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KSBR News Briefs on Friday, Mar. 16, 2018

Ranchers sue utility over alleged role in California fire

Ranchers who lost cattle and property during our state’s largest-ever wildfire sued a utility for allegedly failing to maintain aging equipment and manage vegetation in areas where the blaze was sparked.

The lawsuits filed in Ventura County claim Southern California Edison didn't mitigate the significant risk of wildfires stemming from its outdated equipment.

The plaintiffs include Aubrey and Kim Sloan, who lost more than 50 cattle and thousands of acres of land when flames ripped through their ranch northwest of Los Angeles.

The Thomas fire covered more than 440 square miles and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.

A separate suit filed last month by nearly 300 residents, farmers and business owners also accuses SCE of negligence that led to the fire and subsequent mudslides.

The findings of a multi-agency investigation into the cause of the December fire haven’t been released.


California could cut pot taxes in bid to lure legal users

Less than three months after our state launched legal marijuana sales for adults, the state could consider temporarily slashing tax rates that some say are driving buyers into the black market.

Growers and sellers in the nation's largest legal marketplace have been complaining that taxes, that in some cases can near 50 percent, are too high. Many consumers, they say, are shopping in the underground market to save a buck or two.

Finding a sweet spot for marijuana taxation has been an issue in other pot-friendly states.

Washington, for example, initially imposed separate 25 percent taxes up to three times: when the grower sold it to the processor, when the processor sold it to the retailer and at the point of public sale. In 2015 that was pushed down to a 37 percent tax at the point of retail sale, plus sales tax. In Seattle, that combined rate is about 47 percent for recreational sales.

In Sacramento, Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey and Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta proposed a plan to dial back the state tax rates to encourage buyers to patronize legal shops.

Lackey, who spent 28 years in the California Highway Patrol, told reporters that the cumulative tax burden is high for an industry being regulated for the first time.


University of California to raise tuition for non-residents

The University of California's governing board has approved a tuition increase for out-of-state undergraduate students of 3.5 percent, or $978 a year, starting in the 2018-19 school year.

The Board of Regents voted 12-3 in favor of the increase and will decide in May whether to raise tuition for California residents.

Yesterday’s vote increases supplemental tuition for out-of-state undergraduate students to nearly $29,000, up from about $28,000 currently.

The supplemental tuition is an extra cost that out-of-state students pay on top of $12,630 in "system-wide tuition and fees."

The increase will bring tuition and fees for out-of-state undergraduates to nearly $42,000 next year.

The university says the increase will generate nearly $35 million and help compensate for lower than expected state funding at a time of record-high enrollment.


FDA begins anti-smoking push to cut nicotine in cigarettes

Federal health officials have taken the first step to cut nicotine levels in cigarettes so they aren't addictive.

The Food and Drug Administration estimated that its anti-smoking plan, first announced last summer, could push the U.S. smoking rate to 1.4 percent. Now about 15 percent of U.S. adults smoke.

FDA regulators estimate about 5 million more people would quit cigarettes within one year of new nicotine limits. Currently there are no limits. Under law, the FDA can regulate nicotine although it can’t remove it completely.

Nicotine is highly addictive, but it’s not deadly by itself. It's the burning tobacco and other substances inhaled through smoking that cause cancer, heart disease and bronchitis. Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, even though smoking rates have been declining for decades.

The agency published its formal notice online yesterday to begin regulating nicotine in what's expected to be a multi-year process that has potential obstacles. The FDA is seeking outside comment on a number of issues, including what nicotine levels should be permitted and whether the change should be implemented gradually or all at once.


San Onofre Community Engagement Meeting

The San Onofre Community Engagement Panel will discuss decommissioning milestones and storage of used fuel during the panel’s quarterly meeting Thursday in Laguna Hills.

Southern California Edison Vice President and Chief Nuclear officer Tom Palmisano will brief the panel on decommissioning milestone through major structure removal and the current work to transfer used nuclear fuel from storage pools to on-site dry cask storage.

In 2013, Southern California Edison, which is the majority owner of the San Onofre nuclear plant had announced it would retire San Onofre Units 2 and 3.

It has begun the process to decommission the facility.

Thursday’s meeting is scheduled at the Laguna Hills Community Center at 5-30 in the evening. Staffed information booths will be open between 4:30 in the afternoon and the start of the meeting. The meeting will be livestreamed via www.songscommunity.com.