TIME tragedy

California Teen Dies Saving Girlfriend From Oncoming Train

Train Accident
Emergency personnel work at the scene of a train accident near Earl Yorton Field Friday, March 21, 2014 in Marysville. Chris Kaufman—AP

The young couple, who took a detour along some train tracks, were en route to a Sadie Hawkins Day dance when the teenage boy shoved his girlfriend out of the way of a rushing train at the last moment

A California teenager was in critical condition Sunday, after her boyfriend died pushing her out of the direct path of an oncoming train.

Mickayla Friend, 16, of Marysville, Calif., was on the way to a Sadie Hawkins Day dance with her boyfriend, whose identity authorities have not released, when the couple took a detour along some train tracks to pick up food before the event, KCRA Sacramento reports.

Authorities say the couple were walking south along the tracks when a train approached behind them. The conductor sounded a warning horn and engaged emergency brakes but not in time.

“The engineer was on the horn,” said Sean Stark, who witnessed the incident. “Then finally, they both looked back at the same time.” Friend’s male companion died after being struck by the train.

“They would have both been underneath that train if he didn’t push her out of the way at the last second,” Stark said.

Union Pacific Railroad and the Marysville Police Department are investigating the incident.

[KCRA]

TIME Transportation

People in California Are Using Their Cars Less

A new California Department of Transportation report shows that walking, biking, and public transportation trips have more than doubled since 2000.

California residents, long known for taking to the freeways, have dramatically reduced their dependency on cars, according to a new report.

The report by the California Department of Transportation indicates that almost 23 percent of California household trips are made by walking, biking, or using public transportation, more than double the rate in 2000. The results are driven by what the department calls a “dramatic increase” in walking trips, which have jumped from about eight percent to about sixteen percent of household trips. Still, the vast majority of trips are still in cars, vans, and trucks.

It’s “a shift with real benefits for public health that also cuts greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollution,” Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, said in a statement.

The study surveyed more than 42,000 households and nearly 109,000 Californians. The information is a cause of celebration for environmentalists who have seen mixed trends nationwide, as the number of car miles driven annually peaked about a decade ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. But congestion has risen recently due to the recovering economy.

TIME

America’s Most Miserable City Emerges from Bankruptcy

Stockton
Pedestrians ride their bicycles along the street in Stockton, California, U.S., on June 14, 2012. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

But at what cost?

Until Detroit, Stockton, Calif. was the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The city, which hopes to emerge from Chapter 9 this spring, has struggled with all sorts of problems in the wake of the subprime crisis—a housing collapse, nosebleed unemployment (it’s still 15.9 % in the city and 13.2 % in the surrounding county), and a mass exodus of firemen, cops and other city service people as the local government struggled with how they could make the budgetary numbers work while still paying gold-plated health care and pension plans to retirees. Stockton did do major cutting in its public sector healthcare benefits, which represented the bulk of its under-funded entitlements. But it’s still left spending 17-18 % of its budget on entitlements like pensions – a number many experts believe is unsustainable. City officials say further cuts just aren’t on the table. “The idea that we’d even look at pension reform meant we started loosing police,” says Elbert H. Holman, Jr., a Stockton council member. “If we’d have eliminated or serious cut pensions, we’d have been devastated as a city.”

As it is, the loss of 400 police officers over four years to nearby cities in better economic shape resulted in a radical increase in crime, and a record number of homicides, 71 in a city of 300,000, in 2012. Reporting in Stockton yesterday, I got an up close and personal look at how desperate things still are thanks to the loss of basic city services. While visiting a tent city of homeless people under Highway 4, one of many in Stockton, my handbag was stolen. Fortunately, two of the tent city residents chased down the perpetrator and got my purse back. “We’re not bad people here,” said Abdul Solo, aged 67, one of those who helped. “We’re just trying to live, stay clean, stay out of trouble.”

That’s a tough job in Stockton, where stories of long-term unemployment and continuing fallout from the housing crisis are still rife (two tent city residents told me they’d lost their homes in the subprime crisis). Nearly every restaurant in the city, mainly fast food joints and small family owned eateries, has a sign like the one at the local McDonalds, which reads, “Service may be refused: this is not a hangout or a shelter.” Indeed, there are few shelters in the city – non profits, rather than the city, support them; paying for care for the homeless is yet another thing that Stockton can’t afford as it tries to craft a budget that will allow it to emerge from bankruptcy without further cuts in retiree benefits. Highway 4’s tent city residents shower and clean their clothes at St. Mary’s, a local Catholic Church. A few blocks away, at the First Presbyterian Church, passers-by are admonished to “give up complaining– and embrace gratitude.”

