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Contributed by John Lindsey 

On Oct. 27, most locations along the Central Coast received more than an inch of rain.


Crime
Two stores evacuated on Thanksgiving due to gas leak

HANFORD — Early Black Friday sales were cut short Thanksgiving evening when a gas leak caused two Hanford stores to be evacuated.

Ulta Beauty and Michaels were evacuated due to the gas leak while Target was allowed to remain open for the night, said Hanford Fire Chief Chris Ekk.

Ekk said just after 9 p.m. Thursday, crews were called out to the Target shopping center for a report of the smell of gas. He said when crews arrived, they confirmed there was a smell of gas and began to contain the situation.

Ekk said an investigation revealed a gas meter behind Famous Footwear was broken and leaking gas. He said Famous Footwear and Old Navy were not open at the time, but Target, Ulta Beauty and Michaels were open.

Crews began evacuating people located inside Ulta Beauty and Michaels, which Ekk said were part of the “exclusion zone” per Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. The exclusion zone is the area with actual or potential contamination and the highest potential for exposure to hazardous substances.

Ekk said Target was outside of the exclusion zone and was allowed to remain open, but crews still monitored inside the store to make sure there was no danger to those within. He said there was no evidence of gas at the store.

Ekk said along with HFD crews, crews with the Kings County Fire Department, Hanford Police Department officers and deputies with the Kings County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and assisted with the evacuations.

Ekk said the gas company arrived at the scene within 30 minutes of the emergency call and had the issue contained within two hours. He said the company told officials the gas meter behind the Famous Footwear may have been hit by a vehicle, causing it to leak.

There were no injuries, and Ekk wanted to thank the managers, staff and customers of the stores for being cooperative during the evacuation.

All of the stores are open again for Black Friday shopping.


Julissa Zavala, The Sentinel 

Tracey Brazil, owner of Castaways Consignments, prepares her jewelry cases for the Small Business Saturday sale. 


National
AP
Rush of pot grows splits rural California before legal sales

COPPEROPOLIS, Calif. — The four young men had just started their marijuana harvest in rural Northern California when a dozen sheriff's deputies swooped in with guns drawn, arrested them and spent the day chopping down 150 bushy plants with machetes.

"I could do this every day if I had the personnel," Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said during the operation near the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Copperopolis, about two hours east of San Francisco.

Authorities this year have cut down close to 30,000 plants grown without permits in a county that is reconsidering its embrace of marijuana cultivation ahead of statewide legalization.

"There are just so many of them," the sheriff said of the illegal farms. "It's never-ending."

Marijuana has deeply divided financially strapped Calaveras County, among many where growers are increasingly open about their operations and are starting to encroach on neighborhoods.

DiBasilio estimates the county — population 44,000 and about the size of Rhode Island — has more than 1,000 illegal farms in addition to the hundreds with permits or in the process of obtaining them. The influx has caused a backlash among residents and led to the ouster of some leaders who approved marijuana cultivation.

Pot farmers operating legally, meanwhile, say they are helping the local economy and have threatened to sue over attempts to stop them.

California is set to issue licenses in January to grow, transport and sell weed for recreational purposes, nearly 20 years after the state first authorized the drug's consumption with a doctor's recommendation.

Farmers can legally grow marijuana for recreational consumption next year but are required to get a local permit before applying for a state license, which has sparked a boom in pot-friendly counties.

Calaveras County legalized medical marijuana cultivation last year, seeking to tax the hundreds of farms that popped up in the region after a 2015 wildfire destroyed more than 500 homes.

County officials expected to receive about 250 applications by the 2016 deadline. They got 770. About 200 applications have been approved, a similar number rejected, and the others are still being processed.

The sheriff gets some of the nearly $10 million in fees and taxes paid by legal farmers to crack down on illegal grows, many of which the department has mapped from the air.

The new pot farms have brought a bustling industry that includes the sounds of generators, bright lights illuminating gardens at night, water trucks kicking up dust on their way to grows, the distinct odor of marijuana, and tents, trailers and other temporary housing for migrant workers.

Local hardware stores' gardening sections are now stocked with pot farming supplies.

Law enforcement officials say they have raided farms where they have found pesticides that are banned in the U.S.

"It has changed our way of life," said Bill McManus, head of an organization seeking to ban marijuana in Calaveras County. "The environmental impacts are atrocious."

To the north, even the fabled pot-growing mecca known as the Emerald Triangle has been thrown into political turmoil as more farmers set up shop ahead of legalization.

The California Growers Association estimates about 3,500 farmers in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties have applied for local permits and will be in a position to receive state licenses. An additional 29,000 farmers there haven't bothered with the paperwork, according to the group.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman complained that local laws allowing cultivation are too "gentle" and attract violent crime, including a farmworker's recent homicide.

In Siskiyou County, leaders declared a state of emergency and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to help with an influx of marijuana farmers, who have snatched up inexpensive land even though pot cultivation is illegal there. Two growers were arrested and charged with offering Sheriff Jon Lopey $1 million to leave their farms alone.

"That's all you need to know about the type of money involved," Lopey said. "This isn't confined to the state. There's a big market outside of California they are supplying."

