2021 promises a remake of industrial spaces in O.C.

We’ve been blessed with five grandchildren – two of whom live within walking distance. We see them often. It’s AWESOME! Our oldest is obsessed with the history of the Titanic. Go figure. Suffice to say we’ve become quite expert on the pitfalls of icebergs.

As yet another documentary was consumed last night, my thoughts veered – sorry – to commercial real estate. Not the disaster part but the iceberg part. You see, what’s happening currently with industrial real estate is akin to those floating behemoths of frozen H2O – if you can’t see below the surface – you’ll miss 80% of the market’s activity.

If we take a look at north Orange County, which includes Anaheim, Placentia, Yorba Linda, Brea, Fullerton and Orange – and throw in East Yorba Linda, AKA Corona – for good measure – you will find a startling lack of available Class A buildings. And by Class A, I’m referring to those constructed since 2010. Many of these cities have ZERO availabilities above 100,000 square feet.

What’s special about Class A you may be wondering? Well, new inventory comes equipped with several goodies – such as taller ceilings, more powerful fire suppression and greater truck access. Might I mention ALL of these goodies are needed for the e-commerce occupants that stack and ship things.

One of the advantages enjoyed by the Inland Empire? There are still large swaths of land to be developed into concrete monsters and the existing buildings are newer. So what? Inland Empire lease rates are quickly surpassing those of north Orange County — especially if it’s a Class A building in Ontario vs. a Class C in Anaheim.

Occupants are paying for image and quality. So what if they drive a bit farther? Their business runs so much more efficiently.

So, how about what’s happening beneath the waves, so to speak?

Developers are voraciously gobbling campuses of industrial buildings formerly housing manufacturing entities. We saw this begin around 2003 and continue with a vengeance through 2008. Oops! Then came that minor reset! It started up again around 2014. Panattoni Development’s re-tool of the Boeing campus in East Anaheim was spectacular. It’s now a wonderful mix of quality manufacturing and logistics buildings delivered over several phases. Even Disney relocated its costume operation to the project.

Beckman Coulter in Fullerton must also be mentioned. If you’re ever in the neighborhood of Harbor and Lambert, take a look. You’ll be impressed! Western Realco created a masterful layout of logistics spaces that engendered great appeal and demand.

But over the last six months, acquisition activity has been turbo-charged! A former National Oilwell Varco site in Brea will soon house a gorgeous 108,000-square-foot development. Part of the former Mitsubishi holdings in Cypress will be re-developed by scraping some existing buildings and leaving some more on the 22-acre parcel.

Kimberly Clark’s operation – formerly located on Orangethorpe in Fullerton – could very soon be the home of your favorite warehouse operation. Planned are several large boxes for that site. Finally, that location you pass on the 91 Freeway – Universal Alloys? Yep, it’s also slated for a new development.

The landscape of available Class A inventory should change dramatically over the next 12 months. It will be curious to see if any of the buildings actually hit the market, or if they are simply pre-leased. I’m betting on the latter.

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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Fraud keeps some valid recipients of unemployment benefits from receiving funds

For Dara Haenel, work has been scarce.

The 34-year-old tax preparer and single mother, like millions of others statewide, saw her livelihood dry up shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit early last year.

So Haenel, a Compton resident, joined more than 8 million others in turning to the California Employment Development Department for help — enrolling, for the first time in her life for unemployment benefits.

For months, Haenel received money on a debit card issued by Bank of America, the designated distributor of roughly $120 billion in state unemployment benefits since the pandemic’s onset, amounting to about $4 million a week.

But the system, officials say, has also been a target of fraud — rife with stolen debit cards and identity theft, among other issues. EDD officials have responded, the agency said in a Jan. 15 press release, by strengthening the screening process on 9.7 million unemployment claims filed since the pandemic began. That has resulted, the department said, in more than 1.4 million unemployment claims identified as fraudulent.