That’s a message that some city fathers are pushing, too. There are many reasons why Stockton was one of the hardest hit American cities in the Great Recession – a housing bubble, debt spending on white elephant projects (like a downtown arena which is rarely full), fiscal mismanagement, and unrealistic pension return expectations and under-funding during boom times all played a part. The local council understandably wants to move past all that and showcase good news in the city – the Google barge pulled up in Stockton’s port the other day (although nobody seems to know why, exactly); housing prices in nicer areas are starting to go up; crime is down this year from last; the city is convinced that its budgetary math will hold and allow it to emerge from bankruptcy, even as it begins hiring 120 new cops, which was a condition of the recent tax hike that the city was able to pass. But a number of citizens are skeptical. “Stockton’s emergence from bankruptcy will be short-lived under the current exit plan if the pension liability (the city’s largest debt) is not reduced, “ says Dave Renison, president of the San Joaquin Taxpayers Association. “In five short years (2005 to 2010) public pension benefits in California grew at nearly three times that of the private sector.” The fact that statewide pension reform initiatives have so far been torpedoed, “leaves us doing the job for ourselves.”

Mayor Anthony Silva, an energetic and reform minded 39-year-old Republican and former social worker who took office 14 months ago with a mandate to turn the city around, agrees that pensions have been a huge economic drag on the city, but says that “no city can take on pension reform on its own.” Indeed, the fact that 90 % of Californian cities are under the CALPERS system makes it easy for service workers to just leave cities that attempt pension reform and go elsewhere. Mayor Silva is instead focusing his efforts on trying to push economic development in the city, which has the potential to be a bigger logistical hub, as well as trying to find solutions to the increasing bifurcation in a town where preserving the status quo for city workers makes it hard to spend on the most vulnerable. “I’d like to find a way to put some of the homeless to work refurbishing abandoned buildings,” says the mayor, who plans to petition Washington for federal redevelopment money to help Stockton get back on its feet. And despite city council pressure to put the pension issue on the back burner, he says he’d been willing to work with other mayors at a state level to come up with reform ideas. “It’s kind of basic,” says Silva. “You don’t spend what you don’t have.” Tomorrow, I’ll blog about San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s ideas about statewide pension reform.

TIME climate change

A Tale of Two Winters

Winter ice on Lake Michigan on Chicago
The winter was brutal in Midwestern cities like Chicago Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you lived east of the Rockies, you froze this winter. But the other side of the country experienced unusual warmth—and sometimes record-high temperatures

As I write this in New York, it’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.9 Celsius)—about 21 F degrees below normal for Mar. 13—and frankly, we’re all sick of this. For much of the eastern half of the country, 2013-14 has been the winter that will never end. And now the numbers are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and we’re mostly right: It’s been very cold. But probably not as cold as you think.

The average temperature for the continental U.S. from December to February was 31.3 F (-0.4 C), 1.0 F (0.55 C) below the 20th century norm. That’s hardly record-breaking—it’s only the 34th coldest winter in recorded U.S. history—but it’s a lot colder than last winter, where the average temperature was 34.3 F (1.3 C), which helps explain why it felt so frigid. Even so, the continental U.S. experienced a colder winter as recently as 2009-2010, well before anyone had heard of the term “polar vortex,” and back when only hurricanes—not snowstorms—were given names.

How cold you were this winter depended largely on where you were in the U.S. If you lived east of the Rockies—home to significantly more than half the U.S. population and sometimes, it seems, virtually all the U.S. media—you experienced below-average temperatures. Midwesterners had it particularly bad—most of the area north of the Ohio River was 7 to 15 F (4 to 8 C) below normal, which helps explain why at their peak in early March 91% of the Great Lakes were frozen over. It was nasty for the Northeast as well, where temperatures were largely cooler than normal, especially in the western regions near the lakes (pity the citizens of Erie, Pennsylvania, where temperatures were nearly 5 F, or 2.75 C, below normal for the winter.) From Washington D.C. to Caribou, Maine, it seems that not a single town in the Northeast had above-normal temperatures this winter.