In Calaveras County, voters in January replaced four of the five supervisors who voted to legalize marijuana. The new majority has vowed to repeal legalization and institute a strict ban. But a formal vote has been delayed several times amid threats of lawsuits from farmers.

"So much of this is a cultural war," grower Beth Witke said. "I'm tired of being demoralized by the ban supporters."

Witke and other farmers argue they create good-paying jobs for young adults who otherwise would leave the county for the San Francisco Bay Area. She is among a handful of growers who operated quietly in Calaveras County for decades, attracted by the region's climate and proximity to the Bay Area.

But the devastating 2015 wildfire helped launch the county's green rush. The fire leveled subdivisions and wooded areas, turning them into attractive farmland. Former homeowners sold their flattened lots to outside growers armed with cash and betting the county would issue permits to grow.

In late September, deputies raided two farms that share a waterline west of Copperopolis and removed more than 300 plants. Three of the four farmers arrested were new arrivals from Minnesota. All four tended to another plot deputies raided in August.

They were cited and released. One of them — Ryu Lee, 22, of Redding — told deputies taking him to jail that he would return regardless of whether a ban was enacted.

"I'll see you next year," Lee said.


International
AP
Trump tells Turkey's leader: US to stop arming Syrian Kurds

ANKARA, Turkey — The United States will cut off its supply of arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria, President Donald Trump told the Turkish president on Friday, in a move sure to please Turkey but further alienate Syrian Kurds who bore much of the fight against the Islamic State group.

In a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said he'd "given clear instructions" that the Kurds will receive no more weapons — "and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The White House confirmed the move in a cryptic statement about the phone call that said Trump had informed the Turk of "pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria."

The White House called the move "consistent with our previous policy" and noted the recent fall of Raqqa, once the Islamic State group's self-declared capital but recently liberated by a largely Kurdish force. The Trump administration announced in May it would start arming the Kurds in anticipation of the fight to retake Raqqa.

"We are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return," the White House said, using an acronym for the extremist group.

In a tweet, Trump said he spoke with Erdogan "about bringing peace to the mess that I inherited in the Middle East."

The move could help ease strained tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, two NATO allies that have been sharply at odds about how best to wage the fight against IS. Turkey considers the Kurdish Syrian fighters, known by the initials YPG, to be terrorists because of their affiliation to outlawed Kurdish rebels that have waged a three decade-long insurgency in Turkey. Yet the U.S. chose to partner with the YPG in Syria anyway, arguing that the battle-hardened Kurds were the most effective fighting force available.

Cavusoglu, who said he was in the room with Erdogan during Trump's call, quoted the U.S. president as saying he had given instructions to U.S. generals and to national security adviser H.R. McMaster that "no weapons would be issued."

"Of course, we were very happy with this," Cavusoglu said.

Yet for the Kurds, it was the latest demoralizing blow to their hopes for greater recognition in the region. Last month, the Kurds in neighboring Iraq saw their recent territorial gains erased by the Iraqi military, which seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from the Kurdish regional government in retaliation for a Kurdish independence referendum that the U.S. ardently opposed.

Trump's decision appeared to catch both the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department off guard. Officials at both agencies, who would normally be informed of changes in U.S. policy toward arming the Syrian Kurds, said they were unaware of any changes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was unclear whether the Trump administration notified the Kurds of the move before telling the Turks. Nor was it clear how much significance the change would have on the ground, considering the fight against IS is almost over.

The United States has been arming the Kurds in their fight against IS through an umbrella group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which is composed of Kurdish as well as Arab fighters. But the retreat of IS, which has lost nearly all its territory in Syria, has altered the dynamics in the region and a U.S. defense official said he was unaware of any additional arms scheduled to be transferred to the Kurds, even before the Turkish announcement.

Last week, Col. Ryan Dillon, the chief spokesman for the U.S. coalition that is fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, said there has yet to be any reduction in the number of U.S. advisers working with the SDF. His comments appeared to suggest the possibility that changes in the level and type of U.S. military support for the Syrian Kurds could be coming.

As the fight against IS has waned in recent months, the U.S. has pledged to carefully monitor the weapons it provides the Kurds, notably ensuring that they don't wind up in the hands of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.

Both Turkey and the U.S. consider the PKK a terrorist group. But the United States has tried to draw a distinction between the PKK and the Syrian Kurds across the border, while Turkey insists they're essentially the same.

In both Syria and Iraq, the U.S. relied on Kurdish fighters to do much of the fighting against IS, but those efforts have yet to lead to a realization of the Kurds' broader aspirations, most notably an independent state.

Washington's support for the Syrian Kurds, in particular, has been a major thorn in U.S.-Turkish relations for several years, given Turkey's concerns about the Kurds' territorial aspirations. In particular, Turkey has feared the establishment of a contiguous, Kurdish-held canton in northern Syria that runs along the Turkish border.

Relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States have also soured recently over a number of other issues, including Turkey's crackdown on dissent following a failed coup attempt last year. Ankara has also demanded that the U.S. extradite a Pennsylvania-based cleric that it blames for fomenting the coup, but the U.S. says Turkey lacks sufficient proof.