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This Hour: Latest Northern California news, sports, business and entertainment

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CALIFORNIA-DROUGHT

58 percent of California in highest drought rank

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Federal drought monitors say 58 percent of California now is locked in their highest category of drought.

That ranking Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor marks a 22-percent, one-week jump in California territory suffering what monitors call "exceptional drought."

Climate monitors say those latest figures show Northern California is in about as bad shape as the rest of the state in the now three-year drought.

Exceptional drought is classified as featuring widespread loss of crops and pasture. The category also signifies water shortages in streams and reservoirs severe enough to make for a water emergency.

CALIFORNIA HIGH-SPEED RAIL

Appellate court overturns high-speed rail rulings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A state appellate court has handed a big win to California's high-speed rail project, overturning two lower court rulings that stalled funding for the $68 billion train.

The California 3rd District Court of Appeal on Thursday ruled the state may resume selling $10 billion in bonds as called for in a 2008 ballot measure approved by voters.

The court overturned a Sacramento Superior Court judge's rulings siding with Central Valley landowners. The judge invalidated a state bond sale because the project didn't meet promises for cost and speed outlined in the proposition.

The three-judge appeals panel acknowledged there are legal questions about whether the project complies with the measure's language. They said their ruling is narrowly focused on whether the state followed the law for selling bonds.

HEALTH OVERHAUL-CALIFORNIA

Californians to see 4.2 percent health increase

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - State officials say Californians buying individual health coverage on the statewide exchange will see their costs rise by an average of 4.2 percent in 2015, about half the increase the industry has seen in the past three years.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, announced preliminary premium rates on Thursday. He called it good news that shows the Affordable Care Act is working as the state enters the second enrollment year of President Barack Obama's overhaul.

Lee said 10 of the 11 health plans are returning to the exchange, indicating the insurance companies are profiting from the system.

Health care advocates welcomed the announcement, saying it shows the federal law is helping to slow down runaway insurance rates.

The preliminary rates will now go to state regulators for approval.

SAN FRANCISCO CHINATOWN CRIME

Media suit seeks papers of suspended lawmakers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Several related media outlets have filed a lawsuit against the California Senate seeking the legislative calendars and appointment books of two suspended members.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court.

The California Senate and its rules committee have denied requests made by the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, Bay Area Newspaper Group and San Jose Mercury News to release the documents of Senators Leland Yee and Ron Calderon.

Senate lawyers claim the records are part of the deliberative process of lawmakers and are confidential.

The media outlets argue that the documents are no longer shielded from disclosure since both senators have been suspended and charged in separate corruption cases.

BAY BRIDGE-CONSTRUCTION PROBLEMS

Report: Secrecy enveloped Bay Bridge construction

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A state Senate report finds senior officials overseeing construction of the $6.5 billion eastern span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge deliberately brushed off concerns about flawed work and there was a pattern of secrecy on the project.

The 64-page report released Thursday was commissioned by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing in the wake of numerous reports of construction flaws, cost overruns and delays.

It came the same day a separate review by an independent panel of engineers found the engineering and design work met safety standards.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty calls the Senate report flawed. But he acknowledges that the process was too secretive and says the department is making changes.

The Senate report also says Caltrans officials knowingly accepted potentially hazardous welding work by a Chinese firm.

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S RACE

Republican governor candidate spends $4.4 million

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Republican candidate for governor Neel Kashkari spent $4.4 million on his primary race to defeat a Tea Party candidate for second place but reports having less than $200,000 in his campaign account at the end of the race.

That's less than 1 percent of the more than $22 million than Gov. Jerry Brown has in his bankroll. The Democratic governor filed his report last week showing he spent just $270,000 in the June primary election.

The report Kashkari filed with the secretary of state Thursday shows he has raised less than $400,000 in the final weeks before the June primary election, while spending nearly $1.7 million.

Republican Tim Donnelly, who came in third in the primary, ended his campaign about $76,000 in debt after spending more than $700,000.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE-CONSTITUTION

Anti-tax group appeals Citizens United measure

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - An anti-tax group is asking the California Supreme Court to block an advisory ballot measure backed by Democrats after an appellate court rejected its lawsuit.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said Thursday that his group is appealing to the state's highest court because of the appellate panel's unusual 2-1 vote.

The association wants to block the advisory measure seeking to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited corporate spending.

A bill by Democratic Sen. Ted Lieu placed the nonbinding measure on the November ballot. It asks voters if they want a federal constitutional amendment to restrict corporate contributions.

Gov. Jerry Brown let SB1272 become law without his signature.

The anti-tax group argues that advisory measures are not a proper use of the ballot.

CHOPPER PILOT-FAKE NAME

Pilot guilty of using alias to fly news choppers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A man who worked for years as a Northern California helicopter news pilot without a legal pilot's license has pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft.

Federal prosecutors say John Dial, of Skaneateles, New York, entered the plea Thursday. He faces two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Authorities say that from 2009 to 2012, Dial used a phony name and forged documents to fly for an air ambulance service in Susanville and as a news pilot in Sacramento and San Francisco.

Court documents say he made about 300 flights, the last two under his real name for KCRA-TV in Sacramento.

Authorities say Dial has a long criminal history, including a 1994 conviction for providing false information to the FAA, and has used some two dozen names over the years.

CAR JUMPS CURB

6 injured as car jumps curb near Stanford

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) - Police say a man in his 90s drove on to a busy sidewalk near Stanford University, hitting five pedestrians and leaving one of them with major injuries.

Palo Alto police say the other four pedestrians and the driver had minor injuries.

Police said in a statement that the man was attempting to parallel park his Nissan sedan in front of a restaurant on University Avenue during the street's busy lunch hour Thursday a few blocks from Stanford.

Investigators say he may have accidentally accelerated, first hitting another car then jumping the curb.

Police said all five pedestrians were adults, but gave no further details on their identities or injuries.

They say there is no evidence drugs or alcohol were involved and the driver hasn't been cited or arrested.

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