Yosemite Park will close to visitors Friday

SAN FRANCISCO — The Latest on a Northern California storm (all times local):

10:50 p.m.

Yosemite National Park is closing to visitors ahead of a spring storm that is expected to bring flooding to the popular valley floor.

Visitors will no longer be able to enter Yosemite Valley starting at noon Friday, and tourists who are already there will be asked to leave at 5 p.m. No services will be available.

Park officials say some areas will reach flood stage starting Friday afternoon, with water expected to peak around noon Saturday.

Yosemite initially announced it was canceling campground reservations but then upgraded the warnings.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch.

Officials in Northern California also are monitoring the nation’s tallest dam, where the partially rebuilt spillway may be used for the first time since its near-collapse in February 2017.

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9 a.m.

The big storm entering Northern California is not expected to threaten areas recently scarred by wildfires in the southern half of the state.

Santa Barbara County officials say the rainfall predicted for Friday and Saturday doesn’t meet thresholds for evacuations and there is, at most, very low risk for mud and debris flows.

The south Santa Barbara County community of Montecito was devastated by massive debris-laden torrents on Jan. 9 when a storm unleashed a deluge on a huge burn scar in the mountains above town.

County officials say they are monitoring the storm in case it intensifies.

Most of Southern California will get little to no rain but gusty winds are expected in the mountains and deserts while beaches will see high surf.

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7:35 a.m.

Authorities are warning morning commuters to drive slowly and watch out for standing water as heavy rain pelts Northern California.

A spring storm is expected to dump several inches of rain on burn-scarred areas of wine country through Saturday.

Santa Rosa fire department spokesman Paul Lowenthal says the city has additional firefighters and emergency staff on hand Friday.

The storm could also bring the biggest test so far of a partly finished new spillway at the nation’s tallest dam.

12:05 a.m.

Northern California is bracing for a major spring storm that is expected to dump several inches of rain on burn-scarred areas of wine country. It could also bring the biggest test so far of a partly finished new spillway at the nation’s tallest dam.

The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings throughout Northern California ahead of Friday’s atmospheric river.

Officials in Santa Rosa are more concerned about how quickly the rain comes than how much. Fire department spokesman Paul Lowenthal says workers have been monitoring hundreds of storm drain inlets, especially the ones protecting the neighborhoods destroyed by the fires.

To the north, state water officials have been releasing water from Lake Oroville ahead of the storm.

US seizes pot-growing houses in Northern California tied to China-based criminals

SACRAMENTO — Hundreds of federal and local law enforcement agents have seized roughly 100 Northern California houses purchased with money wired to the United States by a Chinese-based crime organization and used to grow massive amounts of marijuana illegally, authorities said Wednesday.

The raids culminate a monthslong investigation focusing on dozens of Chinese nationals who bought homes in seven counties. Most of the buyers were in the country legally and came from as far away as Georgia, Illinois New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said.

Much of the pot was shipped back to those states through Atlanta, Chicago and New York City.

The drug is legal in California but requires permits to grow and can’t be sent across state lines. It is still banned by the U.S. government. Black-market pot farms are often set up in the inland region where authorities carried out the raids because it’s cheaper than the San Francisco Bay Area.

“This criminal organization has put a tremendous amount of equity into these homes through these wire transfers coming in from China and elsewhere,” Scott said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’re going to take it. We’re going to take the house. We’re going to take the equity.”

None of the buyers was arrested as authorities seized the houses in what the U.S. Department of Justice called one of the largest residential forfeiture operations ever. Prosecutors will now ask judges to transfer ownership to the U.S. government.

Authorities were trying to learn if the buyers were brought to the United States for the purpose of buying the houses and were indebted to the criminal organization. They are not ruling out criminal charges but have filed none at this stage of the investigation.

Down payments were financed by money wired from Fujian Province in China, authorities said. Many of the transfers stayed just below the $50,000 limit imposed by the Chinese government.

The buyers generally used the same Sacramento real estate agents, borrowed from private lenders who usually charge higher interest rates and require larger down payments than traditional banks, and used straw buyers who purchased the properties on behalf of the real owners.

A message left with the Chinese consulate general’s office in San Francisco was not immediately returned.

The federal crackdown on the illegal pot operations comes as California is months into creating the world’s largest legal marijuana market amid uncertainty about whether the U.S. government will try to shut it down.

More than 500 officers, including SWAT teams, fanned out over two days to search and seize about 75 houses and two real estate businesses. The remaining 25 houses were raided previously.

