PG&E proposes court order for CEO, board to tour town destroyed by wildfire

FILE PHOTO: A statue stands in front of a home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

(Reuters) – PG&E Corp on Monday submitted a proposed order to a U.S. District Court judge that would require the power provider’s chief executive and board to visit the California town of Paradise by July 15, to see the destruction caused by a wildfire in November that may be linked to the company’s equipment.

The order, agreed to by the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Probation Officer, awaits U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup’s signature.

He is also overseeing PG&E’s probation stemming from a felony conviction over a deadly 2010 natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California, that destroyed a neighborhood and killed eight people.

The judge last week called for PG&E officials to tour Paradise town. November’s Camp Fire leveled the town and killed more than 80 people, marking the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California’s modern history.

The Camp Fire also pushed San Francisco-based PG&E to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January in the expectation of, potentially, billions of dollars in liabilities. PG&E has said it expects its equipment may be found to have sparked the blaze.

The proposed order also requires PG&E’s chief executive and board to visit San Bruno to meet with victims of the 2010 explosion there as well as city officials and firefighters.

(Reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

Accused California gunman pleads not guilty in synagogue murder, mosque arson

A crowd watches on screen the funeral for Lori Gilbert-Kaye, the sole fatality of the Saturday synagogue shooting at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 29, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

By Jennifer McEntee

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A 19-year-old man accused of killing one worshipper and wounding three others in a shooting spree in a California synagogue pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to murder and attempted-murder charges in an attack prosecutors are treating as a hate crime.

John Earnest, arrested shortly after Saturday’s bloodshed at the Chabad of Poway synagogue north of San Diego, also pleaded not guilty to a single count of arson on a house of worship stemming from a nearby mosque that was set on fire in March.

Appearing behind a glass partition for his arraignment in San Diego County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon, Earnest stood expressionless and spoke faintly as he gave one-word answers to procedural questions put to him by the judge.

The lanky defendant – a nursing student enrolled at California State University at San Marcos – wore dark-rimmed glasses with his hair combed straight forward.

Ordering him to remain held without bail, Judge Joseph Brannigan said Earnest would pose “an obvious and extraordinary risk” to the public if he were to be released pending trial.

The proceeding was attended by six Hasidic Jewish men who sat in the front row of the courtroom, dressed in the traditional dark garb of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox faithful.

Authorities said Earnest stalked into the Poway synagogue during Sabbath prayers on the last day of the week-long Jewish Passover holiday and opened fire with an assault-style rifle, killing 60-year-old worshipper Lori Gilbert-Kaye

Three others were wounded in the attack, including the rabbi, who was shot in the hand and lost an index finger.

John Earnest, accused in the fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, stands in court during an arraignment hearing in San Diego, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. Nelvin C. Cepeda/Pool via REUTERS

John Earnest, accused in the fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, stands in court during an arraignment hearing in San Diego, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. Nelvin C. Cepeda/Pool via REUTERS

RAMBLING MANIFESTO

The gunman, whose weapon apparently jammed, was chased out of the temple by a former Army sergeant in the congregation, then sped away in a car, escaping an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent who shot at the getaway vehicle but missed the suspect. Earnest pulled over and surrendered to police soon afterward.

Authorities said later they believed Earnest was the author of a rambling, violently anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim “manifesto” found posted on the internet under his name.

In it, the writer claimed responsibility for a pre-dawn arson fire on March 24 that damaged the Islamic Center of Escondido, a town about 15 miles (24 km) north of Poway, and professed to have drawn his inspiration from the gunman who killed 50 people at two mosques earlier that month in New Zealand.

Saturday’s bloodshed near San Diego came six months to the day after 11 worshippers were fatally shot at a Pittsburgh synagogue in a massacre that ranks as the deadliest ever on American Jewry. The accused gunman in that attack was arrested.

Authorities said Earnest had no prior criminal record.

Besides the charge of committing arson at a place of worship, he is charged with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder. The criminal complaint, filed on Monday, also alleges the synagogue shooting was perpetrated as a hate crime. His public defender entered not guilty pleas to all charges on his behalf during Tuesday’s hearing.

