2 California tech companies bringing new facilities to Reno

RENO, Nev. — Two California tech companies have announced plans to bring their businesses to Reno, and local economic development officials say they’re perfect examples of the type of firms they’re targeting as part the effort to diversify the region’s economy.

StemExpress, a Sacramento-based biotech company, and PayCertify, a financial tech services company in the San Jose area, are expected to combine to create more than 200 jobs in Reno over the next few years, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada said Wednesday.

“Northern Nevada’s tech ecosystem is thriving and high-growth companies, like Stem Express and PayCertify, are increasingly vital to our region’s economic recovery and future,” EDAWN CEO Mike Kazmierski said.

PayCertify is moving its headquarters to Reno partly because taxes in California are so high, CEO Chase Hammer said. It specializes in various financial technology services, including credit-card issuing and payment processing.

“We wanted to go to a place where they help businesses grow and thrive,” Hammer said. “Reno is now becoming the new Silicon Valley.”

The Reno Gazette Journal reported StemExpress inked a deal to build a 52,000-square-foot (4,830-square-meter) facility in Reno. It operates several cell management laboratories and stem cell collection centers that are used to help accelerate research and clinical trials.

Trump camp asks Nevada Supreme Court to nullify Biden win

LAS VEGAS — Attorneys for the Donald Trump campaign are appealing to the state Supreme Court to overrule a lower court judge and nullify Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win in Nevada.

Documents filed Monday ask the high court to reverse Judge James Todd Russell’s finding on Friday that the legal team for six Republican electors failed to prove the Nov. 3 election was swayed by fraudulent or illegal votes.

A hearing was not immediately scheduled, but the appeal is expected to get fast-track handling. The Electoral College is scheduled Dec. 14 to finalize nationwide presidential election results.

Biden is due six votes from Nevada. The state high court certified Nov. 24 that he won the state by 33,596 votes, or nearly 2.4%.

Jesse Binnall, the campaign attorney heading the contest-of-election filing in Nevada, failed to convince Russell that so many tainted votes were cast, primarily in Clark County, that Trump should be awarded the election instead of Biden.

Binnall asked the judge to declare Trump the winner of the election or to prohibit Democratic electors from delivering votes to Biden.

“Contestants’ claims fail on the merits … or under any other standard,” the judge said in his 35-page ruling.

California releases smartphone virus tool as cases soar

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced a voluntary smartphone tool to alert people of possible coronavirus exposure as cases soar higher, new restrictions are imposed and many people still say they won’t heed the pleas to stay home.

The tool — which has been used on a pilot basis on some state university campuses — doesn’t track people’s identities or locations but uses Bluetooth wireless signals to detect when two phones are within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of each other for at least 15 minutes, officials said.

California’s 40 million residents can opt in to the system starting Thursday. When someone who has activated the technology tests positive for the virus, that person will receive a verification code from state health officials that can be used to send an anonymous alert to other users who may have been exposed over the past 14 days.

“The more people that participate in it, the more that opt in, the more effective this program can be,” Newsom told reporters. “We are hoping there will be enough to make this meaningful.”

The technology comes as coronavirus cases are exploding in California and more than 80% of the state’s residents are under orders not to leave their homes for at least the next three weeks except for essential purposes. Sixteen other states, plus Guam and Washington, D.C., have already made available the system co-created by Apple and Google, though most residents of those places aren’t using it.

Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at University of California, Irvine, questioned how many residents would opt in due to privacy concerns and the value of the tool if they don’t.

He said people may find themselves paralyzed by a flood of information and it isn’t clear what they’ll do with it — especially if they take a coronavirus test after getting an alert and wind up negative, only to receive another alert.

“In a purely epidemiological perspective, uptake is everything. If about 10% of people do it, it’s useless,” he said. “Even if it does get takers. It’s still unproven. Because then, what do you do?””

Over the past two weeks, California has reported a quarter of a million positive virus cases. The 7-day average for new virus cases on Monday neared 22,000, a 50% increase over the prior week, state data shows.

More than 10,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including more than 2,300 in intensive care, Newsom said.

The state’s 400 hospitals are at about 80% capacity but there are hospitals in San Diego, Imperial, and Los Angeles counties with intensive care units that are full, said Carmela Coyle, president of the California Hospital Association. Hospitals are limited by staff shortages following a spike in virus cases around Halloween, she said.

“These numbers do not yet include the Thanksgiving holiday, and the gathering of families just a week or so ago so. We do expect that this will get far worse before it gets better,” she said.

Newsom’s administration issued the stay-at-home rules closing restaurant dining, salons and playgrounds in Southern California and a large swath of the state’s Central Valley agricultural region after more than 85% of beds in intensive care units were occupied in those regions. Five San Francisco Bay Area counties voluntarily joined the rules over ICU capacity concerns. Those restrictions will last until Jan. 4, a week longer than the state’s timeline.

Ten months into the pandemic, most of the state is now back to where it started with the stay-at-home rules. But unlike in March, when the pandemic was in its infancy and California was the first state to impose such rules, fewer people are likely to obey them.

