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State news briefs
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WATER BOARD OKS $3.6M PG&E TOXIC SETTLEMENT CLAIM: HINKLEY . (AP) — A Southern California water board has agreed to accept $3.6 million from Pacific Gas & Electric to settle claims that the utility failed to stem toxic chromium pollution in a Mojave Desert town that inspired the movie "Erin Brockovich."

The 3-2 vote Wednesday night by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board came after objections by several residents.

As part of the settlement, in which PG&E did not acknowledge wrongdoing, half of the money will go toward developing a fresh water supply for the elementary school.

The water board claimed the utility failed to contain a plume of chromium 6 that polluted the Hinkley water supply. PG&E once used chromium 6 to reduce corrosion at cooling towers.

Kevin Sullivan, a PE&E engineer charged with the cleanup, said parents have voiced concerns about the water quality at the elementary school. The utility had been providing bottled water for teachers and students and planned to extend a pipeline to inject fresh water into the plume to keep it away from the school's wells.

FEDS PROBE EQUIPMENT FAILURE AT CALIF. NUKE PLANT: LOS ANGELES (AP) — A nuclear reactor on the California coast will remain shut down indefinitely while a team of federal inspectors determines why several relatively new tubes became so frail that tests found they could rupture and release radioactive water, a federal official said Thursday.

"This is a significant issue," said Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Lara Uselding. "A tube rupture is really the concern. ... That's what we don't want to happen."

Underscoring concern over the test findings, the NRC dispatched a special team to the Unit 3 reactor at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located about 45 miles north of San Diego. The plant was shut down as a precaution on Jan. 31, after a radioactive water leak in another tube in a massive steam generator. Traces of radiation escaped, but officials say there was no danger to workers or neighbors.

The NRC said Thursday that pressure tests showed three of the metal-alloy generator tubes had become so degraded that they could rupture under some circumstances. Such ruptures can require a plant to shut down, if spewing water reaches 150 gallons a day.

Investigators have been looking into what federal officials call excessive wear found on steam generator tubes in the seaside plant and its twin, Unit 2, which has been off line for maintenance and refueling. In a $670 million overhaul, two huge steam generators, each containing 9,700 tubes, were replaced in Unit 2 in fall 2009 and a year later in Unit 3.

CREWS TRY TO PREVENT DAMAGE TO SANTA CRUZ BOARDWALK: SANTA CRUZ  (AP) — Crews have moved sand against the retaining wall at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, as they try to prevent the rain-swollen San Lorenzo River from seeping through and causing serious damage.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports ( that crews on Thursday also cut a new path for the river away from the boardwalk. Boardwalk spokesman Kris Reyes tells the newspaper things are under control and officials are now in a wait-and-see-mode.

The river came dangerously close to the boardwalk — the site of an amusement park — this week, as it cut through the sandy banks that normally buffer the boardwalk from the river on the river's path to the ocean.

LA POLICE SAY WOMAN COMMITS SUICIDE WITH CHAINSAW: LOS ANGELES (AP) — A despondent woman killed herself with a chainsaw in the bedroom of her Palms townhouse, authorities said Thursday.

Valerie Nash, 47, had a self-inflicted neck wound when her body was found in bed, and a chainsaw was in the same room, said Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter.

A suicide note also was found when officers were called to the two-story town house at about 12:30 a.m. Thursday, police Officer Norma Eisenman said. Details of the note were not released.

Investigators will try to determine whether Nash was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and whether she had a history of depression or mental illness, Winter said.

Eisenman said the woman may have been dead for as long as a day. Her sister had been out of town and returned to find the woman's bedroom door jammed, the officer said.

FPPC APPROVES $30,000 FINE AGAINST SCHWARZENEGGER: SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The California Fair Political Practices Commission has approved a $30,000 fine against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to settle a nearly 3-year-old complaint by the campaign finance watchdog agency.

The commission alleged Schwarzenegger violated state campaign laws by spending $1.1 million from a ballot measure committee to advocate for his position on the state budget in 2009. Commissioners approved the fine 4-0 on Thursday.

The Republican governor, who left office last year, has already agreed to pay the fine and acknowledged his California Dream Team violated the law.

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton filed the complaint, alleging that Schwarzenegger violated state law by spending money from a campaign account for an ad that was not related to any election.

PANEL FINES GROUP BACKING CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR: SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The California Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday fined supporters of state Sen. Juan Vargas $6,000 for campaign finance violations during a hotly contested Democratic primary in 2010.

Put California Back to Work, an independent expenditure committee, devoted 88 percent of the nearly $1.5 million it spent on the election to support Vargas in his Southern California district. Yet, it failed to identify the candidate it was backing in regulatory filings, the campaign finance watchdog agency found. State law requires that contributors identify any candidate who gets more than 70 percent of their money.

The group also failed to identify its top two contributors who gave at least $50,000 — Jobs PAC and Diversity PAC — in a campaign mailer, as required by state law, the panel found. The mailer sent to nearly 29,000 addresses about a week before the election, supported Vargas and criticized his opponent, Mary Salas.

The mailer, which cost $19,362, stated, "Predator-someone who exploits others for selfish gain." It touted a firefighter union local's endorsement of Vargas and stated on its back page, "Who are you going to believe? CA Firefighters or Mary Salas?"

POLICE: GIRL, WAR VET DEAD IN MURDER-SUICIDE: GILROY  (AP) — An Iraq War veteran who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder shot and killed his 11-year-old sister Thursday in California before taking his own life in a murder-suicide, police said.

Meanwhile, investigators said they were frantically searching for the mother of shooter Abel Gutierrez, 27, who they feared also may have been killed or seriously injured.

"It's horrible. We have no idea where she is," Gilroy police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao told The Associated Press. "We are desperately trying to find her."

Police were called to the Gutierrez apartment Wednesday night after a roommate came home, suspected something was wrong, and went back outside. Arriving officers found the bodies of Gutierrez and his little sister, Lucero, dead from gunshot wounds.