status for the country’s undocumented immigrants. His campaign for majority leader drew criticism from some conservative commentators, who blasted his backing of immigration reform, Sandy relief funding and a budget compromise. Despite some differences in ideology and style, McCarthy, a skilled networker and social butterfly, has made many friends in Washington, thanks in part to his success in raising cash and building a program to train and support up-and-coming candidates.

Get More at NBC News

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Yee Pleads Not Guilty to RICO Count]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 20:18:12 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/07-31-2014-leland-yee.jpg

Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee pleaded not guilty on Thursday – as he did before to previous charges – to the latest racketeering charge, which alone carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

The senator, who is out on $500,000 bond, appeared to be in a good mood in the hallway of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

"I'll talk to my attorney and see where we go from there," Yee told reporters while leaving the courthouse in a charcoal gray suit.

His next court date is scheduled for Aug. 7.

Yee and more than two dozen others were swept up in a wide-reaching federal investigation in late March, first reported by NBC Bay Area, during an FBI raid on Yee’s office.

The San Francisco Democrat is accused of a string of illegal actions in exchange for campaign contributions, including conspiring to mastermind an international arms deal involving machine guns to an undercover FBI agent posing as a mob figure and, as alleged in the most recent indictment, offering his support on legislation for the NFL.

In April, Yee pleaded not guilty to the first set of charges. He is being represented by Curtis Briggs, who said in a previous interview that the government's case is very "weak" against Yee, who is still being paid his annual salary of $90,000.

But on Friday, federal prosecutors added the racketeering count, under the statute known as RICO, to a superseding grand jury indictment. A racketeering conviction carries a possible prison sentence of 20 years or more and huge fines.

That means Yee now faces three additional charges: one count of "conspiracy to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity" and two counts of conspiracy "to obtain property under the color of official right."

The revised indictment alleges that Yee tried to extort "individuals and professional sports teams related to the passage of legislation governing the ability of professional athletes to collect workers compensation for injuries in California."

In 2013, investigators allege that Yee told an undercover FBI agent posing as an Arizona businessman that he should contact an NFL team owner the agent claimed to know and the owner "should contact Yee with an offer to help Yee," because he would be a key vote on the workers compensation bill, according to the indictment.

The undercover agent allegedly asked Yee how much his vote would cost. "Oh no," Yee is accused of having replied. "We gotta drag it out, man. We gotta juice this thing."

The undercover agent offered Yee $60,000 for his vote, the indictment reports, but Yee, after voting for the bill in committee, did not receive a campaign contribution. Yee abstained when the full Senate approved the bill.

The documents do not implicate the NFL.

If convicted on all counts, Yee faces a maximum of 165 years in prison and $2.25 million in penalties.

The revised grand jury indictment now includes 228 charges against 29 defendants.

Two of those high profile defendants have already entered not guilty pleas. They include: Keith Jackson, a former Yee consultant and San Francisco school board president and Chinatown gang leader,  Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.

Chow's attorney, Tony Serra, said outside U.S. District Court on Wednesday that the government's case is weak, and that the grand jury would indict a "ham sandwich."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[CA Has 1st Openly Gay Governor - For Part of Day]]> Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:52:01 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/toni+atkins+swearing+in.jpg

For eight or nine hours on Wednesday, California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins will be acting as the state's top chief executive— the first openly gay governor in state history.

That's because this week, the three above her on the state org chart are not in town.

Gov. Jerry Brown is on a trade mission in Mexico this week. As the Washington Post noted, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom filled in for a bit, but is on the East Coast for a Special Olympics event. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg then took over for a while, but he had plans to be in Chicago on Wednesday.

"I feel so grateful," Atkins said in an email on Wednesday forwarded by her spokesman. "I wish my parents could see this. Now I know that may sound hokey to many. But honestly, this is what is going through my mind. If Governor Brown wants a few more days away I'm here for him!"

Atkins spokesman Will Shuck confirmed Atkins will "hold the role of acting governor for approximately one business day, ending this evening on the return of governor." 

Atkins, D-San Diego, is the first openly lesbian leader of either California chamber, succeeding the first openly gay Assembly speaker, John Pérez, a Democrat from Los Angeles.

She shared on her Facebook page that filling in is nothing new: during her time on the San Diego city council, the now 51-year-old Atkins served as acting mayor after other city officials stepped down. She was the first lesbian to hold that position, too.

But Atkins was not focusing on making history due to her sexual orientation on Wednesday. She took the opportunity to highlight her roots -- growing up "in poverty in Virginia" -- and her journey to becoming acting governor for a day.

Atkins, who has focused on funding state universities and advocating for victims of violence and abuse during her time at the Capitol, had a full calendar ahead of her.

But the first act, she tweeted out, was to make sure the temporary first dogs of California - Haley and Joey -  got their morning walk. She shares her pooches with wife, Jennifer LeSar, in the South Park/Golden Hill community of San Diego.

