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Beyond The County: Obama, Putin, agree to continue seeking deal on Syria, 2 shot fatally at NY parade

HANGZHOU, China — President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. and Russia have not given up on negotiations that could stem the bloodshed in Syria, but acknowledged leaders are challenged by “gaps of trust” between the rival powers.

Significant sticking points remain in the negotiations over a creation of an unlikely U.S.-Russian military partnership focusing firepower on “common enemies” in Syria, Obama said. He acknowledged that a flurry of diplomacy at an economic summit and a 90-minute meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, earlier Monday did not yield a breakthrough.

“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation,” Obama told a press conference closing the Group of 20 summit. “We haven’t yet closed the gaps.”

Obama didn’t detail the trouble spots, although he suggested the U.S. has concerns about Russia holding up its end of the bargain and enforcing the terms. Any deal would depend on Moscow using its influence with Syrian President Bashar Assad to persuade the Syrian leader to ground planes and stop the assault on opposition forces. Obama said the aim was to reach “meaningful, serious, verifiable cessations of hostilities in Syria.”

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov have for weeks been trying to broker a deal that would curb the violence between the Russian-ally Assad’s government forces and moderate rebels backed by the U.S.

The deal depends on the two sides agreeing to closer militarily coordination against extremist groups operating in Syria, something the Russians have long sought and the U.S. resisted.

Obama has expressed skepticism that Russia would hold to its agreement. The State Department has said it wants nationwide cease-fire between Assad’s military and the rebels, rather than another time-limited agreement like ones that failed before.

Obama’s meeting with Putin came as the Russia leader is playing a prominent role in the presidential campaign at home. U.S. officials blame Russian intelligence for a hack on the Democratic National Committee that resulted in a leak of emails damaging to its presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Putin has denied his government was involved, but cheered the release of the information.

The president said expressed concerns about cybersecurity issues with Putin, but would not detail the discussions.

Multiple bomb blasts in Syrian cities kill at least 12

DAMASCUS, Syria — At least 12 people were killed in a string of bombings inside government territory in Syria, state media reported Monday.

The SANA news agency reported blasts in the coastal city of Tartus, the central city of Homs, the suburbs of the capital Damascus, and the northeastern city of Hasakeh.

Attackers detonated two bombs at the entrance of the government stronghold of Tartus along the international coastal highway, SANA said, killing five. A car bomb at the Arzoneh bridge was followed by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt who targeted the gathering crowd. The city, a stronghold of support for President Bashar Assad, is home to a major Russian naval base.

The governor of Homs province said a car bomb struck a military checkpoint in the provincial capital, Homs, killing two soldiers and injuring four others, one critically. The city, Syria’s third largest, is largely under government control, with only one neighborhood still under opposition control. Monday’s bomb exploded in the government-held Bab Tadmor district, SANA said.

2 shot to death at carnival before NY West Indian Day Parade

NEW YORK — Two people were shot to death Monday at a carnival celebrating Caribbean culture in the hours before the city’s annual West Indian Day Parade.

The bloodshed came amid unprecedented precautions taken by police to ensure safety at an event routinely marred by violence and a year after an aide to the governor was killed by a stray bullet.

A male in his late teens or early 20s was shot in the chest at around 3:50 a.m. Monday in Brooklyn during J’ouvert, the New York Police Department said. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

A 66-year-old woman was shot in the hand and the arm at the same location and was taken to a hospital in stable condition, police said.

About 25 minutes later, a 22-year-old woman was shot in the head just a block away, police said. She died at a hospital.

Police say they’re investigating whether the shootings are related.

Young activists ride anti-China mood to win Hong Kong vote

HONG KONG — A new wave of young Hong Kong activists seeking to change the way the southern Chinese city is governed by Beijing emerged Monday as the big winners of legislative elections.

Record turnout in Sunday’s vote helped sweep the newcomers into office, most notably Nathan Law, a 23-year-old former student leader of massive pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2014. He garnered the second-highest number of votes in his six-seat Hong Kong Island constituency.

Law’s party, Demosisto , founded earlier this year with teen protest leader Joshua Wong, advocates a referendum on “self-determination” on the future status of Hong Kong, which is in the middle of a 50-year transition period to Chinese rule.

“It shows how Hong Kong people want to change,” Law told reporters when asked about his victory. “People are voting for a new way and new future of our democratic movement.”

