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Also in our State and Local Weekend Digest: NYPD’s Smart Car fleet; predatory towing in Philadelphia; and drawing “geo-tourists” to eastern Montana.
FIREFIGHTING | Following a deadly and horrific fire during a warehouse party in Oakland, California, that started late Friday night, authorities with the Oakland Fire Department and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department are continuing with the grim task of recovering and identifying victims in the rubble. As of Sunday night, 33 people had been confirmed dead. Among the victims is the son of a Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy. Due to the difficulty in identifying remains, officials have asked those who fear that they lost friends or loved ones in the blaze to preserve DNA samples from personal items like hair brushes. “It’s a terrible thing to say that, but that’s what we have to do here,” Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said. [San Francisco Chronicle]
AIRBNB | New Orleans passed a model set of short-term rental ordinances that cut a “pass-through” registration system deal with Airbnb, where company data is shared with the city to enforce regulations. New regulations include: creating an enforcement unit; permitting unlimited short-term rentals of owner-occupied housing and in specified commercial districts; capping full-home rentals at 90 days; and prohibiting most short-term rentals in the French Quarter. [The Times-Picayune]
POLICE | In one way, the New York City Police Department is getting smaller—at least their cars are. The force is expanding the number of Smart Cars in their fleet. The vehicles that have been derided as “clown cars” in the press, and were described by former Police Commissioner William J. Bratton as “midget cars,” are steadily growing in popularity in part because they’re so “cute.” “It’s just so approachable,” said Robert S. Martinez, the agency’s deputy commissioner for support services. “People want to take pictures with it. People want to hug it, they want to kiss it. It’s just amazing.” [The New York Times]
TOWING | Predatory towing practices in Philadelphia have City Council consider two controversial bills, one reviving the ticketing of illegally parked cars prior to towing and the other clarifying the rotational tow system and penalizing wreck-chasing. Parking scams are all-too-common in the City of Brotherly Love, where “no parking” signs are put up after people legally park or cars are first moved to illegal spots by the towing companies themselves. [The Philadelphia Tribune]
INVESTIGATIONS | In Illinois, Cook County’s Joseph Berrios will comply with Inspector General Patrick Blanchard’s subpoenas looking into property tax exemptions the assessor may not have been entitled to, after the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled he isn’t beyond inquiry as a “separately” elected official. "The assessor's office is a part of Cook County, the unit of local government from which he is elected and for which he and the employees of that office perform their functions and duties," the court wrote. [Chicago Tribune]
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT | In eastern Montana, officials are hoping to boost tourism in a region that is trying to reposition itself following the Bakken shale oil boom. The top targets are so-called geo-tourists, “visitors who come to an area seeking direct connection with local people, landmarks and customs” willing to go off the beaten path. [Billings Gazette]