Photo Credit: CA State Assembly]]>
<![CDATA[Noted GOP Crusader to Attend Burning Man]]> Wed, 30 Jul 2014 09:57:45 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/BM+People+2013-043.JPG

Grover Norquist is going to Burning Man.

The anti-tax, pro-Republican activist was invited, after all.

Aficionados of the annual free-for-all in the desert were agog this week after hearing the news that Norquist, a hero on the right and a demon to many on the left for his staunch stance against income taxes and the social programs they fund, would be attending Burning Man next month.

He actually had planned to attend in 2012, on Larry Harvey's invitation, but found -- to his chagrin -- that the Republican National Convention was the same day.

Norquist told reporters that he'd "go with the flow" upon arrival in Black Rock City. What that means exactly is unclear -- will he flog low taxes in geodesic domes, inform fairy-winged day-trippers of the meaning of job creation? 

Maybe he just wants to get away from it all.

Photo Credit: Josh Keppel]]>
<![CDATA[Minimum Wage Push Triggers Shove by Mayor, Business]]> Tue, 29 Jul 2014 06:51:10 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Minimumwagephoto-PIC_0.jpg

A minimum wage higher than the state’s was adopted by San Diego's City Council Monday-- setting the stage for more fighting at City Hall, possibly the ballot box and in the courts.

The council Democrats' 6-to-3 super-majority gave Monday’s "second reading" passage of the wage ordinance a political heat shield against the veto power that Mayor Kevin Faulconer quickly announced he'll invoke.

Business leaders are dead-set against the measure, and small-scale merchants who rely on minimum wage workforces warn that they'll soon wind up paying around $4,600 a year more per employee in payroll costs and taxes.

"I can't increase my costs like some businesses can,” said Ann Kinner, owner of Seabreeze Books and Charts in Point Loma’s Fleetridge district.

“The only thing I can do is cut the number of hours that I am paying someone to work in my store,” Kinner told reporters at a Monday news conference outside the offices of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Nonprofit charitable and community-service organizations also are up in arms.

"The bottom line is that this ordinance would negatively impact thousands of people,” said Mark Klaus, CEO of Home of Guiding Hands. “Thousands of children, adults, adolescents and their families."

Some 200,000 minimum wage earners in San Diego will be eligible for an increase over the state's new benchmark of $9 an hour to $9.75 on January 1st, with further hikes phased in to $11.50 an hour by 2017, followed by automatic inflation escalators.

Critics predict that the cumulative 43 percent rise in wages over two years will lead to higher consumer prices that could result in layoffs and work-shift reductions.

They also say one in six businesses in San Diego would be inclined to move elsewhere.

But supporters say those dire predictions were made in San Jose two years ago, when voters approved a $10 hourly minimum by a 60-to-40 percent majority -- and they didn't come true.

“The reality was that 9,000 new businesses were added one year after implementation, and 4,000 jobs were added in the low-wage sectors," said Robert Nothoff, research analyst at the Center on Policy Initiatives.

Nothoff figures the higher minimum wages will boost recipients’ spending power by a combined $260 million annually, smoothing out whatever economic disruptions businesses may experience.

“The cure to all of that,” he said in an interview Monday, “is making sure people can actually buy products at your shop and at your store."

Faulconer’s not buying that logic.

“This ordinance puts our job growth in jeopardy and will lead to higher prices and layoffs for San Diego families,” the mayor said in a statement issued by his director of media relations. “I will veto this ordinance because we should be looking for ways to create more jobs, not putting up roadblocks to opportunities.”

The fight doesn't figure to end with a council override of Faulconer's veto.

The Chamber of Commerce is already fundraising for a referendum campaign against the minimum wage measure, which includes “earned sick leave” provisions.

Said Chamber President/CEO Jerry Sanders, in a statement: “The City Council’s minimum wage increase is effectively a tax on every San Diego resident because the cost of this increased wage will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices in goods and services.”

There's a tight time window for a petition signature drive to qualify as a ballot-box challenge, but activists say it's "do-able" – and that legal challenges also are a possibility.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Escondido Denies Immigrant Children Housing Permit]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 12:51:21 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Immigration+children.jpg

The planning commission for the city of Escondido has denied a permit for a temporary shelter for undocumented immigrant children.

Impassioned pleas from Escondido residents filled City Hall late Tuesday as the city’s planning commission considered whether to reverse a recent vote denying a permit to the non-profit organization Southwest Key.

The proposed facility would offer housing for an influx of unaccompanied minors who have entered the U.S. from Central America. San Diego County has limited beds for immigrant children as they await legal proceedings to determine if they can seek asylum from the violence and poverty in their home countries.

Supporters of the shelter took to the podium to urge commissioners to allow it to go forward.

“This is a human issue,” said Effie Collins, who’s changed her own mind on immigration. “Not an issue between haves and have nots.”

"What’s happening to these kids has personal meaning for me,” said another woman. “Just before World War I, my Dutch grandmother was determined to get out of Europe with her son: my father."

One by one, people tried to persuade commissioners to allow the now-shuttered Palomar Continuing Care Center to be turned into a 96-bed shelter for undocumented immigrant children.

