Beyond the county: CA vaccination repeal measure fails, Drones in New York |

Beyond the county: CA vaccination repeal measure fails, Drones in New York

This photo taken Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 in Calverton, N.Y., shows the site of the former Skydive Long Island, which was purchased last month by a company that intends to manufacture solar-powered drones. Daniel Preston, the CEO of Luminati Aerospace LLC, said Thursday, the company will make the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles, but declined to say whether his firm is associated with any well-known technology companies trying to develop drones to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)

Measure to repeal California vaccine law won’t be on ballot

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Proponents of an effort to repeal California’s new stricter law requiring mandatory vaccines for school children failed to submit enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative asking voters to repeal the law.

County election clerks reported receiving fewer than 234,000 of the 366,000 signatures needed to ask California voters to repeal the law, according to figures provided to the secretary of state’s office and posted online Thursday. The new state law struck down the state’s personal belief exemption for immunizations, a move that requires nearly all public schoolchildren to be vaccinated.

Six counties reported they received the petitions after the Sept. 28 deadline for submission.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the vaccine measure into law earlier this year amid fierce opposition from some parents’ rights groups who argued the state should not force their children to be vaccinated.

The leading proponent of the repeal effort, former Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, previously signaled in an email to supporters that the initiative was unlikely to qualify. A note on the group’s Facebook page also said many covers were torn off the front of booklets used to collect signatures, invalidating them.

The bill’s author, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, has said he believed the vast majority of Californians supported the law.

Supporters of the effort to repeal SB277 raised more than $170,000 on an online fundraising site to hire paid signature gatherers, falling far short of their $750,000 goal.

California will join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states with such strict requirements if the law takes effect as planned next year.

— Associated Press

California oil regulators acknowledge oversight failings

SAN FRANCISCO — Oil and gas regulators in and around Los Angeles routinely failed to carry out much of the oversight required to keep federally protected drinking-water aquifers from oilfield contamination, an internal review by those state regulators concluded Thursday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s San Francisco office, in an email from spokesman Bill Keener, called the findings “significant and troubling.”

The EPA will consider placing additional requirements on state oil and gas regulators to ensure California, which is the country’s No. 3 oil-producing state, comes into compliance with the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act and other state and federal standards, the EPA said.

Thursday’s report by the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is the latest to highlight problems in state oversight of oilfield injection wells, which pump production fluid and waste into underground water reserves. In 2014, a department review mandated by the EPA identified 2,553 injection wells that California improperly permitted to discharge into aquifers that are federally protected as current or potential sources of drinking water.

The 2014 list included 11 in the greater Los Angeles area. Regulators said Thursday that most of those wells were outside the area studied in the latest report, or were found not to have threatened aquifers that are federally protected.

Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, said Thursday that the division had not examined whether any state-permitted injection in the area had contaminated current or potential sources of drinking water.

The report looked specifically at regulation of injection wells in much of Los Angeles County, where 3.5 million people live within a mile of an oil or gas well.

The internal review cited “systemic problems” with state enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws and regulations governing oilfield injection wells.

While the U.S. EPA requires annual inspections of the oilfield injection wells, for example, the internal review found the state has not inspected the majority of wells since 2007.

Additionally, state oil and gas regulators in the Los Angeles area in 2012 decided to start granting permits for oilfield injection wells without first carrying out required site reviews to see whether the operations would threaten protected drinking-water supplies underground.

David Bunn, the head of California’s Department of Conservation, which includes the oil and gas division, on Thursday blamed what he described as chronic underfunding of the regulators.

In a court affidavit filed this summer, one of Bunn’s predecessors, Derek Chernow, reported pressure from Gov. Jerry Brown and from oil companies to speed up permitting for oilfield operations.

“I can safely say we are not under that pressure,” Bunn told reporters Thursday.

Also Thursday, Brown announced the appointment of Bakersfield, Calif., oilman Bill Bartling, a former manager at Chevron, Occidental and other oil-industry firms, as a district deputy over state oil regulation.

— Associated Press

Cigarette Tax Headed Toward Ballot

After losing a bid in the state Legislature to impose a $2-per-pack cigarette tax, proponents will ask California voters to do it.