In another surprising result, official results showed that Yau Wai-Ching, 25, of Youngspiration, which was formed during the 2014 protests and proposes a similar plan as Demosisto, secured a seat in the Legislative Council. The group’s other candidate, 30-year-old Sixtus Leung, also appeared headed for a win, according to incomplete results for his constituency.

Seoul says North Korea fires 3 medium-range missiles

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Monday fired three medium-range missiles that traveled about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and landed near Japan in an apparent show of force timed to coincide with the Group of 20 economic summit in China, South Korean officials said.

North Korea has staged a series of recent missile tests with increasing range, part of a program that aims to eventually build long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

Such tests are fairly common when international attention is turned to Northeast Asia, and this one came as world leaders gathered in eastern China for the G-20 summit of advanced and emerging economies. China is North Korea’s only major ally, but ties between the neighbors have frayed amid a string of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and what many outsiders see as other provocations in recent years.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the three ballistic missiles, all believed to be Rodongs, were launched from the western North Korean town of Hwangju and flew across the country before splashing into the sea.

A Joint Chiefs of Staff statement described the launches as an “armed protest” meant to demonstrate North Korea’s military capability on the occasion of the G-20 summit and days before the North Korean government’s 68th anniversary.

The U.S. State Department said Monday’s launch and other previous launches violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from launches using ballistic missile technology.

“We will raise our concerns at the UN about the threat posed to international security by these programs,” said spokesperson John Kirby in a statement.

Beyond The County: 300 Syrians leave suburb of Damascus after deal, Stanford rapist released

MOADAMIYEH, Syria — More than 300 Syrians were taken by bus out of a rebel-held suburb of the capital, Damascus, in an evacuation Friday under a deal struck with the government that ends a punishing 3-year-long siege, allows rebel fighters to leave and restores state control over the area.

The suburb of Moadamiyeh is the latest opposition pocket to relent after residents could no longer take the suffering under sieges by Syria’s military, with food supplies dwindling and key infrastructure like hospitals being destroyed. A nearby suburb, Daraya, surrendered and came under government control last week.

The accelerating pace of such surrenders points to the success of the military’s tactic of sieges, even as it has brought international criticism and complaints from the U.N. over the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid to besieged residents.

An Associated Press reporter in Moadamiyeh saw security forces searching the luggage of dozens of men, women, and children before they boarded buses Friday, heading out of the suburb to shelters in a government-controlled neighborhood nearby.

Moadamiyeh, which a U.N. report said was gassed with toxic sarin in 2013, has suffered a three-year government siege, leaving its estimated 28,000 residents with dwindling food and medical supplies.

The first part of the deal’s implementation evacuated about 340 people, including 62 gunmen who agreed to lay down their arms after taking advantage of a presidential amnesty, said the governor of Rural Damascus province, Alaa Munir Ibrahim.

Aside from the gunmen, the evacuees are all residents of the nearby suburb of Daraya who had been trapped in Moadamiyeh when the military launched a major offensive on Daraya earlier this year.

Once their evacuation to government-controlled areas is complete, the rebel gunmen in Moadamiyeh who refuse to hand over their weapons will leave, likely to rebel-held parts of northern Syria. The rest of the suburb’s population will remain.

It was not clear when government security forces would take over control of the suburb.

Moadamiyeh’s fall was a direct result of the collapse of resistance in Daraya, which had been under siege since 2012. Battered by the offensive launched this year, Daraya’s residents finally reached a deal with the government, and last week the entire remaining population of the suburb — about 4,000 people out of an original 200,000 — was removed, drawing criticism that it was a forced displacement.

The offensive also cut off other rebel-held areas like Moadamiyah.

“The heroic acts of the Syrian army in Daraya led to the achievement in Moadamiyeh,” Ibrahim, the provincial governor, told Syrian state TV.

No charges filed over San Diego flesh-eating death

SAN DIEGO — Prosecutors say they won’t file criminal charges over the death of a man who developed a flesh-eating infection after a fight outside a San Diego nightclub.

Twenty-one-year-old Conner Kepple died about a week after the March confrontation.

The San Diego Union-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2bO7EJB ) says an autopsy report released this week ruled the death a homicide caused by Kepple’s injuries.

Police say Kepple was celebrating his upcoming birthday when he was thrown out of the club for hitting a bouncer, then scuffled with other employees outside.

Police say Kepple didn’t appear to be seriously hurt but he developed pain in an injured leg that worsened.

Kepple had contracted fast-spreading necrotizing fasciitis. He was taken off life support on his 21st birthday.