They seized more than 36,000 marijuana plants, 115 kilograms (253 pounds) of processed marijuana, at least $68,500 in cash and 15 firearms, including one that had been stolen. They also seized generators, one of which was strong enough to power three normal homes.

Most of the suburban houses were valued at $300,000 to $500,000, though some were in rural areas and some in more upscale neighborhoods.

Black-market pot operations have been a widespread problem in Northern California for at least a dozen years. Sacramento officials have estimated that there might be as many as 1,000 illegal grow houses in California’s capital city.

Suburban tract homes are transformed with high intensity lights and irrigation pipes, gutted to add ventilation pipes and air filtration systems to vent the tell-tale smell through the attic, and stacked with tables full of marijuana plants that could produce multiple crops each year.

“It’s like industrial agriculture,” Scott said.

Authorities often are alerted when the houses catch fire because of illegal electrical hookups or when they are found to be using extraordinary amounts of electricity to power the equipment.

Police: Active shooter at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno

SAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on reports of a shooting at YouTube headquarters (all times local)

1:50 p.m.

Police in Northern California say they’re responding to an active shooter at YouTube headquarters. The San Bruno Police Department told people on Facebook to stay away from the area Tuesday. There was no other immediate information.

Google, which owns the online video website, posted on Twitter that the company is coordinating with authorities.

City Manager Connie Jackson says there have been multiple 911 calls reporting a shooting and that police and fire officials have responded.

Television images showed people leaving the building in a line, holding their arms in the air for police to inspect as they were leaving the building. Officers then patted down people grouped outside.

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1:35 p.m.

Police in Northern California are responding to reports of a shooting at YouTube headquarters in the city of San Bruno.

City Manager Connie Jackson says there have been multiple 911 calls reporting a shooting and that police and fire officials have responded.

TV helicopter video shows officers patting down people grouped outside a building and police vehicles surrounding the area. San Bruno police said they could not provide more information.

The world’s biggest online video website is located on a suburban campus.

Calls and emails to YouTube representatives were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

Basement fire at Sierra Community Church extinguished Monday afternoon

A small basement fire at Sierra Community Church was put out by fire sprinklers and a fire extinguisher Monday afternoon, April 2.

South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue arrived to the church at 4:12 p.m., and Battalion Chief Jim Drennan says the fire was knocked down at 4:16 p.m.

Corbett Robertson, one of the church’s pastors, as well as a  youth music team and secretary were upstairs in the church when the fire broke out.

The hero of the day was a 14-year-old male custodian, who was cleaning in the basement and responded to the fire.

“He grabbed a fire extinguisher and went to the classroom to put out the fire,” said Robertson.

The custodian was checked by medical personnel for smoke inhalation. He was able to go home by 5 p.m. Monday evening, according to Robertson. No other injuries were reported.

The cause of the fire is undetermined and will be under investigation over the next few days.

“I’m just glad that the fire extinguisher and sprinklers did what they’re supposed to do,” said Robertson. “I hope we’re able to have everything normal by Sunday, but we’ll see.”

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SUV plunge off cliff may have been intentional, police say

MENDOCINO, Calif. (AP) — An SUV carrying a large family from Washington state accelerated straight off a scenic California cliff, and authorities said the deadly wreck may have been intentional.

The wreck was discovered last week, days after child welfare authorities began investigating whether the children were being neglected.

Information pulled from the vehicle’s software shows it was stopped at a flat, dirt pull-off area before it sped off the steep rocky face and plunged 100 feet (30 meters), said Capt. Greg Baarts of the California Highway Patrol.

Speaking at an evening news conference Sunday night, Baarts said the electronic information combined with the lack of skid marks or signs the driver braked led authorities to believe the crash was purposeful.

Five members of the Hart family were found dead. The search continued for three more children believed to have been in the vehicle when it went over a coastal overlook and landed on rocks in the Pacific Ocean below. The missing children may have been washed out to sea, authorities say.

“This specific location is very difficult to search because the ocean currents and tides are strong, it’s unpredictable, and the murkiness of the water makes it difficult to see,” said Capt. Greg Van Patten, a spokesman for the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

Known as the Hart Tribe, the multiracial family of two married women — Sarah and Jennifer Hart — and six adopted children often took spontaneous road trips to camp and hike and traveled to festivals and other events, offering hugs and promoting unity.

Authorities don’t know exactly when the wreck took place. A passing motorist discovered the vehicle on March 26, three days after social service authorities in Washington state opened an investigation apparently prompted by a neighbor’s complaint that the children were being deprived of food. Authorities believe at least one felony was committed but Van Patten declined to specify.