Bank of America, for its part, has identified more than 640,000 accounts for suspicious activity, according to a recent letter from the company to state leaders. That includes 76,000 cards sent to beneficiaries out of state and numerous cases of multiple cards sent to a single mailing address, the letter said.

Bank of America, together with EDD, froze 345,000 accounts in September, the company’s letter said, comprising an estimated $2 billion in fraudulent activity. Another 62,000 accounts were also frozen by the bank for various other fraud alerts. Most of the cases involved people falsely applying for benefits or identity theft.

But the anti-fraud efforts have led to an unintended consequence: Some valid recipients, such as Haenel, have been flagged erroneously — their money denied and their accounts frozen. That’s according to Haenel and Bank of America officials, and hinted at in the EDD’s letter.

The EDD responded to requests for comment about eligible recipients having their accounts frozen — as well as Haenel’s case specifically — by sending its recent press release to the Southern California News Group.

That release did not directly address why some eligible claims get flagged as potentially fraudulent.

But it did say the department sent out requests earlier this month to verify the identities of flagged claimants, in an effort to distinguish legitimate recipients from fraudulent ones.

“As claimants have their identity verified,” the department said in the release, “EDD is removing barriers on claims so payments can continue for eligible claimants – something that can occur in a matter days.”

But Haenel said she has not found the process so simple. Despite multiple attempts to satisfy the EDD, Haenel said in a recent interview, her unemployment account has remained frozen for more than a month.

“It feels pretty bad,” Haenel said, “because I am doing the best I can to keep a roof over my and my daughter’s head on top of putting her through school, not being able to work and then wondering how I will come up with my rent.”

Types of fraud

Generally, there are two main types of fraud EDD and Bank of America deal with: false unemployment claims and transaction fraud.

The former type, for which EDD has strengthened its protocols, comprises the vast majority of cases and occurs when someone files for unemployment but either is not eligible or uses a false name, said William Halldin, a spokesman for Bank of America.

Both EDD and the bank can flag potentially false claims, preventing the money from going into someone’s account. But the bank is charged with investigating potential fraud if EDD’s attempts to verify a person’s identity do not quell concerns.

But the EDD’s procedures also mean that eligible recipients who get flagged will go without much-needed cash until the problem gets fixed.

“EDD requires additional information to validate identity or eligibility,” the department’s press release said, “so payments can resume for eligible claimants.”

And make no mistake: Eligible claimants do, in fact, get mistakenly flagged, Halldin said — an unfortunate, but inevitable result of preventing actual fraud.

The second type of fraud, meanwhile, involves unemployment debit cards.

That occurs when online hackers steal a claimant’s identity or are able to obtain debit card information.

In those cases, Bank of America is in charge of identifying the fraud and stopping it, much like the company would if a regular client’s debit card was hacked.

The bank, though, also deals with the reverse of online hackers: People who spend the money they received but later say they didn’t.

Investigating either type of transaction fraud, Halldin said, can be difficult, particularly with EDD cases since the bank often does not have relationships with recipients in the same way it does with regular clients.

“We review any claim, Halldin said, “and restore the money to the debit cards when appropriate.”

But not everyone is pleased with the bank’s ability to protect clients from transaction fraud.

A recently filed federal class-action lawsuit argues Bank of America exposed unemployed California workers to fraud and suspended jobless payments after it failed to properly safeguard their benefits account.

Halldin did not directly respond to the allegations in the lawsuit. But in an official Bank of American statement, the company did say it works with the state every day to prevent criminals from getting money and ensuring legitimate recipients get their benefits.

“When fraudulent transactions occur on benefit cards,” the statement said, “we review those claims and restore money to legitimate recipients.”

The lawsuit’s arguments, though, hint at how the two types of fraud — false claims and stolen debit cards — can compound problems for those legitimately needing unemployment insurance:

A hacked account can also lead to a person’s overall unemployment claim being flagged as potentially fraudulent.

