$500 million goof for state’s unemployment agency

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eddThe bad news is piling up for California’s Employment Development Department. A new state audit says the agency responsible for paying out unemployment claims missed out on more than $500 million in revenue available through a new federal program that allows states to tap the tax returns of people who were overpaid benefits. The Department is billions in the red because of persistently high jobless levels in this state. The audit was released one day after state lawmakers asked for a separate investigation to find out why thousands of people were denied benefits – only to have those cases reversed on appeal.

orcasSeaWorld has hired a high-powered Sacramento lobbyist to fight new legislation that would end orca performances at amusement parks. Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced the legislation, saying he was moved to act by a recent CNN documentary. The proposed law would end the use of killer whales for entertainment in California. It would also ban captive breeding programs and the import and export of orcas within the state. SeaWorld has hired lobbyist Montgomery Consulting to help build opposition to the bill. The firm is known for representing oil firms such as BP and Chevron.

A solar project that would cover 7.5 square miles of desert and provide enough electricity for 225,000 homes has been approved by Riverside County leaders. The McCoy Solar Energy Project near Blythe is the largest approved so far in the county. Most of it would be on public land, and construction could start next year. Environmentalists are concerned that construction could have a negative effect on desert tortoises and migratory birds.

deltasmeltThe tiny delta smelt has won a big victory in federal court. A panel of judges with the 9th Circuit of Appeals decided that environmental protections put into place to save the endangered fish are justified. Those protections have cut water deliveries to Southern California cities and Central Valley farms. The appeals panel overturned most of a 2010 ruling that found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overreached in its efforts to save the smelt, which is found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

It’s a classic tale of the new downtown. A gourmet meatball restaurant that used to be a food truck called Great Balls on Tires wanted to serve beer and wine. But the restaurant sits on the ground floor of a halfway house for people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. Citing that conflict, city officials nixed the beer and wine application. But the operator of the building says the license would help keep the rehab center afloat. The decision could be reversed, officials say, if the restaurant owners manage to win the support of “affected” residents.