Shell Oil to pay California $19 mln over violations

A Shell refueling station in Los Angeles, California is pictured in 2008. Shell Oil Company will pay California more than 19 million dollars because of environmental violations at service stations throughout the state, officials said Friday.

A Shell refueling station in Los Angeles, California is pictured in 2008. Shell Oil Company will pay California more than 19 million dollars because of environmental violations at service stations throughout the state, officials said Friday.

The City & My Life|AFPShell Oil Company will pay California more than 19 million dollars because of environmental violations at service stations throughout the state, officials said Friday.

The agreement, filed earlier Friday in a California state court, requires Shell to pay 17.8 million dollars in civil penalties as well as 1.7 million dollars in costs to state and local agencies.

The deal ends a three-year investigation into more than 1,000 Shell stations throughout the state focusing on operation and maintenance of underground storage tanks, as well as the handling of hazardous waste materials.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a news release that the investigation found hundreds of violations at the company’s gasoline stations in California.

“Shell Oil Company disregarded the state’s underground fuel storage and hazardous waste laws, committing hundreds of environmental violations at its gasoline stations across California,” Brown said.

Shell officials did not have any immediate response, but company officials in Houston said they would issue a statement later in the day.

Shell, which is based in The Hague, the Netherlands, has about 102,000 employees in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Under the terms of Friday’s deal, Shell agreed to take immediate steps to improve spill and alarm monitoring, employee training, hazardous waste management and emergency response at its gasoline stations.

Schwarzenegger’s prison plan falls short of judges demands

The US Supreme Court has turned down a request to temporarily stop California from freeing 46,000 inmates from its crowded jails.

California has one of the most overcrowded and underfunded prison systems in the country, prompting three federal judges in August to order it to develop a plan to free some 46,000 prisoners in the next two years.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had asked the US Supreme Court to block the order due to go into effect from September 18, arguing that freeing the detainees could endanger state residents.

But the top US court turned down the request, in a decision seen by AFP on Monday, although it highlighted that the move was still on hold and would not be implemented until a thorough review was completed by the Supreme Court.

“In denying the stay, the court takes note that the three-judges district court has indicated that its final order will not be implemented until this court has had the opportunity to review the district court’s decree,” it said in its ruling.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that California lawmakers have approved an alternative plan to reduce the state’s prison population by up to 25,000 in two years.

It said the plan, agreed on Friday after weeks of tense debate, was less ambitious than that initially envisioned by Schwarzenegger.

The new package calls for less supervision of low-level offenders on parole in order to prevent them from being sent back to prison for violating the terms of their release, the newspaper said.

Some offenders would also be able to earn shorter terms by undergoing rehabilitation programs.

California has some of the most overcrowded prisons in the United States, with an estimated 170,000 inmates housed in facilities designed for 100,000 people, according to 2007 figures.

The panel said the prison system should seek to reduce crowding so that facilities were accommodating between 120 to 145 percent of their design capacity.

The ruling was the latest twist in long-running class action lawsuits filed by a group of prisoners against the state.

A ruling issued in February by a panel of federal judges said there was “overwhelming” evidence that overcrowding in California’s prison system was depriving inmates of the medical and mental health care they were entitled to under the US constitution.

Groucho’s Beverly Hills Home for Sale, Cigar Not Included

Grab your fake mustache, cigar and checkbook — the Beverly Hills home of Groucho Marx is up for sale.

The five-bedroom estate, designed by architect Wallace Neff, is on the market at $12.9 million.

The home includes a pool, a spa, a waterfall, an alfresco dining area, patios and a fire pit, The Los Angeles Times reported:

The Trousdale Estates home, which has been rebuilt and updated but maintains its Neff footprint, is entered through a landscaped motor court with a central fountain. The one-story contemporary has strong horizontal lines, with walls of wood and glass, and terrazzo and walnut floors. There are five bedrooms and six bathrooms in slightly more than 6,000 square feet.

Marx lived in the home until his death in 1977 at the age of 86, The Associated Press reported.

Fires out of control as California burns

Wildfires in southern California have killed two firefighters and destroyed over 14,000 hectares of bone-dry brush land. Thousands of residents have been forced to leave their homes.