From victim to suspect

That’s exactly what happened to Haenel, the Compton tax preparer.

The single mother had her identity stolen by online hackers in October. They stole $3,000 total from her account over three separate transactions, Haenel said.

She initially tried to deal with the bank directly, Haenel said, but her efforts failed.

So Haenel hired an attorney to write a letter to Bank of America, stating she was the victim of identity theft and demanding the funds be returned to her account. The letter, however, went unanswered, Haenel said.

Last month, a reporter from Southern California News Group contacted Halldin about the situation. Then, two days before the end of the year, Haenel said, her money was back.

Halldin, who ultimately helped Haenel get the money back in her account, said he was unable to comment specifically on her case. But in general, he said, the bank works to resolve conflicts.

But Haenel’s story does not end there.

Almost immediately after hackers stole $3,000 from her, Haenel said, EDD froze her account.

The department did not confirm to the Daily Breeze that her account was frozen. But Haenel said she received a letter from the department explaining her account was flagged for possible fraudulent activity. The letter, Haenel said, informed her that to reactivate her account, she needed to verify her identity with the state agency.

But she has been unable to do so — despite multiple attempts.

Haenel, for example, tried twice to verify her identity through the department’s online system. Each time she finished, she said, the system responded by saying her information was under review.

Haenel, who has been out of work for nearly a year now, has not received unemployment payments since Dec. 14, Haenel said. And, on Friday, Jan. 22, Haenel said she still lacked access to her account.

And the EDD letters have kept coming — and have become, Haenel said, increasingly intimidating. They have made her feel, she said, as if she’s being accused of fraud.

“The letters they are sending now,” she said, “make it sound like I did something wrong.”

‘Riddled’ with fraud

Halldin, for his part, said the bank has been tasked with a mammoth job and there were bound to be recipients whose accounts were flagged in error. When investigators can sort it out, Halldin said, they do.

“If we have denied a claim, we encourage legitimate unemployment recipients to contact us and ask for reconsideration of the claim,” he said, “and we can certainly take another look at the circumstances.”

Still, Halldin said, fraud has hit unemployment programs hard — and EDD and Bank of America are doing what they can to prevent it.

“Unfortunately, unemployment programs have been riddled with billions of dollars in fraud, including California’s,” the spokesman said. “Criminals have found ways to steal money from the state and the debit cards of legitimate unemployment recipients.

But Bank of America, he added, has “helped stop billions of dollars in tax dollars from getting into the hands of criminals.”

For folks like Haenel, however, having their legitimate claims frozen remains frustrating — no matter the reason.

“Unemployment is the only way for people to survive under” the pandemic, Haenel said, “and now they are ripping it away from people.

“It’s aggravating,” she added, “especially when you are just trying to get answers.”

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Help is coming to I-5 commuters at the OC-LA border

Q. What is the status of the huge construction project on the I-5 Freeway, from just beyond the Orange Curtain to the I-605 Freeway? Orange County used Measure M money many years ago to upgrade the I-5. But going north, traffic screeches to a halt as the freeway bottlenecks down to three lanes. Going south, it’s always been a sigh of relief to reach the “home” side of the Orange County line and have the freeway gloriously open up and be free-flowing. We were warned at the outset of this long-awaited improvement that it would be a long-term project. I recall something about five years. It seems to have dragged on forever, and no newspaper ever seems to mention it or update the status.

– Roger Gregston, Lake Forest

A. Roger, you came to the right place for an answer.

Help, in the form of a $1.9 billion project that began construction in late 2011, is on the way. Many improvements are being made on the I-5 from the Orange County line to the I-605, a six-mile stretch.

Most notably, in each direction it will go from three to five lanes.

“We’ll match the Orange County side,” said Marc Bischoff, a spokesman for Caltrans in Los Angeles County.

The fourth lane is partially in use now and most of it will be open by late February, Bischoff said. The fifth lane, for carpools, will open in mid-2022 when the project is completely finished.

