News Briefs

Posh development getting the bird

A developer’s attempts to expand a luxury community in affluent Rancho Santa
Fe, north of San Diego, has run into a roadblock–courtesy of an endangered

Five pairs of the California gnatcatcher have put the project on hold–for
now. The problem is that the developer, Lennar Homes, hopes to build dozens
of homes in an area north of Escondido Creek, which is gnatcatcher habitat.
The development could harm the birds’ core habitat, according to independent
and state advisers.

The developer has proposed setting aside nearby land as a habitat for the
gnatcatcher, but that approach has raised concerns from the planning staff.
The project is opposed by the Escondido Creek Conservancy, which hopes to
maintain open space within the creek’s 75-mile watershed, and the Elfin
Forest/Harmony Grove Town Council.

Medical scam money paid for Lamborghini and Rolls Royce

The cost of medical care is increasing dramatically–just ask Phu Luong.
Luong was sentenced to a decade in prison and ordered to pay at least $6
million in restitution for a Medicare billing scam in which he submitted
billing for unneeded medical equipment, including wheelchairs.

Luong was one of the participants in a larger scam involving 10 people who
where indicted last year in widespread billing fraud. The L.A. Times
reported that members of the group submitted some $24 million worth of
spurious billing, of which $14 million was actually paid.

Investigators said Luong bought a $185,000 boat, a $118,000 Rolls Royce and
a $170,000 Lamborghini. He also put a $1.7 million down payment on a
Huntington Beach house, and settled a $120,000 gambling debt with the
Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Times said.

Rampaging driver kills pedestrian on streets of San Francisco

One person died and 14 others were in critical condition when a driver in a
sports utility vehicle killed a person in a Fremont bike lane, then headed
north and across the bay to San Francisco, where he continued to mow down
people during a 15-minute period.

Police said they arrested Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, of Fremont, on suspicion of
murder and 14 counts of attempted murder.

At least a dozen people were hospitalized during the rampage. The victims
ranged in age from 18 to 78.

Police arrested Popal after officers in cruisers surrounded Popal’s SUV near
California and Spruce streets. Officers said Popal attempted to escape by
throwing his car into reverse, and rammed one of the police units.

A fish tale for the coastal salmon industry

Legislation closely watched on the North Coast that would have provided $26
million in grants and low-interest loans to struggling salmon fishermen has
been blocked in the state Legislature.

The legislation, supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would have given
an economic boost to an industry caught in the throes of an economic
downturn. The Senate bill was authored jointly by Republican Sam Aanestad of
Grass Valley and Wesley Chesbro of Arcata.

Schwarzenegger said the Legislature’s action was a “great disappointment.”

Through the day on Wednesday, the governor’s staff privately sought to
resuscitate the legislation, while Chesbro said he was disappointed that the
governor had “thrown in the towel.”

The Times-Standard in Eureka reported that salmon fishermen along the West
Coast had lost $83 million due to the closures of salmon fisheries.

Lawyers argue that UC can reject credits for Christian-themed courses

Attorneys for the University of California say the school had a First
Amendment right to reject college credits for three Christian-themed courses
taught at a Murrieta private school.

The Press-Enterprise reported that the defense was part of a 16-page
response to a lawsuit brought last summer by Calvary Chapel Christian
School, which alleges that UC admissions discriminate against Christian

In the documents, UC attorneys said the system has a right of academic
freedom to set admissions criteria, and asked a federal judge to dismiss the

UC officials rejected the courses over concerns with textbooks published by
conservative publishers Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books that
were used as main course material. The books lack information that would
prepare students to study at the UC system, court documents said.
The university filed its response now because it was waiting for the outcome
of a motion to dismiss the case. A federal judge denied the request earlier
this month.

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