If convicted, he would face life in prison without parole, or the death penalty, the district attorney’s office said.

District Attorney Summer Stephan told reporters afterward Earnest had legally purchased the murder weapon, although current California law generally prohibits rifles and shotguns from being sold to anyone under 21. The state’s legal age limit for such firearms was raised from 18 starting this year.

In addition to the murder weapon, Stephan said, police found five loaded ammunition magazines and another 50 rounds of bullets in Earnest’s vehicle when he was arrested.

(Reporting by Jennifer McEntee in San Diego; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

California synagogue mourns woman who ‘took the bullet’ in weekend shooting

A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

By Joseph Ax and Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The woman who was killed in a deadly shooting at a Southern California synagogue will be buried on Monday after being hailed as a hero, as police continue to investigate the motive of the 19-year-old suspect.

Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, had attended services at Chabad of Poway in suburban San Diego on Saturday, the last day of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover, to honor her recently deceased mother. Her daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Howard, were with her.

She was one of four people shot, and the only one killed, when a gunman stormed in with an assault-style rifle, six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest attack on American Jewry. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in both hands during the attack and lost a finger, described seeing Kaye’s lifeless body on the floor, as her husband tried to resuscitate her before fainting.

“It’s the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen,” Goldstein told reporters on Sunday. “Lori took the bullet for all of us … She died to protect all of us.”

The gunman, identified by police as John Earnest, fled after his weapon jammed and eventually called police in order to surrender.

Earnest, who is being held without bail, appears to have authored an online manifesto in which he claimed to have set a nearby mosque on fire last month and drawn inspiration from mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people in March.

Local and federal authorities also are examining Earnest’s possible involvement in the March 24 pre-dawn arson fire at the Islamic Center of Escondido, about 15 miles (24 km) north of Poway, Gore said.

Kaye, one of the synagogue’s founding members more than three decades ago, was a deeply caring member of the community, her friends said. When one congregant developed breast cancer, Kaye drove her to every appointment and helped take care of her children, Goldstein said.

“She is a person of unconditional love,” Goldstein said.

In a Facebook post, a friend, Audrey Jacobs, called her a “woman of valor” whose final act was to protect others.

“You were always running to do a mitzvah (good deed) and gave tzedaka (charity) to everyone,” she wrote.

Another close friend, Roneet Lev, said on CNN that Kaye’s life was defined by giving, whether money to charities, greeting cards to friends or a bagel and coffee to a homeless person.

“She is the symbol of random acts of kindness,” Lev said on CNN. “She’s had ups and downs in her life like all of us, but no matter what, in her darkest days – and she’s had trauma in her life – she always, always looked at the positive.”

Her funeral will take place at the synagogue on Monday afternoon.

Earnest is scheduled to appear in a San Diego court on Wednesday. Authorities believe he acted alone.

The other two wounded victims were Noya Dahan, 9, and her uncle, Almog Peretz, 34, both Israeli citizens. They were released from the hospital after getting hit by shrapnel.

Dahan’s family moved to the United States in search of a safer life after their home was repeatedly shelled by Palestinian rockets.

At a vigil on Sunday, Dahan rode on her father’s shoulders, wrapped in an Israeli flag, as people cheered.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York, and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

California prosecutors to seek death penalty in ‘Golden State Killer’ murders

FILE PHOTO - Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who authorities said was identified by DNA evidence as the serial predator dubbed the Golden State Killer, appears at his arraignment in California Superior court in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Four California district attorneys have jointly agreed to seek the death penalty if they win a conviction of an ex-policeman charged with 13 counts of murder attributed to a serial predator dubbed the “Golden State Killer,” prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The decision, disclosed during a court hearing for the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 73, put the prosecutors at odds with a statewide moratorium on capital punishment declared last month by Governor Gavin Newsom.

DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018, capping more than 40 years of investigation in a case that authorities said was finally solved by DNA evidence. The breakthrough came about two months after the case gained renewed national attention in the bestselling book: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called it “probably the most notorious” series of rapes and killings in California history, a crime spree spanning 11 years from 1975 to 1986 across multiple jurisdictions.