In addition to more lanes, on- and offramps will be lengthen, traffic signals at the base of the offramps synchronized, and some off-freeway improvements tossed in as well.

Honkin’ update: A couple of weeks ago, a Department of Motor Vehicles official said in Honk that getting personalized plates has been slowed down to four to six months because of pandemic-related delays in production and delivery. Reader Robyn Banks of Anaheim had been told when he ordered them back in May it would take six to eight weeks. He finally got them after months and months of waiting.

But why the delay exactly? The DMV official wasn’t sure, so Honk told you he would get out his shovel and dig.

Well, Michele Kane, an assistant general manager with the California Prison Industry Authority, told him the inmates in the license-plate factory at Folsom State Prison typically churn out 48,000 license plates a day. They have been making California’s plates since 1947.

“The number has been reduced by the pandemic, and the number fluctuates daily,” she said. “We still try to target 48,000 a day.”

The prison prioritizes “the health and safety of our workforce,” she said, so “we have seen a reduction of approximately 25% (in the workforce) to meet health and safety guidelines.”

In regard to standard-issue license plates, the DMV does seem to have enough on hand.

Honkin’ fact: Doesn’t take long to get personalized license plates in Washington, D.C. – at least for the country’s leader. During Wednesday’s inauguration celebration, President Joe Biden rode in the presidential Cadillac limo, affectionately called “The Beast.” The license-plate number? “46,” as in he is the United States’ 46th president. President Donald Trump was the first president to ride in this version of The Beast, in 2018.

To ask Honk questions, reach him at honk@ocregister.com. He only answers those that are published. To see Honk online: ocregister.com/tag/honk. Twitter: @OCRegisterHonk

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Biden to propose 8-year citizenship path for immigrants

By LISA MASCARO and BILL BARROW | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden plans to unveil a sweeping immigration bill on day one of his administration, hoping to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status, a massive reversal from the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies.

The legislation puts Biden on track to deliver on a major campaign promise important to Latino voters and other immigrant communities after four years of President Donald Trump’s restrictive policies and mass deportations. It provides one of the fastest pathways to citizenship for those living without legal status of any measure in recent years, but it fails to include the traditional trade-off of enhanced border security favored by many Republicans, putting passage in a narrowly divided Congress in doubt.

Expected to run hundreds of pages, the bill is set to be introduced after Biden takes the oath of office Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the legislation and granted anonymity to discuss it.

As a candidate, Biden called Trump’s actions on immigration an “unrelenting assault” on American values and said he would “undo the damage” while continuing to maintain border enforcement.

Under the legislation, those living in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2021, without legal status would have a five-year path to temporary legal status, or a green card, if they pass background checks, pay taxes and fulfill other basic requirements. From there, it’s a three-year path to naturalization, if they decide to pursue citizenship.

For some immigrants, the process would be quicker. So-called Dreamers, the young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, as well as agricultural workers and people under temporary protective status could qualify more immediately for green cards if they are working, are in school or meet other requirements.

The bill is not as comprehensive as the last major immigration overhaul proposed when Biden was vice president during the Obama administration.

For example, it does not include a robust border security element, but rather calls for coming up with strategies. Nor does it create any new guest worker or other visa programs.

It does address some of the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States, and provides grants for workforce development and English language learning.

Biden is expected to take swift executive actions to reverse other Trump immigration actions, including an end to the prohibition on arrivals from several predominantly Muslim countries.

During the Democratic primary, Biden consistently named immigration action as one of his first-day priorities, pointing to the range of executive powers he could invoke to reverse Trump’s policies.

Biden allies and even some Republicans have identified immigration as a major issue where the new administration could find common ground with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and enough other GOP senators to avoid the stalemate that has vexed administrations of both parties for decades.

That kind of major win — even if it involves compromise — could be critical as Biden looks for legislative victories in a closely divided Congress, where Republicans are certain to oppose other Biden priorities that involve rolling back some of the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts and increasing federal spending.