Cigarette tax proponents, who on Wednesday sent ballot initiative language to the Attorney General’s office, hope to collect enough signatures to put a $2-a-pack cigarette tax measure on the November 2016 ballot.

The tax has been projected to raise $1.5 billion in the first year.

Once the ballot title and language become official — which can take up to two months — the six-month-long signature-gathering effort begins. Ballot measure proponents will circulate petitions to try to gather more than 365,000 signatures from registered voters in California.

The measure is being proposed by the Save Lives California coalition, which includes the California Medical Association, the California Dental Association, the American Lung Association — and now also includes billionaire California businessman Tom Steyer, according to an announcement released Wednesday by the coalition.

“The initiative . will benefit Californians by reducing smoking rates and long term health care costs,” said Luther Cobb, president of the California Medical Association, in a written statement. “Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in California, killing more people than car accident, suicide, alcohol, illegal drugs and AIDS combined.”

Once the Secretary of State issues an official ballot title and summary, proponents have 180 days at that point to file enough signatures to equal at least 5% of the votes cast for governor in the last election. The submitted signatures then need to be verified by the Secretary of State’s office before qualifying as a ballot measure.

Two separate bills were introduced in the special legislative session on health to levy a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes. Neither bill made it to the legislative floor.

SBX2-13, by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), would’ve spent $1.5 billion primarily on anti-smoking programs, tobacco-related medical research and Medi-Cal services. SBX2-14, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), was a little broader, including a revised version of the managed care organization tax and increases in provider rates for those serving the developmentally disabled.

SBX2-13 was co-authored by Hernandez. Both bills were designed to meet the governor’s stated goals of the special session on health, in part or in whole — to find a solution to the budget hole created by an impending loss of the MCO tax, to find funding for an ongoing replacement of In-Home Supportive Services and to figure out a way to increase Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates.

— California Healthline

High-tech firm’s plans to make drones in NY spark questions

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — A plan to manufacture solar-powered drones at a suburban New York site that once made fighter jets for the U.S. military is sparking questions about whether the aircraft will be used to beam Internet service. So far, company officials are staying mum.

Daniel Preston, the CEO and chief technology officer of Luminati Aerospace LLC., appeared Thursday with other company officials at a meeting of town board members in Riverhead, seeking permission for Luminati to use one of two runways on property it recently purchased. The land was once used by defense contractor Northrop Grumman to test fighter jets.

Preston said the company, which closed last month on a $3.4 million deal to acquire 16.3 acres of land from the operator of a now-closed skydiving facility, intends to develop the next generation of drones at the site. Initially, the company intends to immediately hire about 40 employees for high-tech positions, but described its long-term goals as “multimillion-dollar in nature.”

This summer, Facebook announced it will begin test flights later this year for a solar-powered drone to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world, but Preston would not comment on whether his firm is associated with that or any other tech company.

“I have to respect the confidential nature of this program and of our client,” he told reporters after meeting with town officials.

“There’s a confidential proprietary aspect to what we’re developing and we’re trying to be respectful of that.”

Facebook engineers have said they’ve designed a drone with a 140-foot wingspan that weighs less than 1,000 pounds. Designed to fly at high altitudes for up to three months, it will use lasers to send Internet signals to stations on the ground.

Other tech companies have launched similar initiatives. Google is experimenting with high-altitude balloons as well as drones and satellites. Microsoft has funded a project that will transmit Internet signals over unused television airwaves.

Neither Facebook nor Google immediately commented.

Sean Walter, the Riverhead town supervisor, called the Luminati project “the biggest thing to hit Long Island in a long, long time.” He said he has been told the aircraft would fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet or more and have a wingspan of about 160 feet.

The Facebook drones are designed to climb to 90,000 feet, safely above commercial airliners and thunderstorms, and they will fly in circles through the day. At night, he said, they will settle to about 60,000 feet to conserve battery power.

“What’s really exciting is we are bringing the aerospace industry back to Long Island,” Walter said. He noted that Grumman, the predecessor of Northrop Grumman, designed and built fighter jets for the U.S. military at several sites on Long Island. Grumman’s plant in Bethpage built the lunar module that carried men to the moon in 1969.

