Danville

Judge favors lawsuit against new houses

A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge said he is leaning in favor of a group suing the town of Danville for allowing a proposed 69-house development without first seeking voter approval.

Judge Steve Austin issued a tentative ruling Tuesday afternoon in favor of SOS-Danville, which is suing the town over the planned SummerHill Homes development off Diablo Road. The ruling was made in advance of a hearing Wednesday in Austin's Martinez courtroom.

In his ruling, Austin states that the town improperly changed its general plan to reassign agricultural land at Magee Ranch for development, in violation of the town's laws and of Measure S, which required the issue be put to a popular vote.

In fact, "it appears that the town interpreted the (General Plan) in such a way to essentially circumvent the mandate of Measure S," Austin added.

Neither the town or SOS-Danville, however, were entirely satisfied with the ruling, which also tackled related issues such as the adequacy of the project's environmental report and previous zoning of the area, so they met in Austin's courtroom Wednesday afternoon hoping to change the judge's mind on his preliminary ruling.

-- Joyce Tsai, Staff

Oakland

Firefighter improving after airport wreck

The condition of a veteran Oakland firefighter badly hurt Tuesday when an aircraft rescue rig overturned at Oakland International Airport has improved, with officials saying Wednesday he is awake and breathing on his own.

Mitchell Ow, 55, a 28-year fire department veteran, remained at Highland Hospital where his family, fellow firefighters and others were keeping a round-the-clock vigil.

Ow was injured about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday during a red-alert drill. He was by himself, driving a rescue rig equipped to carry 3,000 gallons of water and 420 gallons of foam, when it tipped on its side while making a turn in front of the Oakland Maintenance Center, formerly the United Airlines hangar.

He was not thrown from the vehicle but was rendered unconscious. He was in critical condition when he arrived at the hospital.

Ow was assigned to Station 22 at the airport. Airport operations were not impacted by the incident, officials said.

The cause of the accident is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol and Cal/OSHA.

-- Harry Harris, Staff

Bay Area

Man accused of online prostitution ring

A Mountain View man believed to be the mastermind behind two major prostitution websites in the Bay Area was arrested Wednesday on charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, according to federal officials.

Eric Omuro, known as "Red," with the assistance of Rocklin resident Annmarie Lanoce, 40, operated sfredbook.com and myredbook.com throughout the Bay Area as well as along the West Coast, the U.S. attorney's office alleges.

Both websites have since been shut down by the FBI.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, the website myredbook.com was initially described as a place for "Escort, Massage, and Strip Club Reviews." However, the FBI said the sites were havens for advertisements for prostitutes, complete with explicit photos, menus of sexual services, hourly and nightly rates and even customer reviews of the prostitutes' services.

Omuro, 53, also is accused of using money transfers to move revenue from the websites into his bank accounts. According to court documents, Omuro had more than 20 monetary transactions that laundered profits from the facilitation of prostitution.

Prosecutors are requiring Omuro, if he is found guilty, to forfeit more than $5 million in property and money as well as the Internet domain names myredbook.com and sfredbook.com.

-- Katie Nelson, Staff

OAKLAND

Manslaughter in loud-music stabbing

An Oakland man has been convicted of voluntary manslaughter for fatally stabbing his sister's boyfriend during an argument over loud music last year.

Prosecutor Scott Ford asked jurors to convict 22-year-old Van Surrell of murder in the death of 22-year-old Blair Robertson at an apartment in the 700 block of East 11th Street in East Oakland on Feb. 16, 2013.

But after one day of deliberation, Alameda County Superior Court jurors Tuesday found Surrell not guilty of both first- and second-degree murder and convicted him of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Surrell's lawyer, Darryl Stallworth, said Surrell should have been found not guilty of all charges because he acted in self-defense.

When the two began to fight, Surrell grabbed a knife to protect himself because Robertson had beaten and choked him in previous confrontations, Stallworth said. The defense argued that Robertson turned his body against the knife in Surrell's hand.

Surrell could be sentenced to up to 12 years.

-- Bay City News Service

Sacramento

Teacher dismissal bill signed into law

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed into law AB 215, which is aimed at making it easier for districts to discipline or dismiss teachers, especially those accused of egregious misconduct.

The bill by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, streamlines the discipline and appeals process by expediting and prioritizing cases of serious misconduct, those involving sexual abuse, child abuse and certain drug offenses. It fast-tracks all other dismissal appeals.

Tom Torlakson, state schools superintendent, said that he and many other education advocates supported the bill.

"The measure saves time and money, preserves due process rights, and -- most importantly -- gives schools an important tool to help keep children safe," he said.

-- Theresa Harrington, Staff