As a candidate, Biden said the Obama administration went too far in its aggressive deportations.


Barrow reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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FBI investigates tip that a woman possibly stole a laptop from Nancy Pelosi’s office to potentially sell it to Russia

By Katelyn Polantz | CNN

In a new criminal court case against a woman alleged to have entered the US Capitol on January 6, the FBI noted that a tipster raised the possibility of a laptop being stolen from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to potentially sell to Russia.

There’s no indication a laptop was actually taken from Pelosi’s office. And the FBI says in the court record the “matter remains under investigation.”

It’s one of the more bizarre details to emerge in the avalanche of court filings against people accused of storming the Capitol.

In this case, a person who said they are the former romantic partner of Riley June Williams of Pennsylvania identified Williams to the FBI in video inside the Capitol building and directing people “upstairs” to Pelosi’s office, according to an affidavit filed Sunday supporting Williams’ arrest.

The tipster “also claimed to have spoken to friends of Williams, who showed (the tipster) a video of Williams taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Speaker Pelosi’s office,” the affidavit says. The tipster “stated that Williams intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.”

The person told the FBI the “transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it,” the affidavit says.

Williams is not accused of theft. She is only charged with violent entry or disorderly conduct, and entering the restricted space of the Capitol, the same charges faced by many who took part in the siege that day.

The FBI also noted it appeared that Williams had fled and deleted her social media accounts.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Parler’s website is back online with a brief message to ‘lovers and haters’

By Brian Fung | CNN Business

Parler’s website suddenly reappeared online Sunday afternoon with a message from its CEO, John Matze: “Hello world, is this thing on?”

The message, dated January 16, implies that the social network popular with members of the far right has found a new online hosting platform, after Parler was booted from Amazon Web Services on January 10 in the wake of the Capitol siege.

Parler’s domain is now registered with Epik, according to a WHOIS search. Epik is a company that sells domain names and is also the domain registrar for Gab, an alternative social network often used by members of the far-right. It remains unclear who is Parler’s web host; Parler didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Robert Davis, a spokesman for Epik, said the company does not provide Parler’s web hosting.

Epik, he said, has a zero-tolerance approach to fighting racism, “and actively denounces any activities utilized to create hardship for others based on skin color, ethnicity, origin, or belief system.”

Davis also referred CNN to a Jan. 14 blog post that confirmed Parler had approached Epik about registering its domain on Jan. 11. Earlier that same day, Epik had issued a lengthy statement blasting what it said was a “kneejerk reaction” by major companies of “simply deplatforming and terminating any relationship that on the surface looks problematic or controversial.”

A temporary status update on parler.com also appeared beneath Matze’s message.

“Now seems like the right time to remind you all — both lovers and haters — why we started this platform,” the status update said. “We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media. Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both. We will resolve any challenge before us and plan to welcome all of you back soon. We will not let civil discourse perish!”

Parler was ejected from AWS last week following what Amazon has described as dozens of threats of violence that violated Amazon’s terms of service. Parler responded with a lawsuit against Amazon, asking a federal court to block Amazon’s decision.

– Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Epik’s business relationship with Parler and other websites. Parler’s domain is registered with Epik.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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What Biden can and can’t get from an evenly divided Senate

By ANDREW TAYLOR | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — So what does a 50-50 Senate get President-elect Joe Biden?

Washington has barely had time to process the implications of Democratic control after two Georgia runoff elections that are delivering the Senate to Democrats. Hours after the races were decided, a mob of zealots ransacked the U.S. Capitol and reshaped the national and political landscape.

The unexpected new balance of power giving Democrats only the barest control of Congress has big consequences for the president-elect — easy confirmation of his Cabinet most importantly — but the road ahead for his ambitious legislative agenda remains complicated and murky.

Republicans remain poised to block most of Biden’s proposals, just as they thwarted much of President Barack Obama’s efforts on Capitol Hill. But 50/50 control permits action on special legislation that can’t be filibustered, and momentum for the popular parts of COVID-19 relief could easily propel an early aid bill into law.