Preston, who founded and ran Atair Aerospace from 2001 to 2008, said Luminati expects to be in a research and development phase for about two years before commencing production. He told Riverhead town officials the company will be seeking permission to expand one of the facilities on its property to accommodate machinery necessary to construct the aircraft. It also intends to consider seeking permission to use the second of the two runways situated at the site.

He told town officials the company would pay for repair and maintenance of the runways.

— Associated Press

EU agrees to speed migrant deportation, buttress borders

LUXEMBOURG — The European Union on Thursday took measures to buttress its porous external borders and toughen up its migrant return program in an attempt to build a credible refugee policy that would continue to embrace those fleeing for their lives yet punish those seeking economic gain.

Facing their toughest refugee emergency since World War II, the 28 EU nations committed to speed up and intensify the deportation of people who do not qualify for asylum, including more special flights out and detention for those who might slip into illegal residence.

It all was to underscore one key message: Europe feels overwhelmed and needs to be far more rigorous in sending economic migrants back if it wants to find enough goodwill among its population to continue harboring true refugees.

“Increased return rates should act as a deterrent to irregular migration,” the conclusions of the meeting said.

More than 500,000 people have arrived this year seeking sanctuary or jobs. But of the people who fail to obtain asylum or residency in the 28-nation EU, less than 40 percent actually go back, and all agree that should change quickly.

“We need to see Europe upping its game,” Britain’s interior minister, Theresa May, said.

“If there is no return policy there is no basis for the refugee policy,” said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, adding agreements should be quickly made with many of the developing nations from where tens of thousands of economic migrants leave in desperation for a better life in Europe.

At the same time, he put to the EU nations a far-reaching plan to beef up the external borders by committing member states to contribute more personnel to the EU’s border agency and eventually set up a largely autonomous international “corps” that could intervene wherever a crisis appears.

French officials said that in the short term, member states would be obliged to contribute more personnel to the Frontex border agency based on their population, wealth and other criteria.

Last week, Frontex appealed for 775 additional staff to deal with the migrant crisis in Greece and Italy. It would roughly double the staff the agency has there now, mainly on some 30 vessels in the Mediterranean.

In the long term, France proposes a multinational European border guard corps which would have much more autonomy to act and contain crises.

To further deal with the mass movement of migrants through the Balkans, EU ministers discussed better cooperation with their counterparts from the region and the nations bordering Syria, from where many refugees have fled the war.

Several ministers lauded a better understanding at the meeting between Balkan nations, which have often fought over who should take charge of the refugees transiting through their countries.

“That is much more efficient than throwing the problems at one another,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders. “It is a complex humanitarian crisis demanding concrete cooperation.”

On Thursday, the EU also earmarked more than 400 million euros ($451 million) in additional funding to tackle the refugee emergency.

Most of the money — 300 million euros — will be used to help Syrian refugees in countries outside the EU, including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

It will also fund the creation of 120 jobs in the three key European agencies working on the migration frontline; Frontex, the EASO asylum support office and the policy agency Europol.

Some 56 million euros will be devoted to humanitarian aid.

— Associated Press

$1 billion pledged to Los Angeles County nonprofits

LOS ANGELES — In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the California Community Foundation is pledging a whopping $1 billion to Los Angeles County nonprofit organizations over the next decade.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas were among the officials on hand Thursday as the philanthropic foundation announced the funding commitment.

Nonprofit organizations must apply for the funds, which will be given out as grants, loans and scholarships. Applications will be reviewed by staff and the foundation’s 20-member board when it meets four times a year.

The foundation hopes to focus on early childhood education, low-income housing, community clinics and the arts, said President and CEO Antonia Hernandez.

Los Angeles County has “traffic, high cost of living, congestion, issues of safety, and we can go on and on about all the challenges,” Hernandez said. “But I ask you this one question, would you live in any other place? This is the place we can make better and we’re here.”

The announcement follows a survey that found county residents want to be involved in their communities but believe they don’t have enough time or knowledge to help.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they were too busy or didn’t have enough time to be involved, while 39 percent said they weren’t sure how to help, according to the USC Dornsife/California Community Foundation/Los Angeles Times poll.

The California Community Foundation provided $700 million in grants over the past decade. To provide the new funds, foundation staff will have to fundraise in addition to the interest received from a $1.5-billion endowment, Hernandez said.

— Associated Press

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