Some business owners said they would keep their doors open and several law enforcement agencies say they won’t enforce the rules and are counting on people to voluntarily wear masks and practice physical distancing to protect themselves and their families.

Lu Garcia Reynoso, who owns a Southern California barbershop, told the Press-Enterprise he’ll stay open. She’s concerned salons may move underground to avoid being detected.

The recent rise in coronavirus infections began in October and is being blamed largely on people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others.

Under the new stay-at-home rules, retailers including supermarkets and shopping centers can operate with 20% capacity while restaurant dining and hair and nail salons must close.

Schools that are currently open can continue providing in-person instruction.

But Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest, on Monday announced the suspension of all school-based instructional and childcare programs and conditioning programs for student athletes due to the record number of virus cases.

Starting on Thursday, Californians will be able to activate the new “exposure notification” tool in their iPhone settings or on Android phones by downloading the CA Notify app from the Google Play store. Many residents will get a notification inviting them to participate.

Officials said the encounters are temporarily logged in a way that doesn’t reveal a person’s identity or geographic location.

California on brink: Virus rages, closures imminent

SAN FRANCISCO — Much of California is on the brink of sweeping new restrictions on businesses and activities, a desperate attempt to slow the frighteningly rapid escalation of coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

With a new lockdown looming, many rushed out to supermarkets Saturday and lined up outside salons to squeeze in a haircut before the orders in some areas take effect on Sunday.

Five San Francisco Bay Area counties imposed a new stay-at-home order for their residents that will take effect Sunday. Southern California and a large swath of the central portion of the state could join this weekend.

Those two regions have seen their intensive care unit capacity fall below the 15% threshold that under a new state stay-at-home order will trigger new restrictions barring all on-site restaurant dining and close hair and nail salons, movie theaters and many other businesses, as well as museums and playgrounds.

If their capacity remains below that level when the data is updated Saturday, the closures will take effect Sunday and stay in effect at least three weeks.

In San Francisco, resident Michael Duranceau rushed to a market to prepare for the new closures.

“I’m just stocking up before Sunday — the basics, bread, eggs,” he told KGO-TV, clutching a heavy grocery bag and a baguette.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new plan Thursday. It is the most restrictive order since he imposed the country’s first statewide stay-at-home rule in March.

The new order divides the state into five regions and uses ICU capacity as the trigger for closures. Newsom also says people may not congregate with anyone outside their household and must always wear masks when they go outside.

As of Friday night, the 11-county Southern California region had only 13.1% of its ICU beds available, the California Department of Public Health reported. The figure was 14.1% for the San Joaquin Valley region, composed of a dozen counties in the agricultural Central Valley and rural areas of the Sierra Nevada.

The other three regions — Greater Sacramento, Northern California and San Francisco Bay Area — were all around 21%.

But health officers in five of the Bay Area’s 11 counties didn’t wait. On Friday, they adopted the state’s stay-at-home order. The changes begin to take effect Sunday night in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, as well as the city of Berkeley.

“We don’t think we can wait for the state’s new restrictions to go into effect. … This is an emergency,” Contra Costa Health Officer Chris Farnitano said.

“Our biggest fear all along — that we won’t have a bed for you or your mother or your grandmother or grandfather when they get sick — is the reality we’ll be facing unless we slow the spread,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said.

The Bay Area order will last at least through Jan. 4, a week longer than the state’s timeline, and came as the state recorded another daily record number of new cases with 22,018. Hospitalizations topped 9,000 for first time and ICU patients were at a record 2,152.

The new shutdowns were a gut-wrenching move for small businesses that have struggled to survive over nearly a year in which they were repeatedly ordered to close, then allowed to reopen but with complex safety precautions.

Michelle Saunders James was in tears Friday at the thought of closing down her Oakland nail salon just five weeks after reopening it.

“We wear (face) shields. We take temperatures. We do everything we are told to do so everyone feels safe, including our staff and team,” she told KGO-TV. “So I don’t understand why it’s not enough and I’m terribly sad and afraid.”

Under Newsom’s order, retail stores and shopping centers can operate with just 20% customer capacity.

In the East Bay, Berkeley Bowl’s two grocery stores already had laid in stocks of essentials in case of a return of panic buying that was seen after the state issued a strict stay-at-home order in mid-March that later was eased.

“We’ve learned valuable lessons from last time,” general manager Steve Tsujimoto told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We acted proactively and have been warehousing certain select items — toilet paper, sanitizers, wipes, beans, rice, grains, flour, bread — things of that nature.”

Critics say the broad statewide order unfairly lumps too many disparate counties together into regions.

The approach “places our ability to reopen with 10 other counties including Los Angeles County which has absolutely failed to control the coronavirus and Mono County whose most populous city is 344 miles away,” said Fred M. Whitaker, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County.

The explosive rise in COVID-19 infections that began in October is being blamed largely on people ignoring safety measures and socializing with others.

Berkeley Health Officer Lisa Hernandez said people should not meet in person with anyone they don’t live with, “even in a small group, and even outdoors with precautions.”

