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AIR TAINTED WITH SOOT LINGERS IN SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA: SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A stubborn dry weather pattern settled over Northern California in January, helping create some of the sootiest air in years for the 7.5 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, air quality officials said Tuesday.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued its 11th-straight “Spare the Air” warning on Monday, forbidding most indoor and outdoor wood burning.

The declaration tied last year’s record for the most consecutive days of warnings involving unhealthy levels of airborne particulates.

Pollution levels exceeded the federal maximum-allowable levels on three of those days, air-quality district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said.

She said 11 days is long but not unprecedented for such inversions.

Much of California experienced one of the wettest Decembers in years, raising hopes that the three-year drought was easing.

In January, however, a pattern of high-pressure ridges blocked more wet storms from moving in, said forecaster Drew Peterson of the National Weather Service.

The same kind of pattern settled in last year, also after a comparatively wet December.

“The thing that’s troubling is for the most part, this is typically one of the wetter months,” Peterson said.

A weak storm system approaching the region was expected to slip to the north of San Francisco without bringing much rain.

The high-pressure ridge will likely settle back over the area next week, Peterson said.


HIGH-SPEED RAIL BOARD OKS $1.36B CONTRACT FOR SECOND PHASE: SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The board that oversees California’s high-speed rail project has approved a $1.36 billion contract to design and build the second phase of the rail line in the Central Valley.

The board on Tuesday awarded the contract to a joint venture by three companies: Dragados USA Inc., Flatiron West Inc., and Shimmick Construction Company Inc.

It includes $1.2 billion to design and build the 60-mile segment from Fresno to north of Bakersfield and $160 million for Pacific Gas & Electric to relocate existing gas and electricity lines there.

The joint venture beat two other bidders, including Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, which is building the first 28-mile leg from Madera to Fresno.


WEST HOLLYWOOD LAW REQUIRES GENDER-NEUTRAL RESTROOM: WEST HOLLYWOOD  (AP) — West Hollywood plans to require gender-neutral restrooms to, among other reasons, accommodate new ideas of gender identity.

A law that takes effect Thursday says a business or public place with only one stall can’t restrict it to a specific sex either by signage or fixtures.

Existing businesses have 60 days to make changes, and the measure doesn’t apply to restrooms with more than one stall.

The Los Angeles suburb, which has a sizeable gay and transgender population, says the ordinance is aimed at helping people whose “gender identity” falls outside of traditional norms.

But it says the measure also will help the disabled, people with children of a different gender, and people who’ve had to queue up for the men’s or women’s room when the opposite-sex stalls remain empty.