Despite a pre-meeting, pro-shelter march to City Hall, with protestors chanting at times "We're a community without borders," the planning commission voted not to allow the children's facility in Escondido.

Resident Jack Bennett was happy.

“They need to be with their parents,“ he said about the children the facility would house. “They need to be in their home country with their parents. That’s not being racist. “

Commissioners said they were denying the permit based on inappropriate and too intensive of land use, traffic, noise and safety.

The vote not to convert the facility doesn't just mean the immigrant minors won't be housed in Escondido. It also means the estimated $8.5 million and about 100 jobs the shelter was projected to bring into North County will not be coming.

The decision can be appealed within the next ten days. If it is, the city council will make the deciding vote.

Southwest Key already operates two other shelters in San Diego County.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Worker to Mayor: Don't Take Minimum Wage Hike From Me]]> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:47:07 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/minimum-wage-rally-0722.jpg

Biviana Lagunas, a full-time San Diego State University student with a part-time job, is asking for the mayor's help.

“We're short every single month on the rent. That's why I have a job... to pay for my education,” she said.

A typical day for Lagunas starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at midnight. She works seven hours, attends class for five hours and then goes home where she’ll work on homework until she goes to sleep.

She believes an increase in the city's minimum wage would really help her family. Describing how her mother struggles brings her to tears.

“I don’t think my mother working full time should live in poverty,” said Lagunas.

Lagunas was among dozens of San Diegans who were joined by interfaith leaders outside City Hall Tuesday. 

They carried roses and bread - symbolic gifts - to Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office to ask that he sign the minimum wage increase recently approved by the City Council.

Faulconer was unavailable so the delegation spoke to his chief of staff instead.

The City Council voted last week to increase the hourly minimum wage to $9.75 on January 1, 2015 and then to $10.50 in 2016 and $11.50 in 2017.

The ordinance requires a second reading before it is officially adopted. Faulconer, who opposes the measure, will then have 10 days to sign or veto the ordinance.

The delegation presented a check made out to the mayor, for $1560 per month with a message on the memo line, “Can you live on this?"

“Maybe if he pay everybody a livable wage, somebody can come live next to him,” Marcus Nichols said.

Nichols told NBC 7 he lives in his car right now despite holding down two jobs. He said he’s considering picking up a third job.

“If they really care about the citizens as he says he does, he would raise the minimum wage to a living standard,” Nichols said about Mayor Faulconer.

As the first person in her family to graduate high school, Lagunas said she’s attending SDSU to better herself and have a higher income earning potential.

“My mom has to go to work sick. My 18-year-old sister has to take care of my 4-year-old brother when he's sick because my mom can't miss a day of work,” she said. “I'm just asking Mayor Faulconer to not take this away from me and sign the ordinance.”

Peter Brownell, Ph.D. Research Director at the Center on Policy Initiatives said raising the minimum wage helps all workers, not just those in entry-level jobs.

The increase would put additional money into the pocket of low-wage earners will stimulate the economy and help parents of children living in poverty or with unmet needs, he said.

“What kind of San Diego do we want to see now and in the future?” Brownell asks.

The mayor and other critics of the ordinance have said a wage increase could cost jobs as businesses let workers go to make up for increased salaries.

Other small business owners say a minimum wage above the state minimum wage will pressure other businesses to give raises to their better-paid workers as well. So other workers will soon be expecting a bump in salaries, they said.

Opponents also warn of higher costs for consumers.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Prop 47 Aims for Softer Sentences, School Funding]]> Sat, 19 Jul 2014 08:35:10 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/226*120/prison.png

 A new proposition slated for California’s November ballot would make thousands of criminals eligible for re-sentencing in an effort to fund education.

Proposition 47 – also known as the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Initiative” – aims to reclassify current non-violent crimes like drug possession or petty theft from felonies to misdemeanors, unless the prisoner has prior convictions for violent and serious crimes.

Supporters say by reducing the convict’s sentence and therefore reducing the prison population, the state could save more than a billion dollars over five years.

An estimated $150 million to $250 million would go toward mental health programs and schools.

One supporter of Prop 47 is former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne.

Under his 11 year tenure, hundreds of such non-violent criminals were sentenced to terms at Donovan Correctional Facility.

But now, the retired top cop is taking a different stance on sentencing laws.

“I’ve got 49 years in this business, and it’s clear warehousing people doesn’t work,” said Lansdowne. “You’ll have to look at real crime prevention in long-term, and that’s treatment and prevention.”

But another big name in law enforcement – District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis – disagrees, noting that the illegal possession of date rape dugs will be reduced to a “slap on the wrist” and stealing any handgun worth less than $950 will no longer be a felony, according to DA spokesman Steve Walker.

“The San Diego District Attorney’s office opposes Prop 47 and is working with other prosecutors in the state to defeat this ill-conceived initiative,” said Walker.

There is also concern that judges will not be able to block the early release of inmates who have prior convictions for serious crimes.

The spokesperson for the San Diego Unified School District said they were not familiar enough with this issue to comment at this time.