What 50-50 really gets — and doesn’t get — Biden as he takes office:




With Democrats chairing committees in the Senate and only needing a majority to win floor votes on nominations, Biden is now assured of sealing confirmation of his Cabinet and judicial picks — including potentially for the Supreme Court. It also means controversial choices such as Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick for budget director, can look ahead to assuming their posts. Republicans can slow but not stop nominations.


Democrats also have the opportunity to pass special budget-related legislation by a simple majority, an often-arcane process that enabled Obama to finish his 2010 health care bill and gave President Donald Trump’s GOP allies a failed chance to repeal “Obamacare” and passage of a tax overhaul bill. Biden could use this so-called budget reconciliation process to pass more controversial elements of COVID-19 relief with only Democratic votes, repeal some of Trump’s tax cuts or make federal health care programs more generous, for example.

In a 50-50 US Senate, soon-to-be Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)


Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer — he’ll be majority leader once the two new Georgia senators and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are all sworn into office — now has the opportunity to bring legislation to the floor and force votes. That could permit passage of $2,000 direct COVID-19 relief payments and other aid, for instance, and could mean debates on issues like police reform, immigration and climate change. But passage of such legislation would require support from Republicans, which gives the minority party enormous leverage.


While the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party might expect bold, Medicare-for-all level ideas from incoming President Joe Biden, political reality means that any one Senate Democrat can potentially scuttle legislation. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)



Before the November election, pressure had been mounting from the Democratic left to eliminate the filibuster, leading Republicans to charge that Democrats would pack the Supreme Court or give statehood to Democratic strongholds such as the District of Columbia. Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he’ll block any attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so party progressives may be wasting their breath on this topic now.


Unified control of the government by one party almost invariably drives the two sides apart. Recent events — hard-won passage of a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill and a sweeping override of Trump’s veto of the annual defense bill — have been evidence that the vanishing congressional middle can help drive outcomes on Capitol Hill. But issues like increasing the debt limit instantly become partisan, and the political incentives for many Republicans heading into the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election are to vilify Biden and Democrats controlling Congress. Expect a short honeymoon for Biden.


A 50-50 Democratic Senate and bare control of the House grant virtually any individual Democrat the ability to gum up the works. That means impossible-to-pass ideas like “Medicare for All” and a Green New Deal aren’t going to be the focus of Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That could, over time, frustrate liberals and cause them to issue demands related to bills that actually can pass like infrastructure spending and budget reconciliation proposals.

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Ross police arrest Gov. Newsom’s brother-in-law in domestic violence case

A brother-in-law of Gov. Gavin Newsom was arrested on domestic violence allegations in Ross, police said.

Joshua Irwin Schiller, 40, was booked into the Marin County Jail and released pending further review by the district attorney’s office.

Ross police went to Schiller’s home at about 11 p.m. Wednesday to investigate a disturbance. “The victim had visible injuries that were minor in nature and did not require immediate medical treatment,” the police department said in a brief statement.

The arrest attracted interest in the business and legal media because of Schiller’s connections. His wife is a sister of Newsom’s wife, and he is a partner in the nationally known law firm of Boies Schiller Flexner, Bloomberg Law reported. His father is firm co-founder Jonathan Schiller, according to Bloomberg.

Schiller’s lawyer, Douglas Horngrad, said he expects the case to be dropped.

“This was a misunderstanding and both Mr. and Mrs. Schiller have made clear to me that he did not physically harm her,” Horngrad said. “There was no instance of domestic violence.”

Horngrad’s office also released a statement by the couple: “This is a private matter between us. We love and respect each other. We are partners and will move beyond this together.”

The American Lawyer, an industry publication, reported a statement by Schiller’s firm.