At least six towns are being cleared as the blazes’ fast-moving northern front threatens even the suburbs of Los Angeles.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “These fires are still totally out of control. The emergency declaration, of course, will help to cut through the red tape and free up additional resources.”

Some 2,000 firefighters are battling the flames on several fronts which are burning just as fast in darkness as in the daytime.

Home owners can only watch and hope that the high temperatures soon drop and the rain comes. Meanwhile evacuation centres are being set up in schools and town halls

While thousands have fled the flames, some are ignoring the calls to get out. Two people who tried to ride out the firestorm in a garden hot tub were critically burned and had to be airlifted to hospital.

California fire ‘out of control’

A wildfire in the mountains above Los Angeles is threatening 12,000 buildings and continuing to spread, officials in California say.

The fire has been fuelled by record temperatures over the past four days.

Evacuation orders cover about 10,000 homes and state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger described the fire as “still totally out of control”.

About 2,000 firefighters are trying to contain the blaze, which has burnt more than 55 sq miles (142 sq km) of forest.

Firefighters Tested As Wildfires Sweep Through California

Fire crews watch as a planned back fire burns itself out behind a home on Forest Green Drive in La Cañada Flintridge.

Fire crews watch as a planned back fire burns itself out behind a home on Forest Green Drive.

Firefighters found themselves beating back flames that were whipping through the mountains north of Los Angeles Saturday. The wildfires spread over nearly 9 square miles of bone-dry forest, causing many residents to evacuate and putting a halt to air operations, according to officials.

The success of an overnight air and ground battle against a swift-moving blaze on the Palos Verdes Peninsula was tempered by the threat from an out-of-control fire on the opposite side of Los Angeles in the steep San Gabriel Mountains above the city of La Canada Flintridge.

The blaze in the steep San Gabriel Mountains spread out in all directions Friday, the most active flanks to the north, deeper into the forest and east, said Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea.

Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation notice early Saturday morning for 150 homes with homes located within a half-square-mile area and on the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains. An evacuation center was set up at La Canada High School. Residents nervously watched aircraft drop loads of water and retardant on nearby blazing slopes.

According to Forest Service spokesperson Jessica Luna, the blaze continued to move out in all directions, the most active flanks to the north, deeper into the forest, and east. The fire was 5 percent contained. “It’s difficult for water-dropping aircraft to get in there, but they’re still trying,” said Luna. She added that hot, dry weather was expected all day Saturday, but crews were hopeful that winds would remain light.

Crews are adamantly focusing on preventing the wildfire from spreading to Mount Wilson, where many of the region’s broadcast and communications antennas and the historic Mount Wilson Observatory are located.

This instance is simply one in a slew of wildfires occurring in the Los Angles area. A second fire in the Angeles National Forest was burning several miles to the east in a canyon above the city of Azusa. The blaze, which started Tuesday afternoon, was 85 percent contained Saturday. No homes were threatened, and full containment was expected by Monday.

A wildfire on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on the south Los Angeles County coast was 90 percent contained Saturday morning, according to County Fire Captain Mike Brown. As many as 1,500 people were forced to flee at the height of the fire Thursday night.

Southeast of Los Angeles in Riverside County, a fire in a rural area of the San Bernardino National Forest was 10 percent contained. No structures were threatened. Temperatures were expected to top 100 degrees in the region, but winds remained light.

To the north, in the state’s coastal midsection, a fire threatening Pinnacles National Monument kept 100 homes under evacuation orders near the Monterey County town of Soledad. The blaze, 60 percent contained, was started by agricultural fireworks used to scare animals away from crops. The fire destroyed one home.

In the southern part of Monterey County, firefighters had 100percent containment of fire that had threatened 20 ranch homes.

A nearly 4.1-square-mile fire in Yosemite National Park was 15 percent contained Saturday morning, said park spokesman Scott Gediman. No structures were threatened.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday in Los Angeles and Monterey counties.

“It’s fire season, clearly,” he said. “There’s tremendous amount of heat all over the state.”