That wasn’t the case in the West, though. California—already in an incredibly severe drought—had the warmest winter on record, with average temperatures of 48.0 F (8.9 C), some 4.4 F (2.2 C) above the 20th century average and nearly 1 F (0.55 C) hotter than the previous warmest winter, in 1980-81. That’s a reminder of just how big the U.S. is, and how variable weather can be—which brings us to climate change. Scientists are going to have fun figuring out just what was behind phenomena like the polar vortex (one theory is that higher temperatures in the Arctic could impact the jet stream, allowing colder Canadian air to sweep down to the East). But a nasty winter in New York City no more disproves climate change than an all-time hot winter in California clinches the case for global warming. Climate change is a global phenomenon and a long-term one, which is why icy temperatures along the East Coast in January are a lot less important than the fact that the global land and ocean surface average temperature for January was 1.17 F (0.65 C) above the 20th century norm, which made it the fourth-warmest January on record globally.

Barring even weirder weather, winter should finally be giving way to spring even in the coldest states in the U.S.—finally. But with scientists warning of a possible El Nino later this year—which usually brings hotter temperatures—we may end up looking back on the polar vortex with fondness as the dog days of August drag on. Maybe.

TIME Marijuana

Medical Marijuana: California Bill Would Provide More Oversight

Pot Prices Double as Colorado Retailers Roll Out Green Carpet
THC in marijuana triggers the olfactory senses. Bloomberg —Getty Images

Doctors issuing more than 100 recommendations per year would be investigated

A bill introduced by a California state senator would bring some clarity to the hazy medical marijuana industry in the state, which has operated without much oversight for nearly two decades, since California voters legalized the substance in 1996.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Lou Correa, an Orange County-area Democrat, would require the state’s Department of Public Health to license growers and dispensaries. It would prohibit non-organic pesticides in cultivation, mandate strict security measures at grow-houses and shops, and institute a system of “quality assurance.”

An investigation carried out by the Denver Post this week shows how common it is for dispensary customers to get less than they paid for; testing a popular brand of edible products, independent firms found 0.37 and 0.28 milligrams of psychoactive component THC in chocolate bars that promised to pack 100 milligrams.

The bill would also crack down on doctors who are writing recommendations for marijuana more freely than they should; any doctor giving out more than 100 in a year would be subject to an audit by the state medical board, and all doctors wanting to write recommendations would go through mandatory training.

The Associated Press reports that the bill was conceived by California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities, as a countermeasure to the vague law passed in 1996 that sprouted a multi-billion dollar industry.

TIME

Big Earthquake in Northern California Has Little Impact

A 6.9-magnitude earthquake off the coast of northern California produced only minor aftershocks on Sunday night, despite being the largest quake there since 2010. There were no reported injuries

A 6.9-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Northern California produced only minor aftershocks Sunday night, despite being the highest magnitude quake there since 2010.

Nobody was injured and no property was reported damaged when the aftershocks hit land, according to Sgt. Brian Stephens of the Eureka Police. Offshore aftershocks registered as high as 4.6, but the strongest aftershock on land was only 3.4. Residents told the Los Angeles Times they didn’t experience a violent shake, but instead a more gentle rocking sensation that was longer than other earthquakes.

“I’ve been through a number of these,” Mike Melter of Ferndale told KTVU-TV. “It wasn’t a jolter; it was a wave.”

“It just kept going and going, very slowly and softly,” said Raquel Maytorena, also of Ferndale. “It was not violent. It almost felt like you were in a boat that was rocking,

No tsunami warnings were issued.

TIME Agriculture

California Farmers Are Using ‘Water Witches’ to Make Your Two Buck Chuck

Proprietor Marc Mondavi demonstrates dowsing with "diving rods" to locate water at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif. Eric Risberg—AP

Desperate times call for desperate measures?

In the middle of a record drought, some California farmers have hired dowsers — also known as “water witches” — to use uncommon techniques to find underground water, The Associated Press reports.

Dowsers extend copper or wooden sticks called “divining rods” over the ground to find new wells. Bronco Wine Co., the fourth largest winemaker in the U.S. (and the maker of Two Buck Chuck), employs dowsers on its 40,000-acre property, according to the AP.

The AP reports Napa Valley’s best-known “water witch” is winemaker Marc Mondavi, who charges as much as $500 per visit.

The state’s Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Geological Survey do not endorse the practice, arguing that there is no scientific basis to it.

MORE: California Set to Get Rain, But It Won’t Quench The Drought

MORE: California Farmers Need Water: Is Desalination The Answer?

TIME Drug Policy

California Governor Unsure if Legal Pot is a Good Idea

Gov. Jerry Brown Submits Paperwork For Re-Election
California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters after filing paperwork for re-election at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters on Feb. 28, 2014 in Oakland, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

"How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?" asks Jerry Brown

During California Governor Jerry Brown’s first stint in the job from 1975 to 1983, he earned the nickname “Governor Moonbeam” for his ability to attract the young, idealistic, nontraditional voting block. He once called the Golden State “the world’s largest outdoor mental asylum,” saying in 1979, “If it babbles and its eyeballs are glazed, it probably comes from California.”