The defendant was an officer in two small-town California police departments during the 1970s.

Schubert and her counterparts from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties “unanimously concluded to seek the death penalty in this case,” her office said in a statement after Wednesday’s hearing.

DeAngelo is charged with 13 counts each of murder and kidnapping. Twelve murder counts accompany “special circumstance allegations” – such as rape of the victim – that make him eligible for capital punishment, the prosecutors said. The 13th murder count, in Tulare County, does not.

In all, authorities have said DeAngelo is suspected of dozens of rapes and more than 120 burglaries in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.

Four weeks ago, Newsom, a Democrat, said he was imposing an indefinite moratorium on executions for any of the 737 inmates now on death row, the most of any state.

Newsom said he took the action in part because he was deeply troubled by the possibility of putting an innocent person to death as the state moved to toward resumption of executions after developing a new protocol for lethal injections.

The governor, whose moratorium angered victims’ rights advocates, has since said he was considering a ban on future death sentences. California last carried out an execution in 2006.

Voters passed a 2016 ballot measure aimed at speeding up the process, but that initiative has failed to work, critics say, largely because it lacked additional funding needed to implement necessary reforms.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

As wildfires devour communities, toxic threats emerge

FILE PHOTO: Vanthy Bizzle hands some small religious figurines to her husband Brett Bizzle in the remains of their home after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced them to evacuate in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Sharon Bernstein

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – As an uncontrollable wildfire turned the California town of Paradise to ash, air pollution researcher Keith Bein knew he had to act fast: Little is known about toxic chemicals released when a whole town burns and the wind would soon blow away evidence.

He drove the roughly 100 miles to Paradise, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, from his laboratory at the University of California, Davis, only to be refused entrance under rules that allow first responders and journalists – but not public health researchers – to cross police lines.

It was the second time Bein says he was unable to gather post-wildfire research in a field so new public safety agencies have not yet developed procedures for allowing scientists into restricted areas.

Fires like the one that razed Paradise last November burn thousands of pounds of wiring, plastic pipes and building materials, leaving dangerous chemicals in the air, soil and water. Lead paint, burned asbestos and even melted refrigerators from tens of thousands of households only add to the danger, public health experts say.

Bein’s experience highlights the difficulties in assessing the impact of today’s massive disasters, whether wildfires that burn entire towns or flooding after major hurricanes, incidents scientists say are becoming more common due to climate change.

“Everything that we’re doing, it feels like this is a question nobody has asked before, and we have no answers,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center at U.C. Davis.

Researchers are examining soil tested for the presence of chemical compounds in neighborhoods destroyed by the 2017 wildfire that swept into Santa Rosa, located in California’s Sonoma County north of the Bay Area, and comparing it to uninhabited land nearby where only trees had burned, Hertz-Picciotto said. In that still-uncompleted study, researchers found nearly 2,000 more chemical compounds in the soil than in uninhabited parkland nearby. Researchers are now working to identify the compounds.

While scientists have studied wildfires for decades — learning much about the impact on air, soil and nearby ecosystems — fires that race from the forest into large urban communities were, until recently, exceedingly rare.

 

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH

As natural disasters increase in scope and frequency, public health researchers across the United States are developing new lines of inquiry with unusual speed.

Scientists, many of them funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), are studying pregnant women exposed to polluted air and water after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017; residents of Puerto Rico forced to live in unrepaired homes where mold and fungi grew after Hurricane Maria in 2017; eggs from backyard chickens that ate California wildfire ash, among other topics.

“It’s fundamentally critical that we be able to understand these situations and the risks to populations both in the short term and in the long term,” said NIEHS senior medical adviser Aubrey Miller, who is helping to develop quick-response disaster research cutting across scientific specialties.

To do that, NIEH has sped up the time it needs to fund research, from months or years to as little as 120 days, said Gwen Collman, who directs the agency’s work with outside researchers.

At U.C. Davis, where researchers are studying eggs from backyard chickens that may have breathed smoke and pecked at ash in areas affected by wildfires, the work is complicated.

