Real Mexicans scoff at climate change...
In private meetings with Carlos Slim, others, Jerry Brown encounters a ‘more critical’ Mexico
Gov. Jerry Brown was about to leave Mexico’s capital after four days of talks pressing on the environment, and he wasn’t sure, broadly speaking, how his diplomacy might add up. Meetings held out of public view – dinner with business magnate Carlos Slim and talks with the poet Homero Aridjis and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, a founder of Mexico’s Party of the Democratic Revolution, among others – were “more critical” on any number of issues, Brown said, than was on display at his official functions. “Some of the more private guys,” Brown said, were “not that optimistic” that people are interested in climate change. “California can’t keep pushing a climate change agenda if more states and countries don’t do the same thing,” Brown said. “You can’t do a carbon price all by yourself forever.”
In Mexico, a ‘new Jerry Brown’ comes around to free trade
Gov. Jerry Brown, who once campaigned against the North American Free Trade Agreement and criticized the “insertion of Mexico into our economy,” pushed back his chair at a breakfast Wednesday and looked on from the head table as Mexico’s secretary of economy heaped praise on the pact. The number of California politicians who supported the measure two decades ago was “impressive,” Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal said, urging California and Mexico now to “push NAFTA to the next level.” It was unclear whether the official knew of Brown’s history with NAFTA, and the governor later said he didn’t notice the remark. Even if he did, four days in Mexico laid bare how dramatically Brown’s approach to international trade has changed. In speech after speech in this sprawling metropolis, he called for a greater integration of the Mexico and California economies and cultures, and in a largely symbolic agreement his administration called NAFTA the “principal foundation” for expanding trade and investment between the country and the border state.
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Another psycho cop back on the streets...
Brutal Oakland police officer is reinstated
A police officer fired for throwing a tear gas grenade into a crowd of Occupy Oakland protesters who were tending to a wounded comrade is getting his job back. An arbitrator on Wednesday overturned the Police Department's termination of Officer Robert Roche and ordered him reinstated with back pay. Roche became the lightning rod over police handling of the 2011 Occupy protests when he was caught on camera tossing the grenade into a crowd of protesters trying to assist Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen. The grenade incident came less than a minute after a police officer who has never been identified struck Olsen in the head with a lead-filled beanbag, fracturing Olsen's skull and causing him permanent brain damage. Olsen received a $4.5 million settlement from the city earlier this year. The incident, which made international headlines, turned many citizens against the Police Department. Rachel Lederman, who represented Olsen, said she was stunned by the arbitrator's ruling. "It really gives you pause that he would be reinstated when you have such a blatant case of police misconduct that is caught on video and publicized all over the world," she said. "It points out that there is still an endemic problem in OPD when it comes to trying to impose any kind of discipline even in a case like this where the evidence is so clear."
Pay raises show California government stabilized
Sacramento’s economy gets a boost on Friday when state paychecks roll out with the first across-the-board raises many employees have received in years. The hikes are modest: Two percent for state managers, supervisors, most service workers, psychiatric technicians, dentists and doctors; 1.5 percent for health and social services workers. An administrative assistant earning $4,888 in June, for example, made about $98 more in July before deductions. We’re talking a couple tanks of gas. But those increases, plus a larger raise for Highway Patrol officers, will boost pay for about 150,000 employees under Gov. Jerry Brown’s authority. More than half of them work in the greater Sacramento area. That translates into about $100 million flowing into the local economy in the coming year, University of the Pacific economist Jeff Michael said, roughly the same payroll impact as Sacramento’s downtown arena construction project.
San Francisco Examiner
Could PG&E’s federal obstruction charge mean jail time for anyone?
The deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno has led to new federal charges against PG&E. The new charges, including obstruction of justice, in the federal case against PG&E could mean fines of more than $1 billion for the publically traded San Francisco-based company, and sends a strong signal that companies interfering with federal investigations will not be tolerated, according to legal experts who disagree over whether anyone will likely be sent to jail. "It is extremely rare for a U.S. publically held firm to find itself indicted by a federal grand jury," said Jennifer Arlen, who heads the New York University School of Law's program on corporate compliance and enforcement. That is because U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's Department of Justice is lenient with companies that self report and cooperate when they are under investigation. The result, said Arlen, is that the majority of companies that find themselves in hot water seldom lie to investigators. The pay off is usually fines instead of criminal charges. "The big news here is not just that they are indicted for the obstruction of justice but that they handled the investigatory process in such a way that they get indicted at all," Arlen said.
Wealthy Bush-bot rubs elbows with the little people...