Now in the middle of his second act as governor, Brown worries that too many glazed eyeballs might be a bad thing for America’s most populous state. During an appearance on Meet the Press Sunday, Brown said he worried about the ripple effects of fully legalizing marijuana. “The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes,” Brown said. “And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

Brown said that he will watch Colorado and Washington, which have regulated the growth and sale of recreational marijuana at state-licensed stores, to see if California should extend its own legalization of pot for medicinal use. “I’d really like those two states to show us how it’s going to work,” Brown said. “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Brown will be running for reelection next November for his fourth overall term. Known for his progressive politics, Brown has touted his fiscal discipline, turning California’s budget deficit into a multi-billion dollar surplus. “You’ve got to be tough on spending,” Brown said. “No matter how liberal you want to be, at the end of the day, fiscal discipline is the fundamental predicate of a free society.”

[AP]

TIME National

Google Donates Millions So San Francisco Kids Can Ride Free on City Buses

Protestors blockade private shuttle carrying tech industry employees from their homes in San Francisco to their jobs at the company's campus in Silicon Valley. Katy Steinmetz / TIME

Amid anger at the so-called 'Google buses' that shuttle workers from downtown to Silicon Valley

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Thursday that Google has donated almost $7 million to the city so that low-income children can have free rides on city buses for two years. The move comes as the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant’s luxury buses have become a symbol of stratification in the Bay Area.

Lee’s office touted the $6.8 million gift as “one of the largest private contributions towards direct City services in San Francisco history.” San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said “it’s good to see Google support the next generation of Muni riders.”

“Along with the Mayor, community members and others, I have publicly and privately urged technology companies to increase their civic engagement,” Chiu said in a statement. “We appreciate this positive step.”

In a statement, Google said, “San Francisco residents are rightly frustrated that we don’t pay more to use city bus stops. So we’ll continue to work with the city on these fees, and in the meantime will fund MUNI passes for low income students for the next two years.”

The tech industry has had a serious public relations problem of late in San Francisco, with poor and displaced residents maligning companies like Google as spoiled and out-of-touch with the needs of a city’s struggling underclass. No illustration of that has been more discussed than the private shuttles used by tech companies to ferry workers from their homes in the city to their jobs in Silicon Valley and back again. Though called Google buses, shuttles are also run by companies like Yahoo, LinkedIn, Apple and Facebook, who all have campuses south of town. Protestors have repeatedly formed blockades around the buses, which have been using city bus stops for free, arguing that tech workers flooding into town—even though they work elsewhere—and putting unnecessary strain on the city’s insufficient housing stock. Housing rights advocates have repeatedly called for tech companies to help support less fortunate residents in a city that is a selling point for attracting the tech world’s best talent to the area.

A pilot program that will charge companies $1 per stop is set to begin later this year. Some have criticized that as a pittance considering it costs $2 to ride city buses.

“The media and some of the protests focused on putting the blame on technology workers who were taking buses down to Silicon Valley,” Lee told TIME late last year. “[This] caused the technology company owners to say, ‘Hey, maybe we could be part of the solution, that rather than allow this narrative to just fester, why don’t we… be good philanthropic companies.’”

A parody rap song released in January illustrates some residents’ resentment of the private shuttles that tech workers get to ride for free: “I’m on that Google bus / Hanging with the upper crust / I left my Porsche up at the condo with my poodle pups … High speed, Wi-Fi, lots of leg room / And the seats are plush.”

The question after Google’s latest move is whether the residents angry with tech companies will be assuaged by the donation. Erin McElroy, the director of the San Francisco Anti-Eviction Mapping Project who has organized protests against tech-company shuttles, reacted coolly.

“It’s a last-minute PR move on their part, and they’re trying to use youth unfairly to create a better brand image in the city,” she said. “And it’s not actually costing them much money at all. I don’t think that’s going to solve any of the wider problems or mitigate broader impacts.”

TIME legal

The Law of Finders-Keepers and What Happens When You Find Buried Treasure

This image provided by the Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin's, Inc., shows one of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous.
This image provided by the Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin's, Inc., shows one of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous. Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers—Kagin's, Inc./AP

A California couple found $10 million in gold coins, and they're selling the loot

A California couple was out walking the dog around their property last year when they stumbled across eight buried cans—with an estimated $10 million worth of gold coins inside. A year later, the rare coin dealer approached by the anonymous couple went public with the find on Tuesday. The long delay from find to fame was partly because of questions about how strong the couples claim to ownership was for the roughly 1,400 gold coins, dated from 1847 to 1894.