“In an urban fire you’re dealing with contaminants that don’t go away – arsenic, heavy metals, copper, lead, transformer fluid, brake fluid, fire retardant,” said veterinarian Maurice Pitesky, who is leading the study.

Any contaminants found in the eggs could stem from other factors such as the proximity of the home to a factory, a waste disposal site or a highway, he said.

In an as-yet-uncompleted study, researchers have tested eggs sent by individual owners of roughly 350 backyard properties concerned about possible contamination from wildfires and other causes, researcher Todd Kelman said. The locations of the yards were mapped to see which homeowners lived near wildfire areas, and the eggs were tested to see if they have high levels of contaminants such as lead, cadmium and other chemicals associated with human buildings and activities.

COMBING PARADISE

One recent morning, teams from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in white hazmat suits combed through Paradise, loading seared paint cans, partially melted pesticide containers and the remains of propane tanks onto trucks to be hauled away.

Rusty Harris Bishop, a toxics expert with the EPA who worked on the Paradise cleanup, said removal teams take away whatever contaminants they find, including melted pipes or asbestos-laden construction materials, going beyond the older definition of hazardous household waste.

But cleanup protocols after such disasters are evolving along with the public health science, he said. 

That gap in knowledge concerns researchers like Bein, who plans to train as a firefighter to get access to the burned areas in the next big blaze.

“As these types of fires become more frequent in nature, where instead of once every decade it’s once every summer . . . then we really need to know how this is going to affect health,” Bein said.

Holocaust survivor meets with California teens involved in Nazi salute photos

Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss, stepsister of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank, talks to the media at Newport Harbor High School after speaking with a group of students seen in viral online photos giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made of red cups that sparked outrage in Newport Beach, California, U.S., March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Steve Gorman

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) – An Auschwitz survivor and stepsister of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank met on Thursday with some of the California high school students who posed in social media photos giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made of red cups used in a drinking game.

The anti-Semitic images, one with the caption “master race” – a reference to the Nazi belief in ethnic purity – went viral after being posted to Snapchat on Saturday, fueling concerns about a recent surge in incidents of hate speech in public schools nationwide.

Eva Schloss, 89, a peace activist who has chronicled her Holocaust experiences in several books, visited privately for more than hour at Newport Harbor High School with about 10 of the teens involved, along with their parents, student leaders, faculty members and a local rabbi who helped organize the meeting.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Schloss said the students described the Nazi salute incident as “a joke,” and she was surprised when they professed not to have fully understood the meaning and consequences of their behavior.

“It did show that education, obviously, is still very, very inadequate,” said Schloss, a London resident who was in California this week on a U.S. speaking tour. She said the students expressed sincere remorse for what happened on Saturday.

“I was 16 when I came out of Auschwitz,” Schloss said she told the students. “I was their age when I realized my life was completely shattered.”

The photos were taken at a party attended by students from several high schools serving a cluster of predominantly white, largely affluent Orange County communities. The images included teens with arms raised in a Nazi salute and students crowded around the cups arranged in the shape of a swastika.

School officials said they have interviewed more than two dozen students and are weighing possible disciplinary action.

LIVES INTERTWINED

The early life of Schloss, a native Austrian, closely parallels that of her German-born stepsister, Anne Frank. Both families moved to Amsterdam to escape anti-Jewish Nazi persecution in their homelands.

The two girls lived near each other and were friends before Germany’s Dutch occupation, forcing both families into hiding. Frank’s personal journal about her family’s ordeal was posthumously published in 1947 as “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

Frank died at age 15 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in early 1945.

Like Frank’s family, Schloss was captured by the Nazis in 1944 in Amsterdam and was sent to Auschwitz, where her brother and father died. Schloss and her mother were liberated by the Soviet army, and her mother married Frank’s father, Otto, in 1953.

Newport Beach Rabbi Reuven Mintz, who helped organize the students’ meeting with Schloss, said the controversy should be a “wake-up call” to a rising tide of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks acts of racism, says the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported at U.S. public schools jumped 94 percent from 2016 to 2017, the latest year such figures are available.