His family has sued the nightclub for wrongful death.

Reward in California sea otter killings doubled

SAN FRANCISCO — Authorities have doubled a reward to $20,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who shot and killed three southern sea otters in the last month.

The three male otters were found dead between the Santa Cruz Harbor and Seacliff State Beach in Aptos last month, but initial necropsy results show the otters were shot and died several days to several weeks before washing ashore.

Southern sea otters are protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. They are also protected under Marine Mammal Protection Act and by California state law. Killing a southern sea otter is punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and a possible jail sentence.

Anyone with information should call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Wrong man released from San Francisco jail

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco jail wants its inmate back after mistakenly releasing the man.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/2bI1uh8 ) that a court clerk accidentally indicated that all charges against 20-year-old Victor Rodriguez had been dismissed and San Francisco County jail deputies released him Wednesday night.

Rodriguez actually had several months left on his sentence and was booked last November on suspicion of robbery, battery and resisting arrest. He was twice charged with making threats against police.

San Francisco Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Eileen Hirst says the judge was planning to sentence Rodriguez to a year in county jail for one of the threatening charges. She says there is no reason to think the clerk’s mistake was malicious.

Swimmer’s sex assault sentence spurs debate over prison plan

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A November ballot measure backed by Gov. Jerry Brown would allow earlier parole for thousands of California inmates to control overcrowding in state prisons and rein in costs.

But critics say it could result in the very situation that led to public outrage in the case of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner.

The proposal is limited to nonviolent offenders. But in California, “nonviolent” is broadly defined.

It encompasses scores of crimes, including certain rapes and sexual assaults, vehicular and involuntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence.

Because of that, prosecutors say the ballot measure could mean less time in prison for people like Turner. The one-time Olympic hopeful swimmer was released Friday after completing half of a six-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.

FBI publishes notes on Clinton’s use of private email

WASHINGTON — The FBI has released 58 pages of documents from its recently closed investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, including a summary of agents’ interviews with Clinton and several of her aides.

The documents include technical details about how the server in the basement of Clinton’s home was set up.

Friday’s release of documents involving the Democratic presidential nominee is a highly unusual step, but one that reflects the extraordinary public interest in the investigation into Clinton’s server.

After a yearlong investigation, the FBI recommended against prosecution in July, and the Justice Department then closed the case.

FBI Director James Comey said that while Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless,” there was no evidence they intentionally mishandled classified information.

Early voting already: Trump chances may hinge on non-whites

WASHINGTON — Two months before Election Day, early voting kicks off next week in North Carolina. It’s the first in a run of key states where minority voters and young adults could give one of the White House contenders a decisive advantage.

For Donald Trump, it’s a major test of whether his recent outreach to non-white groups is translating into votes. Minorities can tip the scales in the increasingly diverse battleground states of North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. Those are all must-win states for Trump, except Colorado.

Early voters are expected to make up 50 to 75 percent or more of all ballots in the six states, based on 2012 figures. That’s compared to a national average of 35 percent, according to election data compiled by The Associated Press.

Rachel Helm: Bureaucratic excess alive and well in Nevada County

Recently, The Union ran an article reporting on the shortage of housing in the county for under $500,000, as well as an article on the high costs associated with building new homes in our county.

I can tell you from personal experience that the reality in terms of property development is much worse than what The Union described.

What follows is a summary of my journey into the morass of government regulations that control or, more accurately, thwart property development in Nevada County. Most of this doesn’t cover building a structure on a piece of land, merely the process of splitting a 10-acre parcel into two 5-acre lots. The land was zoned for 5 acres so no zoning variance was required. There’s no wetland on it, no exotic species. A process that I thought would be straightforward took two and half years to complete, and cost far more than I could imagine. Two years into the process, I had spent just under $6,000 for work and fees driven by state regulations and $4,530 on county-based requirements. I thought I was close to the finish line when I got a call from my surveyor informing me that there was an issue with the alternative evacuation route out of the area. I’m in South County so this route goes west toward Camp Far West and eventually connects into Highway 20. Eight miles from my property, the route goes over a single-lane bridge. The Fire Marshall’s office concluded that the bridge turnouts did not comply with county regulations and needed to be improved. I was told I must make the road improvements before the county would approve the lot split.

Me: “I don’t own that bridge!”

Surveyor: “No, Nevada County does. But they won’t finalize the split until you improve that road.”

Me: “That’s outrageous! It’s county property. It’s their responsibility to keep it in compliance with their regulations!”