“The firm has been made aware of recent events related to our partner, Josh Schiller,” the statement said. “While we have been informed by him and his wife that this was a misunderstanding, the firm will be conducting its own review to better understand what happened. While that review is ongoing, Josh has asked for a leave of absence to focus on his family, and we have agreed to give him this time.”

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Joe the pigeon escapes death sentence in Australia

By ROD McGUIRK | Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia — A pigeon that Australia declared a biosecurity risk has received a reprieve after a U.S. bird organization declared its identifying leg band was fake.

The band suggested the bird found in a Melbourne backyard on Dec. 26 was a racing pigeon that had left the U.S. state of Oregon, 8,000 miles away, two months earlier.

On that basis, Australian authorities on Thursday said they considered the bird a disease risk and planned to kill it.

But Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, said on Friday the band was fake.

The band number belongs to a blue bar pigeon in the United States which is not the bird pictured in Australia, she said.

  • In this Jan. 12, 2021, file photo released by Kevin Celli-Bird, a pigeon with a blue leg band stands on a rooftop in Melbourne, Australia. A U.S. bird organization said the leg band identifying the bird as a U.S. racing pigeon was counterfeit, which may save the bird from strict Australian biosecurity policies that would call for a U.S. pigeon to be killed. (Kevin Celli-Bird via AP, File)

  • In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo released by Kevin Celli-Bird, a pigeon with a blue leg band stands on a rooftop in Melbourne, Australia. A U.S. bird organization said the leg band identifying the bird as a U.S. racing pigeon was counterfeit, which may save the bird from strict Australian biosecurity policies that would call for a U.S. pigeon to be killed. (Kevin Celli-Bird via AP, File)

  • In this Jan. 13, 2021, file image made from video, a pigeon with a blue leg band stands on a rooftop in Melbourne, Australia. A U.S. bird organization said the leg band identifying the bird as a U.S. racing pigeon was counterfeit, which may save the bird from strict Australian biosecurity policies that would call for a U.S. pigeon to be killed. (Channel 9 via AP)

  • In this Jan. 13, 2021, file image made from video, a pigeon with a blue leg band stands on a rooftop in Melbourne, Australia. A U.S. bird organization said the leg band identifying the bird as a U.S. racing pigeon was counterfeit, which may save the bird from strict Australian biosecurity policies that would call for a U.S. pigeon to be killed. (Channel 9 via AP, File)



“The bird band in Australia is counterfeit and not traceable,” Roberts said. “They do not need to kill him.”

Australia’s Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity, agreed that the pigeon dubbed Joe, after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, was wearing a “fraudulent copy” leg band.

“Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not present a biosecurity risk,” it said in a statement.

The department said it will take no further action.

Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack had earlier said there would be no mercy if the pigeon was from the United States.

“If Joe has come in a way that has not met our strict biosecurity measures, then bad luck Joe, either fly home or face the consequences,” McCormack said.

Martin Foley, health minister for Victoria state where Joe is living, had called for the federal government to spare the bird even if it posed a disease risk.

“I would urge the Commonwealth’s quarantine officials to show a little bit of compassion,” Foley said.

Andy Meddick, a Victorian lawmaker for the minor Animal Justice Party, called for a “pigeon pardon for Joe.”

“Should the federal government allow Joe to live, I am happy to seek assurances that he is not a flight risk,” Meddick said.

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird, who found the emaciated bird in his backyard, was surprised by the change of nationality but pleased that the bird he named Joe would not be destroyed.

“I thought this is just a feel-good story and now you guys want to put this pigeon away and I thought it’s not on, you know, you can’t do that, there has got to be other options,” Celli-Bird said of the threat to euthanize.

Celli-Bird had contacted the American Racing Pigeon Union to find the bird’s owner based on the number on the leg band. The bands have both a number and a symbol, but Celli-Bird didn’t remember the symbol and said he can no longer catch the bird since it has recovered from its initial weakness.

The bird with the genuine leg band had disappeared from a 350-mile race in Oregon on Oct. 29, Crooked River Challenge owner Lucas Cramer said.