And it turns out that, in many cases, finders really are keepers.

Governments have been issuing rules about lost and found property—who owns it and how it shall be divided—for millennia. If a Roman walking around the Coliseum grounds in the days of Emperor Hadrian’s rule stumbled upon a half-buried pot full of bronze bars, half went to the lucky Roman, half to Hadrian. Today, if an Londoner unearths rare golden coins in his backyard, those belong to the royal family—who would likely pay the digger a handsome fee.

In modern day America, the presumption is “finders-keepers”—though there is a web of statutes and case law that can complicate such a simple maxim.

Generally, “the finder of lost property can keep it against all the world… qualified by the question of where it was found,” says property law expert John Orth, a professor at the University of North Carolina. In the case of “John and Mary” (as they’re being called) and their California coins, the strongest factor in their favor is that they found the coins on their own property. Even if someone could prove that their great-great-grandfather buried those cans, there’s likely little the descendant could do if their grandfather sold that land to John and Mary’s family. “When you buy something, normally you get anything that’s been hidden in it,” says Orth, offering the example of a man who bought a used car for $600 and gets to keep $10,000 he finds in the trunk.

If John and Mary had found the coins while taking a walk on someone else’s property, the booty would likely go to that landowner. But what if someone stumbles across something valuable on public property? Say a San Franciscan strolling across the Golden Gate Bridge finds a bag containing $1 million in cash. In California, there is a law mandating that any found property valued over $100 be turned over to police. Authorities must then wait 90 days, advertise the lost property for a week, and finally release it to the person who found it if no one could prove ownership. Orth says it’s rare for cities or states to make any claim to found property, like the goods that metal-detector-wielding treasure hunters find on public beaches, unless it has some historical or archeological significance.

A legal distinction that often comes to bear is whether property is abandoned, lost or mislaid. Abandoned property is something forsaken by a previous owner, who has no intention of returning for it. Lost property, like an engagement ring accidentally dropped in the street, is something that is inadvertently, unknowingly left behind. And mislaid property is intentionally put somewhere—like money on a bank counter that a customer intends to deposit—but then forgotten. Mislaid property, Orth says, is supposed to be safeguarded by whoever owns the property where it was mislaid until someone with a better claim, like the bank customer, comes back. Abandoned property and lost property are more likely to be dealt with by the easy “finder-keepers” edict.

An Arizona case, in which a man died after having hidden $500,000 in ammunition cans in his walls, helps illustrate the distinction. The man’s daughters, knowing he had a penchant for stashing things away, searched the house after he died before selling it to new owners. Years later, the new owners hired a contractor to renovate the house and he discovered the cans, hidden behind a wall-mounted toaster oven. The new owners said the money should come with the house, that it had essentially been abandoned. But as soon as the heirs found out about the stash they staked their own claim. An appellate court determined in 2012 that the funds were mislaid—having been intentionally put there, not unintentionally lost or thrown away—and awarded the money to the daughters.

A different court could have come to a different conclusion, of course. And cases can get much more complicated, especially when more than two parties are staking a claim. If a diver off the Florida coast happens upon a sunken ship with a trunk full of galleons, for instance, that might yield a legal battle among the finder and the state, descendants of the ship’s owners and any insurance company that paid a claim when the ship went down. “These cases are a mess,” Orth says.

A key piece of common law when it comes to sunken ships might be the same that appears to matter in John and Mary’s case—what is known as “treasure trove.” This is a fourth category—beyond lost, abandoned or mislaid—that refers to any property that is verifiably antiquated and has been concealed for so long that the owner is probably dead or unknown and certainly unlikely to pop out of a grave and demand that his goods be returned. “The obvious fact that these coins had to have gone into the ground in the 1800s certainly helps their case,” says David McCarthy, a coin expert at the dealer that is working with John and Mary.

When someone stumbles upon treasure, the most important question is likely whether someone else has a better claim. In the case of John and Mary and their $10 million pot of gold, anyone else making a claim that trumps their property rights has “a high hurdle” to meet, says Armen Vartian, an attorney specializing in arts and collectible law in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

“When people are arguing over who has a superior claim, the guy who hasn’t pursued his claim is at a disadvantage,” he says, giving the example of someone who said his family had been meaning to come retrieve those eight cans for the last century but just didn’t get around to it. “You might have had a right at some point, but you lose it.”

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