Neel Kashkari, candidate for California governor, poses as homeless man
Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari was five days into his job search and down to the last $5.75 when he turned to a homeless shelter for food. He had boarded a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Fresno with just $40, a backpack, some clothes and a toothbrush with one objective: find a job. “I offered to do anything: wash dishes, sweep floors, pack boxes, cook meals, anything,” Kashkari wrote in a guest column published in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. “I went to dozens of businesses in search of work but wasn't able to get any. In seven days, I didn't see a single ‘Help Wanted’ sign, but I did see plenty of signs that fast-food outlets now accept food stamps.” This was not his first experience living among the downtrodden. The former investment banker and U.S. Treasury Department official last year laid the groundwork for his challenge of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown by sleeping in homeless shelters, picking produce and visiting schools and churches in low-income areas. Now strapped for cash and trailing significantly in public opinion polls, the job search –also documented in a 10-minute video posted to YouTube – marks perhaps the most unconventional move yet for a candidate struggling to attract attention for his campaign. In the video, Kashkari fumbles for money to buy a pair of bananas and sleeps on park benches and in private parking lots. Looking ragged in a tattered t-shirt and baseball cap, and sporting a five o’clock shadow, he describes waking up outside a courthouse and being doused by the sprinklers. “And then around one o’clock the cops came and said I had to leave,” he said.
Unlike the clueless hater Rick Perry...Jerry Brown says he would support more shelters for immigrant minors
With tension flaring on the U.S.-Mexico border over the illegal crossing of thousands of young immigrants from Central America, Gov. Jerry Brown said after meeting with religious leaders here Tuesday that he would support additional shelters for the minors in California. “Certainly I’d do everything I could to make sure California will do its part to shelter any young children that are in need of protection,” the Democratic governor told reporters after meeting with José Horacio Gómez, the Mexico-born archbishop of Los Angeles, and several other religious leaders. “There are already a number of young immigrants, or young refugees, in Ventura, and I certainly would support additional shelters to deal with the particular immediate challenge we have.” The image of Brown, a former seminarian, conferring with clergy in Mexico’s capital city reflected the intensity of the border crisis here, but also a decades-long shift in California’s approach to immigration. The private meeting between Brown and religious leaders, lasting about 90 minutes at a business club in the city’s exclusive Polanco District, followed two days of increasingly pointed rhetoric from the governor about the border crisis. In fewer than 48 hours in Mexico, Brown criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ordering of 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, and he appealed to politicians to adopt the “call of all religions to welcome the stranger.”
San Jose Mercury News
Welfare State stampedes for free health care
Obamacare: California far exceeds projections for coverage
Nearly six of 10 previously uninsured Californians gained medical coverage through the nation's health care law during its first open-enrollment period, according to the most detailed study to date on how the new system is playing out for the state's uninsured. The percentage -- cited by the Menlo Park-based Kaiser Family Foundation survey -- is much larger than most health care experts had expected. "If the numbers are accurate and borne out by larger studies, I think it is an indication that the law is working even better than many of us anticipated," said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, which helped create the official enrollment projections for Covered California, the state's insurance exchange. All told, 58 percent -- or 3.4 million -- of the nearly 6 million adult Californians who didn't have health insurance before sign-ups began last fall are now covered, the survey said. That's 24 percentage points higher than Kominski's group had estimated. The largest share of the previously uninsured -- 25 percent -- are enrolled through the state's Medi-Cal program, which has long covered poor families but was expanded this year under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) to include adults without children. Nine percent purchased private plans through the insurance marketplace, which opened in October, and 12 percent became insured through their jobs, the researchers found.
Los Angeles Times
Free healthcare..it's great!!! Number of Californians without health insurance drops sharply
Nearly 60% of Californians without health insurance before Obamacare sign-ups began last year now have a medical plan, but the remaining uninsured will present a challenge in the second round of enrollments beginning this fall, according to a new study. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey examining the state's progress under the federal medical care overhaul said more than 80% of those still uninsured hadn't had coverage in two or more years, including 37% who reported never having coverage before. Foundation Chief Executive and President Drew Altman said though large numbers of Californians gained insurance during the first open enrollment period, “expanding coverage gets harder from here.” The biggest reported barrier to signing up was cost, even though nearly two-thirds of those who remained without coverage were eligible for either Medi-Cal or subsidies through the state-sponsored marketplace, the survey found.
Jones: Fearful of voters, insurers will temper health rate hikes
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who is pushing a ballot measure to give him the power to regulate health insurance rates, released an analysis Tuesday showing that health insurance costs for individuals increased dramatically over the last year. But Jones said he suspects health insurers and the California health exchange, Covered California, will temper premium increases for the coming year in an effort to to avert possible public outcry as the Nov. 4 election approaches. “I fully anticipate that the degree of increases will be modest at best … because Proposition 45 is on the ballot and they are very concerned about creating any sort of backlash from Californians,” Jones said Tuesday. “But after 2015, I think, essentially, the sky is the limit. “Unless Proposition 45 or some other law gets enacted to provide for health-insurance rate regulation and the requirement that health insurers and HMOs justify their rates, we are going to continue to see dramatic year-to-year increases.”