One factor appears to be wide-scale human migration stirred by war, political upheaval and environmental degradation, which in turn has fed a global rise in xenophobia and discriminatory politics that is “becoming mainstreamed in much of the Western world,” said regional ADL director Peter Levi.

“High school kids are not immune from that,” he said.

Another factor, he said, is the spread of extremist ideology by way of social media and the Internet, “and everyone has access to that in his pockets.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Newport Beach, California; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Darren Schuettler and Lisa Shumaker)

Trump border wall prototypes torn down to make way for new barrier

FILE PHOTO: The prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall are seen behind the border fence between Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File Photo

(Reuters) – The prototypes for President Donald Trump’s contest for a border wall near San Diego, California, were torn down on Wednesday, to make way for a new section of actual border fencing.

To the president’s supporters, the eight 30-foot-high (9-meter) models were a symbol of his commitment to build a wall along the length of the U.S. Mexico border to enhance national security. To opponents, they were a waste of taxpayer money and an affront to Mexico and immigrants.

“Since the test and evaluation of these prototype models is complete, they have served their purpose and are now being removed,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman Ralph DeSio said in a statement.

Using jackhammers, ladders and blow torches, military special forces and CBP special units spent weeks trying to go under, over and through the walls to test their strengths and weaknesses.

The tests of the eight prototypes, which Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Michael Scappechio of the San Diego sector said cost between $300,000 and $500,000 each to build, showed the effectiveness of the kind of steel post, or “bollard,” fence that already exists along large sections of the border.

Now, a new 30-foot-high bollard fence is being built as a secondary barrier along a 14-mile (22.5 km) section, behind an existing, 18-feet-high bollard fence, Scappechio said.

The ability of agents to see through a barrier is crucial to their safety, and a fence made out of steel posts or “bollards” is easier to repair when breached and relatively cost-effective, he said, while the 30-foot height is a deterrent to climbers.

The fence will also incorporate fiber optic sensor, Scappechio said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)

U.S. states sue Trump administration in showdown over border wall funds

A view shows a new section of the border fence in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California sued President Donald Trump and top members of his administration on Monday to block his decision to declare a national emergency to obtain funds for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California came after Trump invoked emergency powers on Friday to help build the wall that was his signature 2016 campaign promise.

Trump’s order would allow him to spend on the wall money that Congress appropriated for other purposes. Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall this year..

“Today, on Presidents Day, we take President Trump to court to block his misuse of presidential power,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the office of the presidency is not a place for theater,” added Becerra, a Democrat.

The White House declined to comment on the filing.

In a budget deal passed by Congress to avert a second government shutdown, nearly $1.4 billion was allocated toward border fencing. Trump’s emergency order would give him an additional $6.7 billion beyond what lawmakers authorized.

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit against Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violated the Constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

The legal challenges could slow Trump’s efforts to build the wall, which he says is needed to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The lawsuits could end up at the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Michigan joined California in the lawsuit.

The states said Trump’s order would cause them to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for national guard units dealing with counter-drug activities and redirection of funds from authorized military construction projects would damage their economies.

In television interviews on Sunday and Monday, Becerra said the lawsuit would use Trump’s own words against him as evidence that there was no national emergency to declare.

Trump said on Friday he did not need to make the emergency declaration but wanted to speed the process of building the wall. That comment could undercut the government’s legal argument.

“By the president’s own admission, an emergency declaration is not necessary,” the states said in the lawsuit. “The federal government’s own data prove there is no national emergency at the southern border that warrants construction of a wall.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

California tells Trump that lawsuit over border wall is ‘imminent’

FILE PHOTO: The prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall are seen behind the border fence between Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File Photo

By David Morgan and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – California will “imminently” challenge President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to obtain funds for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Sunday.

“Definitely and imminently,” Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” program when asked whether and when California would sue the Trump administration in federal court. Other states controlled by Democrats are expected to join the effort.

“We are prepared, we knew something like this might happen. And with our sister state partners, we are ready to go,” he said.

Trump invoked the emergency powers on Friday under a 1976 law after Congress rebuffed his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall that was a signature 2016 campaign promise.