That bird did not have a racing record that would make it valuable enough to steal its identity, he said.

“That bird didn’t finish the race series, it didn’t make any money and so its worthless, really,” Cramer said.

He said it was possible a pigeon could cross the Pacific on a ship from Oregon to Australia.

“In reality, it could potentially happen, but this isn’t the same pigeon. It’s not even a racing pigeon,” Cramer said.

The bird spends every day in the backyard, sometimes with a native dove on a pergola.

“I might have to change him to Aussie Joe, but he’s just the same pigeon,” Celli-Bird said.

Lars Scott, a carer at Pigeon Rescue Melbourne, a bird welfare group, said pigeons with American leg bands were not uncommon around the city. A number of Melbourne breeders bought them online and used them for their own record keeping, Scott said.

Australian quarantine authorities are notoriously strict. In 2015, the government threatened to euthanize two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.

Faced with a 50-hour deadline to leave Australia, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet.

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Does this vehicle really need a smog check every year?

Q.The Department of Motor Vehicles has been requiring a smog check every year – this is my fifth year in a row. How often are smog checks required? I have a 1986 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, purchased new in California, and it has passed smog checks all these years without a problem. But for the last five years in a row, a smog check has been required.

– Joel Rothschild, Crestline 

A. Goodness, Joel, you must know the hobbies of the man or woman who does your smog checks by know.

Something does seem amiss.

Honk went to Matt Woodcheke, a spokesman for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, which has a wing that oversees smog checks. He confirmed that vehicles that must be inspected typically have to get checked out only every other year.

There are exceptions when more than one smog check within two years could be required. For example, usually when a vehicle is sold it needs a smog check, Woodcheke said, or when it is registered for the first time here in California.

Now, Honk doesn’t like to just expose problems – the old wizardly gent likes to help solve them, too, and Woodcheke provided a way for you, Joel, to learn what the heck is going on.

“Consumers who believe they are being asked for an unnecessary smog-check inspection may report the matter to the Bureau of Automotive Repair at BARInfo@dca.ca.gov.,” he told Honk in an email. “When contacting the Bureau, please provide the vehicle information, including vehicle-identification number (VIN) and license-plate number.”

Q. For a long time I have wondered about the purpose of a wire-cable-cord that runs along University Drive in Irvine. It is strung along the road until it disappears around Harvard Avenue. Mostly, it is attached to the top of the streetlights down the center of the road, but it zigs and zags to the traffic-light poles at times. I assume it is used for something, as it was reinstated across the Culver Drive junction after major road work there. I would love to know its purpose!

– Phil Dennison, Aliso Viejo

A. “What you are referencing is … an eruv,” said Kristina Perrigoue, a spokeswoman for the city of Irvine, adding that it creates a boundary, allowing some of the Jewish faith to do activities usually forbidden on the Sabbath in public areas.

“It was established and is maintained by the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine,” she added.

The City Council approved the eruv (“AIR-oov”) in 2004. A city resolution provides background on the monofilament fiber that with other barriers can create these special areas: “Eruv is neither worshipped nor a religious symbol (and) eruv districts have been used for 2,500 years by countless Jewish communities.”

In Irvine, the border follows the I-405 Freeway, University Drive and Harvard Avenue.

Back when it was being put in, the Jewish Journal explained that the eruv creates “space where observant Jews may carry objects on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. Without an eruv, people who need to carry (things), or push strollers or wheelchairs, are stranded at home.”

Honkin’ fact: In the United States there were 61% less scheduled airline passengers in November compared to a year before, according to data from 21 airlines that carry more than 90% of the domestic passengers. Still, that decline was the smallest yet during the pandemic. (Source: U.S. Department of Transportation.)

To ask Honk questions, reach him at honk@ocregister.com. He only answers those that are published. To see Honk online: ocregister.com/tag/honk. Twitter: @OCRegisterHonk

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