Los Angeles Times
Health premiums soared, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says
The cost of health insurance for individuals skyrocketed this year in California, with some paying almost twice what they did last year, the state's insurance commissioner said. But Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones predicted that insurers will ease up in the coming year to prevent California voters from approving tough new rate controls on the November statewide ballot as Proposition 45. At a news conference Tuesday, Jones said individuals this year paid between 22% and 88% more for individual health insurance policies than they did last year, depending on age, gender, type of policy and where they lived. The increases did not affect poor people, whose policies are heavily subsidized, Jones said. The study results released Tuesday did not include group policies such as those offered by employers. Jones said he authorized the study of health insurance rates after receiving numerous complaints about rising costs.
Police State given new powers...
New statewide water waste prohibitions take effect
It is now illegal for any Californian to hose down a driveway or sidewalk, or allow landscape irrigation to flood off their property. These and other new regulations were approved July 15 by the State Water Resources Control Board in response to the ongoing drought in California. They formally took effect Tuesday after passing a legal review by the state Office of Administrative Law. The new regulations also forbid using a hose to wash a vehicle, unless the hose is fitted with a shutoff nozzle; and operating a decorative fountain, unless the water recirculates. The regulations apply to both residents and business owners, and will remain in force for 270 days, unless renewed. Although many local water agencies already have such prohibitions in effect, they are not universal. In addition, acts of water waste can now be prosecuted as a criminal infraction, subject to fines of $500 per day. And all large local water agencies are now required to activate their water waste contingency plans, if they have one, to limit outdoor landscape watering, which accounts for 50 percent or more of most urban water consumption. If agencies do not have such a plan, they are required to restrict outdoor watering to no more than two days per week.
Los Angeles Times
LAPD officers demand pay hike at City Council meeting
Cops want higher pay for beating up old ladies and gunning down mentally ill citizens
More than 300 Los Angeles Police Department officers and family members packed a City Council meeting Tuesday to demand across-the-board pay increases, warning the department will lose officers if one isn't provided. Nearly a month after officers rejected a one-year contract offer, officials with the Police Protective League said the LAPD's starting salary has fallen behind pay for officers in at least 13 other Southern California law enforcement agencies. LAPD officers have already begun heading to other departments, union leaders told the council. Mayor Eric Garcetti and council members have been trying to hold the line on raises across the city workforce as part of a larger strategy to limit the growth of pension costs and erase a spending deficit by 2018. The city budget's yearly contribution for the retirement benefits of police and firefighters is expected to quadruple to $710 million in 2016 from $175 million in 2005, according to a report submitted to the council in April. Each increase consumes money that could be used to pay for basic services.
Police execute homeless man in Lake Balboa
A 38-year-old vandalism suspect who was fatally shot by Los Angeles Police Department patrol officers in Lake Balboa early Friday had sticks in his hands, was throwing rocks at the officers and had lunged at one before he was shot, a LAPD spokeswoman said Tuesday. West Valley patrol officers responded to a call of vandalism with the suspect present in the 6700 block of Hayvenhurst Avenue in Lake Balboa at about 3:30 a.m. Friday, said Officer Liliana Preciado, a spokeswoman who was reading from a statement. When the officers arrived on scene, they saw the homeless suspect — who was later identified as Luis Ramirez — standing outside the front yard of a house “holding two sticks and screaming,” she said. Ramirez, who was later identified as being homeless, was struck by gunfire and died at the scene. Preciado did not say how many officers fired nor how many times.
San Francisco Chronicle
PG&E accused of obstructing justice for blowing up San Bruno
A federal grand jury indicted Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Tuesday on a total of 28 counts stemming from the San Bruno natural-gas explosion, including a charge that the company lied when it denied it had an official policy of ignoring federal law requiring pipeline inspections. The indictment, which replaces one that the same grand jury issued in April, does not charge any individual PG&E employees with wrongdoing. But it vastly increases the financial penalty the company could face in connection with the September 2010 blast that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. The company was originally charged with a dozen violations of the federal Pipeline Safety Act, punishable by a total of $6 million in fines. The superseding indictment unsealed Tuesday in San Francisco means the utility could be punished by fines of as much as $1.3 billion, based on its profit associated with the alleged criminal conduct. That would be on top of $2.5 billion in possible penalties associated with state regulatory violations. In all, PG&E is now accused of one count of obstruction of justice, for allegedly lying to National Transportation Safety Board investigators after the blast, and 27 counts of violating the Pipeline Safety Act.