“To the best of my knowledge, there was not a suicide note found at the residence,” said Baarts, who added that authorities have been interviewing friends and family members of the Harts.

“There have been red flags,” he said, but did not elaborate.

Van Patten said he was not aware of any other evidence of abuse.

Well before the wreck, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Douglas County, Minnesota, telling authorities “she let her anger get out of control” while spanking her 6-year-old adopted daughter, court records show.

The two women, both 38, were found dead inside the SUV, while three of their children — Markis Hart, 19, Jeremiah Hart, 14, and Abigail Hart, 14 — were discovered outside the vehicle. Searchers were looking for Hannah Hart, 16; Sierra Hart, 12; and Devonte Hart, 15.

Devonte drew national attention after the black youngster was photographed in tears, hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, over the deadly police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri. Devonte was holding a “Free Hugs” sign.

Two weeks ago, Bruce and Dana DeKalb, next-door neighbors of the Harts in Woodland, Washington, called state Child Protective Services because Devonte had been coming over to their house almost every day for a week, asking for food.

Dana DeKalb said Devonte told her his parents were “punishing them by withholding food.” The boy asked her to leave food in a box by the fence for him, she said.

Social service authorities opened an investigation, and a state caseworker went to the house on March 23 but didn’t find anyone home. The agency had no prior history with the family, said Norah West, a spokeswoman with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services.

On Thursday, authorities in Washington state combed through the family’s home for information. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were looking for bills, receipts or anything else to shed light on why the family left and other circumstances related to the trip, KGW-TV reported.

Family friend Max Ribner last week took issue with the notion it was something other than a tragic accident. The couple adopted the six children, many of whom came from “hard backgrounds,” he said. “They transformed these kids’ lives.”

Highway 89 reopens at Emerald Bay Friday afternoon

California Route 89 has reopened at Emerald Bay, Caltrans announced Friday afternoon.

The highway was closed Wednesday, March 21, due to a snow slide at Eagle Point Campground.

Caltrans advises drivers to use caution on the highway, as road crews are still working in the area.

Another storm wave is expected to enter the Lake Tahoe Basin this weekend.

 

California lawmakers push 10 new gun control bills

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Monday proposed 10 new gun control bills to the state’s nation-leading gun restrictions in the wake of the latest mass shooting in Florida.The proposals to be considered later this spring include expanding the definition of assault rifles; expanding gun violence restraining orders; letting individuals block themselves from buying guns; and cracking down on homemade “ghost guns.”

Recent shootings including the Feb. 14 slayings of 17 people at a Florida high school show California can do more to restrict gun violence, Democratic Assembly members said.

“While I am proud to say that California is home to some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, you know there is still work to be done,” said Assemblyman Bill Quirk of Hayward.

One bill would expand California’s assault weapon definition to include high-powered semi-automatic rifles without fixed magazines, though most .22 rifles would be excluded. The current definition requires the rifle to have things like a pistol grip or other military-style fixtures. An estimated half-million owners would have to register approximately two million guns with the state Department of Justice if the bill becomes law, although a similar attempt by Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco failed to advance in 2016.

“Once again you have politicians attempting to capitalize on yet another tragedy,” Firearms Policy Coalition spokesman Craig DeLuz said in an email. Instead of concentrating on protecting school children, he said elected officials are targeting law-abiding gun owners.

Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco again wants to expand the ability for some to seek gun violence restraining orders. Current California law lets family members and police ask a judge to remove firearms for up to one year from a relative who appears to pose a threat. Ting’s bill would add high school and college personnel, employers, co-workers and mental health professionals.

A companion bill by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park would let judges issue such orders orally, based on statements by police, if there is an urgent need. Her second bill would impose lifetime firearm bans for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Among other proposals:

— Law enforcement agencies would have to put information on recovered firearms into a state database under a bill by Quirk.

— A bill by Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland would allow individuals to add themselves to the state’s “do not sell” list if they feel they might be a danger to themselves or others.

— The state would require background checks for anyone buying a key part that is used to assemble an assault weapon at home under a bill by Assemblyman Mike Gipson of Carson.

— Public agencies hosting gun buy-backs would be barred from issuing gift cards from retailers who sell guns under a bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego.

— Assemblyman Evan Low of Silicon Valley has two bills. One would remove firearms from those who have been hospitalized for suicide prevention twice in one year. The second would require law enforcement to send bullet casings to a central registry where they might be linked to firearms or other crime scenes.