Ultimately, I was forced to pay for the work or walk away from all the money I’d already invested in the project. The road work came in at just under $4,000. Total outlay for county permits and project work specifically related to the split and improvements to the county road: $9,907.

When you add in the cost of additional necessary work such as the perch and mantle work, digging a well, the title search and the services of my surveyor, the final cost of the split came in just more than $43,000. That doesn’t include what I originally paid for the land, taxes paid or maintenance costs.

I wish I could say this tale ends when the split was finalized but sadly that’s not the case. The story now moves to the Building Department.

My new lot was put up for sale. A sale price was agreed upon with a buyer who went to the Building Department to talk about building options. The buyer came back to her real estate agent in a panic. When the buyer asked a representative from the Building Department whether there were any building constraints, she was told she couldn’t build if it disturbed nesting birds. She was also told if she removed any blue oaks, she would have to plant three oak trees for every tree removed. I asked my realtor if the buyer was told that the nesting limitations were restricted to four months of the year or whether the buyer was told that she had five years to plant the new trees; apparently the answer was “no” on both. Finally, the buyer said she was told if she wanted to build a small house, which she did, she probably wouldn’t be able to do so, because a small house wouldn’t comply with ADA (American Disability Act) regulations. ADA regulations don’t apply to residential properties. But by the time buyer was informed of this, it was too late and the sale fell out of escrow.

This isn’t an example of responsible bureaucratic oversight. This is a glaring example of government agencies riding roughshod over the citizens they are chartered to serve, and demonstrates that such abuses are as eagerly undertaken by Nevada County agencies as are agencies of the State of California.

This onerous process discourages new construction and drives up the cost of housing to a point that puts it out of reach for many residents, particularly young families.

Is there any wonder that there’s a severe shortage of housing for buyers looking for a home in Nevada County that comes in under $500,000?

Rachel Helm, who lives in South County, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinion is her own and does not reflect the viewpoint of The Union or its editorial board. Contact her via EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

Our View: Welcome home, to the LOVE Building

The recent reopening of the LOVE Building at Condon Park in Grass Valley is a solid model of what’s possible through collaboration focused on the mission.

Gold Country Community Services, which provides indispensable services such as our community’s “Meals on Wheels” program, has needed a permanent home base since moving from the Nevada County Fairgrounds nearly a decade ago. The LOVE Building — its acronym stands for Local Organized Volunteer Effort — was an option, but was in need of a great deal of love itself.

The building was constructed in 1982 by the Grass Valley Host Lions Club, a long-standing local nonprofit organization that also knows a thing or two about community service. In addition to constructing the LOVE Building — and eventually transferring ownership to the city of Grass Valley — the Lions have led Flag Day commemorations at schools, sponsored a Student Speaker Contest, donated trees to the fairgrounds, hosted foreign students in its Lions Youth Exchange, funded a Pet Food Pantry and hosted a reading challenge at Union Hill School — all among its club projects in 2016 alone. And that’s in addition to the Lions Club International ongoing commitment to support sight impaired people all across the globe.

In taking on responsibility for the LOVE Building in 2013, Gold Country Community Services had its permanent location, but the structure needed improvements for ADA accessibility, energy efficiencies, a commercial kitchen, additional parking and more space — from the former 2,400 to the current 3,360 square feet — to fit the need. All of that work came at cost largely funded by $400,000 from a Community Development Block Grant won by the City of Grass Valley.

“I’m so glad to see this finally come about,” Gold Country Community Services Director Sandy Jacobson told The Union. “We are very grateful for the city, who was our partner, who managed the project from start to finish; we have only participated in terms of design.”

Many of Grass Valley’s city officials were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 23, celebrating a “new and improved” LOVE Building, where Gold Country Community Services will oversee its community service efforts, which annually includes donating 46,000 meals to seniors and preschool children, along with delivering 175 cords of firewood to heat low-income homes. The organization, founded 1976 as the Senior Citizens Foundation of Nevada County, will also manage the rental of the LOVE Building by local organizations and community members, as well as host its own events and classes, focused on fun and fitness.

Thanks to all involved, no longer will Gold Country’s staff and volunteers need to do their good work in “nomadic” fashion.

And the end result of the remodel not only will help provide much-needed food, firewood, fun and fitness, but also will serve as a shining example of what can be accomplished through collaborative efforts among organizations committed to making service to our community the top priority.

Welcome home to the, new and improved, LOVE Building.

The weekly Our View column represents the opinions of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.