“If you have a social bubble, it is now popped,” Hernandez said. “Do not let this be the last holiday with your family.”

Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents, could reach ICU capacity within days. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that could mean people with other life-threatening illnesses, such as strokes and heart attacks, might be unable to get a bed.

The city alone could see more than 11,000 lives lost to the virus by year’s end, the mayor said.

“That means 3,000 additional deaths in a single month. To put that in perspective, it’s a decade of homicides,” Garcetti said. “This is the greatest threat to life in Los Angeles that we have ever faced.”

In the inland Central Valley, Fresno County had just 10 of its 150 ICU beds available. Health officials described a grim picture with hospitals struggling to stay staffed because of coronavirus infections and exposures. One hospital is holding ICU patients in the emergency department until beds open up, Emergency Medical Services Director Daniel Lynch said Friday.

The county has requested help from the state with staffing for a couple of weeks. But so far only one or two additional workers have shown up at three local hospitals as the whole state struggles with staffing.

At Kaweah Delta medical center in Visalia, in Tulare County, there were 18 ICU beds available Friday but only the staff to handle four additional patients, said Keri Noeske, the chief nursing officer. Some 125 employees are out sick or quarantined because of COVID-19.

Placer County to pay $10M after shooting, paralyzing man at Tahoe rental

SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California county has agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle a lawsuit by a Silicon Valley software engineer who was having a mental health crisis when a deputy shot him, paralyzing him from the waist down.

Placer County agreed to pay Samuel Kolb, 50, and his family $9.9 million to settle a lawsuit the family filed after a deputy shot him twice on Jan. 14, 2018, inside a North Lake Tahoe rental cabin where Kolb and his teenage son were vacationing, Kolb said.

“There’s a measure of relief in not having to go through this and not having to put my family through any more legal challenges. But I would trade all the money plus interest to have my old life back, to not have gone through this and put my family through this, to have full use of my body. No amount of money makes up for that,” Kolb said.

Kolb and his son traveled from their home in San Mateo for a ski trip in Lake Tahoe and were staying at a cabin in Carnelian Bay when Kolb woke up before dawn and began pacing around the cabin. He woke up his then 16-year-old son and asked him to get medical help, Ronald Kaye, the Kolbs’ attorney, said in a federal lawsuit he filed to dismiss Monday. A federal court Tuesday granted their stipulation for dismissal.

Kolb’s son called 911 and reported his father was acting odd and was “in a dream-like state,” according to court documents. He told the dispatcher his father had a history of temporal lobe epilepsy and that they had smoked marijuana together before going to bed. Temporal lobe epilepsy can cause people to feel a sudden sense of fear or anxiety, anger or sadness, though a lawsuit filed by Kaye says Kolb had not had a similar incident in about 15 years.

Kolb’s son “did not believe, nor did he represent, that his father presented any danger to his safety — he simply requested medical help as he observed his father suffering from a mental health episode,” Kaye said in court documents.

When Placer County Deputy Curtis Honeycutt arrived, he found Kolb and his son standing outside the cabin in the cold. Kolb was only wearing a short-sleeved shirt and pajama bottoms and Honeycutt instructed them to go back inside instead of securing Kolb in the back of the patrol car to await mental health intervention, the lawsuit said.

Once inside, Kolb grabbed a carving fork. In response to Kolb’s raising the fork, Honeycutt began “repeatedly, unreasonably and unjustifiably discharging his office issued firearm,” shattering one of Kolb’s vertebrae, the lawsuit said.

After the incident, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that Honeycutt believed his life was in danger after Kolb stabbed him with a sharp instrument. His bulletproof vest protected him from injury but when Kolb tried to stab him a second time, the deputy used his service weapon to end the attack, the department said.

Kolb’s son later testified he never saw his father attack Honeycutt and forensic evidence showed the deputy’s vest had no signs of a stabbing, Kolb said.

Detectives without training on interviewing minors who witnessed traumatic events questioned Kolb’s son without asking for the authorization of his mother, who was driving from Silicon Valley to reunite with him. They also secretly recorded him while he spoke on his cellphone with family members to obtain incriminating information against his father, the lawsuit alleged.

Angela Musallam, a spokeswoman for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday that the sheriff’s office “does not have anything further to say about Mr. Kolb’s case.”

At the time of the shooting, Kolb was working as a senior director at Survey Monkey. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, which is a felony, and felony child endangerment. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of brandishing a deadly weapon other than a firearm “in order to spare my family further legal trouble and spare my son having to testify and worry that he held my life in his hands,” Kolb said.

Honeycutt shot Kolb once on the left side of his torso and once in his back. Kolb now lacks bowel and bladder control, cannot engage in normal sexual activity and lives with chronic pain.

An engineering manager at Facebook, he is volunteering his free time to press for legislative changes to California’s blanket immunity for police officers and to reform policing in the country.

“This is a morally bankrupt and corrupt system that is bent on one thing, which is protecting the power of the entrenched police unions and this power structure,” he said.