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State news briefs
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CALIF. SUES ARMY CORPS OVER VEGETATION RULE : FRESNO (AP) — A California agency is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its policy requiring the removal of vegetation on federal levees, claiming it harms fish and wildlife.

The Department of Fish and Game's lawsuit, filed Wednesday, claims that the Corps' policy would eliminate the Central Valley's remaining riparian habitat, which is essential for several endangered species. The Corps developed the new policy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

State officials say the Corps once encouraged the planting of trees and shrubs on California levees and that studies have shown native vegetation to be compatible with flood control.

The state estimates it would cost up to $7.5 billion to remove the vegetation. About 1,600 miles of federal levees along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and tributaries could be affected.

CALIFORNIA FARMERS, RESIDENTS TO GET MORE WATER: FRESNO  (AP) — Water agencies that supply millions of California residents and farmers will be getting more water this year, thanks to April rains.

The state Department of Water Resources said Wednesday that State Water Project contractors can expect to get 65 percent of their requested water this year, five percent more than earlier estimates.

The contractors supply more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of irrigated farmland.

Officials said the increase is due to April's wetter-than-usual weather and high reservoir storage. Rainfall in April was 167 percent of normal in the mountainous area that produces much of California's water supply.

Higher water allocations are difficult to achieve even in wet years due to pumping restrictions to protect threatened and endangered fish. The last 100 percent allocation was in 2006.


DUSTY WIND PROMPTS SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY AIR ALERT : FRESNO . (AP) — Gusty winds have prompted air officials in the San Joaquin Valley to warn of a potential health hazard from blowing dust.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued the warning on Wednesday for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties and parts of Kern County.

Winds there may produce areas of localized blowing dust that could trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, aggravate lung disease and increase the risk of respiratory infections.

The air district advises people to reduce prolonged exposure to the air and strenuous activities. Older adults and children should avoid such exposure and activities altogether.

The warning was in effect through Wednesday evening.

101-YEAR-OLD MAN KILLED BY 91-YEAR-OLD DRIVER: BURBANK  (AP) — Police say a 101-year-old pedestrian has died after being struck by a 91-year-old driver in Burbank.

The victim, Otto Jensen, was hit at about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday. He was transported to a hospital where he died of his injuries.

Ryburn says driver Mary Beaumont has not been charged.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARRESTED IN PHONY UPS VAN: NILAND  (AP) — It was a special delivery indeed — 13 suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico stuffed in a phony UPS van.

The U.S. Border Patrol said Tuesday that agents stopped the van Friday as the driver tried to circumvent a highway checkpoint near Niland, about 150 miles east of San Diego in California's Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border.

The van looked like a legitimate United Parcel Service delivery vehicle, except the company decal on the back door was slightly crooked.

The driver, U.S. citizen Daniel Lopez, was charged in federal court in El Centro with illegal transportation of aliens, authorities said.

Carlos Goens, the driver of another truck, was charged with the same crime after being detained at a Border Patrol checkpoint. He is suspected of coordinating with the UPS van.

Migrants told authorities they had agreed to pay between $5,000 and $8,000 each to be smuggled into the United States, according to the criminal complaint.

EX-LAUSD CHIEF SETTLES SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIM: LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Unified School District officials say a former LA schools chief has settled a sexual harassment claim for $200,000.

The district's announcement Wednesday came after a 4-3 vote to approve the settlement Tuesday.

Seventy-nine-year-old Ramon Cortines admitted to bad judgment in a statement, but says the encounter with Scot Graham was consensual and no harassment occurred.

Graham, the director of leasing and asset management, alleged Cortines made unwanted advances during an encounter at Cortines' Kern County ranch in July 2010.

Graham will also receive lifetime health benefits, estimated to be worth $250,000.

As part of the settlement, Graham will leave his $150,000-a-year job as a senior employee in the facilities division of the school system.

'AMERICAN IDOL' FINALE FEATURES MARRIAGE PROPOSAL : LOS ANGELES (AP) — "American Idol" can count a marriage proposal as part of its 11-season history.

Former contestants Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo became engaged on stage during Wednesday night's finale.

Young, a season five finalist, told host Ryan Seacrest that he and DeGarmo had just moved in together. Then Young got down on one knee and popped the question to her.

DeGarmo, a runner-up in season three, tearfully accepted, her head bobbing up and down.

2M AWARDED TO FAMILY OF MAN FATALLY SHOT BY CHP : SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A federal judge has ordered the California Highway Patrol and two of its officers to pay more than $2 million in damages for the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old man.

The Sacramento Bee reports ( ) that U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller on Monday issued an order clarifying the jury's verdict in the civil trial over the death of Joseph Pinasco Jr.

The shooting occurred in August 2008, after Pinasco fled the scene of an alleged street race, led the officers on a high-speed chase and spun out of control into a ditch.

The officers shot at Pinasco when they said he hit the accelerator in his pickup and tried to escape, endangering their safety.

The judge found the officers, Michael Walling and Stephen Coffman, the CHP and the state liable.