Facing adverse conditions, Jamie Anderson wins gold in PyeongChang

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jamie Anderson will almost certainly spend more time gazing at her newest Olympic gold medal than watching replays of the slopestyle run she put down to win it.

Nobody, not even the Olympic champion, would want to re-live the ugliness that played out Monday on the sport’s biggest stage.

The day Anderson cemented herself as an all-time great by defending her Olympic title will also go down as one of the most unpleasant, dangerous days snowboarding has ever seen.

Shifting, bitter winds whipped tiny ice pellets across the iced-over jumps at the Phoenix Snow Park and stiffened the orange-colored wind socks in one direction, then another. Hundreds of numbed fans streamed toward the exits while the action was ongoing, and the stands were half empty as the afternoon wore on, with wind chills dipping to 5 degrees (minus-15 degrees Celsius) and below.

Twenty-five riders each took two trips down a course that, by many of their accounts, should not have been open for action. Of the 50 runs, 41 ended with a rider on her backside, or in a face plant, or, in the case of Canadian Spencer O’Brien and a few others, in a slow ride toward the bottom after simply pulling up because they couldn’t build enough speed to reach the crest of a ramp.

“All I wanted to do,” said fourth-place finisher Silje Norendal, “was sit up top and cry.”

This was not just sour grapes.

Even Anderson — the sport’s biggest gamer and its No. 1 big-day rider — conceded, “I’m not extremely proud of my run.” Her modest score of 83 resulted in a blowout of nearly seven points over silver medalist Laurie Blouin of Canada.

But really, what was Anderson to do? After the qualifying round was scrubbed due to wind a day earlier, all the riders were summoned back for a two-run final and ordered by their world ranking, giving the top-ranked American the privilege of going last.

After watching rider after rider fail to make her way down the course during Run 1, Anderson added a little wax to her board and stood on top, hoping for a 60-second stretch of calm that would allow her to simply stay upright.

“It was a lottery,” O’Brien said.

Two weeks ago, Anderson won the Winter X Games with a cab double cork 900 — two head-over-heels flips with 2½ twists mixed in. It was one of the gold standards in a sport that prides itself on — in fact, lives for — progression, sometimes at the cost of safety, sanity and everything else.

On this day, Anderson was never tempted to try that kind of trick. Her three jumps at the bottom consisted of a backside 540, a cab 540 and a front 720 — 1½ twists, 1½ twists and two twists. It was the sort of run that might’ve won a contest in 2008 — if the rest of the riders were having an off day.

Anderson owned the fact that she won by simply surviving, and also took credit for being one of the few snowboarders who actually wanted to ride.

“I was trying to keep the spirits high, like, ‘Let’s run it,'” she said. “A handful of the girls were like, ‘No, it’s not safe,’ and things like that. It’s not like what we’re doing is safe, anyhow.”

The 27-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, California, would’ve been favored to win under any conditions. Her Zen-like mindset is a big part of the equation, and she was ready to go when her alarm went off Monday — wind, snow or shine.

“It’s having the experience, and learning to deal with what is,” Anderson said. “It’s not always going to be perfect. A lot of times, everyone’s like, ‘It’s going to be perfect in a couple days.’ But yesterday we canceled the event, and we woke up today, and it was just as windy or worse.”

Given the ugliness of the day, a few questions loomed: Why were organizers so quick to cancel the men’s downhill Sunday and the women’s giant slalom Monday in other parts of the mountains of Pyeongchang but insistent on staging both the men’s and women’s slopestyle contests? And what considerations were made for NBC, which pays billions to televise these events live in prime time in the United States?

Roby Moresi, the contest director for the International Skiing Federation, told The Associated Press that safety, not TV, was the primary concern, and that winds on the Alpine mountains were much stronger than what whipped around on the slopestyle course. He said the complaints that reporters were hearing at the bottom of the course didn’t mirror what officials were hearing up top.

“We didn’t get much of a pushback,” Moresi said. “Of course, there’s a lot at stake and maybe they don’t express as much. But we only got complaints from one team. Others were comfortable. Others were telling me, ‘You did the right thing by making it happen.'”

Once it was over, many riders felt it was time to count their blessings. Everyone walked away from their falls.

“I’m glad nothing happened to me today,” said Austria’s Anna Gasser, one of the world’s best riders, who fell twice and finished 15th.

But that was all she was glad for.

“I think today,” Gasser said, “made us look way worse than we are.”