The move is intended to allow him to redirect money appropriated by Congress for other purposes to wall construction.

The White House says Trump will have access to about $8 billion. Nearly $1.4 billion was allocated for border fencing under a spending measure approved by Congress last week, and Trump’s emergency declaration is aimed at giving him another $6.7 billion for the wall.

Becerra cited Trump’s own comment on Friday that he “didn’t need to do this” as evidence that the emergency declaration is legally vulnerable.

“It’s become clear that this is not an emergency, not only because no one believes it is but because Donald Trump himself has said it’s not,” he said.

Becerra and California Governor Gavin Newsom, both Democrats, have been expected to sue to block Trump’s move.

Becerra told ABC that California and other states are waiting to learn which federal programs will lose money to determine what kind of harm the states could face from the declaration.

He said California may be harmed by less federal funding for emergency response services, the military and stopping drug trafficking.

“We’re confident there are at least 8 billion ways that we can prove harm,” Becerra said.

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit against Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violates the Constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

The legal challenges could at least slow down Trump’s efforts to build the wall but would likely end up at the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

Congress never defined a national emergency in the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which has been invoked dozens of times without a single successful legal challenge.

Democrats in Congress have vowed to challenge Trump’s declaration and several Republican lawmakers have said they are not certain whether they would support the president.

“I think many of us are concerned about this,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Trump could, however, veto any resolution of disapproval from Congress.

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told Fox News on Sunday that Trump’s declaration would allow the administration to build “hundreds of miles” of border wall by September 2020.

“We have 120-odd miles that are already under construction or are already obligated plus the additional funds we have and then we’re going to outlay; we’re going to look at a few hundred miles.”

Trump’s proposed wall and wider immigration policies are likely to be a major campaign issue ahead of the next presidential election in November 2020, where he will seek a second four-year term.

(Reporting by David Morgan and David Lawder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Monster mudslides, water rescues as storm punishes California

A man carries flowers in the rain in the flower district on Valentine's Day in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Motorists swam for their lives and residents were rescued from homes sliding downhill as the wettest winter storm of the year triggered floods and mudslides across California on Thursday.

In Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, a mudslide carried away two homes and engulfed five cars, sending one woman to the hospital, Southern Marin Fire Department tweeted. Dozens of homes were evacuated in the area.

In Cabazon, about 84 miles (135 km) east of Los Angeles, two motorists swam from their vehicle and were rescued by helicopter after their car was engulfed by churning brown floodwaters, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman said.

“We’ve had multiple water rescues throughout the day, I think today our helicopter is up to about a dozen,” said CalFire spokesman Richard Cordova. “We haven’t seen rain like this in 10 years.”

Three Delta Air Lines passengers suffered minor injuries when severe turbulence shook a flight headed from southern California to Seattle on Wednesday, according to authorities.

The moisture-rich tropical storm, known as an atmospheric river, has lashed Northern California with rain and snow since late Tuesday. The moisture flow, nicknamed the “Pineapple Express” for its origin near Hawaii, unleashed its full force overnight.

Power lines, trees and car-sized boulders littered roads in San Diego County and flash flood warnings were in place after regions like Palomar Mountain got nearly 10 inches (25 cm) of rain, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

WILDFIRE AREAS AT RISK

To the north, Venado, a town near San Francisco famed for its rainfall, got more than one foot of precipitation over 48 hours.

Areas, particularly at risk, were those that suffered deadly wildfires in the last two years, leaving scorched hillsides devoid of vegetation and prone to collapse.

Residents in Northern California’s Butte County – where the Camp fire killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures last year – were told to leave their homes over concerns a creek could overflow and flood communities.

Hundreds of people in Lake Elsinore, 56 miles east of Los Angeles, got mandatory evacuation orders on fears hillsides scorched by the 2018 Holy Fire could turn into debris flows.

To the north Redding, the town devastated by the Carr Fire in 2018, was hit with around 14 inches of snow that shut down Interstate 5 south of the Oregon border and knocked out power to thousands of customers.

A couple more feet of snow was expected to fall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California through Friday, said NWS meteorologist Hannah Chandler-Cooley in Sacramento.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)