San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose’s Democratic mayor backs Republican for state controller
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s campaign for controller got a bipartisan boost Tuesday when Chuck Reed, San Jose’s Democratic mayor, endorsed the Republican candidate. “Ashley Swearengin and I have worked together as part of the Big Ten Mayors, a bipartisan group organized to focus on statewide issues impacting our residents and taxpayers,” Reed said in a statement. Swearengin’s “focus is not on partisan politics, but rather on getting the job done right. I’m proud to support her.” Reed’s decision to give the cold shoulder to Betty Yee, the state Board of Equalization member who is the Democrats’ choice in the Nov. 4 race, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Reed, who has always been well out on the conservative edge of the Democratic Party, is termed out of office this year and has even less reason now to go blue.
San Diego sentences feral pigs to death
The days are looking numbered for some of San Diego County’s feral pigs. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors today is expected to approve steps toward a managed hunt of pigs encroaching on its park land. “We’re not opening the parks to hunting — it would be contracted hunting,” said Matt Bohan, the county’s chief of park operations. Under the plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services will conduct the hunt with firearms, by trapping or a combination of those methods. The hunt may begin later this summer or early fall and could include professional marksmen in low-flying helicopters. At issue is the estimated 1,000 feral pigs now believe to be roaming primarily in the eastern and the southern portions of the county. The move to begin their eradication stems from a “Feral Pig Damage Control Project Environmental Assessment” prepared by the U.S. Forest Service.
Twin-tunnel allies want an open tax spigot
Water agencies may be able to raise property taxes without a vote!
Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to drill two tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to provide more reliable water supplies downstream has long been controversial for the scant details the administration has provided about how it plans to fund the $25-billion project. Now as more funding details emerge, the plan is likely to spark even more controversy. Some local water agencies claim they can raise property taxes without a public vote to help pay their share of the project — and various public documents show that water agencies already are setting the stage to do just that. Most observers figured that water rates would go up to fund the project, known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, but it’s clear now that property taxes may go up, too.
Los Angeles Times
Feckless cops rev up spin machine to try and justify savage beating of mentally ill woman
Woman videotaped in CHP beating was walking into traffic, report says
A woman who was seen being beaten by a California Highway Patrol officer on the 10 Freeway earlier this month was “talking to herself” and tried to walk into traffic on the freeway, according to a report obtained by The Times. A CHP officer made the comments in an application he submitted in support of putting the woman — Marlene Pinnock, a 51-year-old grandmother — on a 72-hour hold for further mental evaluation. The officer wrote that he was called to the eastbound lanes of the 10 Freeway after a report of a pedestrian walking on the freeway near the La Brea exit. “The subject began telling me ‘I want to walk home’ and called me ‘the devil,’” he wrote. “The subject then tried to walk into traffic lanes.” The July 1 incident came to light when a video of the officer punching Pinnock was posted on YouTube, then aired on television news outlets. The video, shot by a passing motorist, shows the unnamed officer pinning the 51-year-old woman to the ground and landing at least nine blows. Pinnock was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. Her attorneys have declined to say why she was on the freeway that evening or provide more information about her mental health. Some community leaders have said she was “impaired.” The video sparked outrage from civil rights activists, politicians and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. Some have called for an independent investigation and criminal charges against the officer.
Los Angeles Times
Cops run down mental case...
LAPD patrol car runs over man lying in street, killing him
A Los Angeles police car ran over a man who was lying in the street Sunday night, killing him, officials said. Officers were responding to a call about a naked man running around the neighborhood of Adams Boulevard and Hillcrest Avenue about 10:20 p.m. when they ran over him, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. While driving to the location on eastbound Adams close to Buckingham Road, the officers' car collided with the pedestrian, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The man, who police said is in his late 50s or early 60s, was pronounced dead at the scene. His identity was not immediately available.
Jerry Brown urges ‘religious call ... to welcome the stranger’ in border crisis
Gov. Jerry Brown suggested Monday that Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ordering of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to address the surge in border crossings is misguided, urging politicians instead to heed the “religious call … to welcome the stranger” in addressing the crisis. “This is a human problem, and it has been the religious call of all religions to welcome the stranger, and it’s in that spirit that I believe the clergy can call the United States, Mexico and all the players to perhaps a higher response than might otherwise happen,” Brown said on the first full day of his trade mission to Mexico.
Gov. Brown agrees to Mexico pact on climate change; environment activists wary of business ties
Gov. Jerry Brown, calling for “heroic efforts” to combat climate change, agreed with Mexican officials Monday to work together on policies to address air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement, though nonbinding, comes as the Democratic governor moves to expand his diplomatic efforts on the environment. Dozens of reporters ran upstairs at Mexico’s foreign affairs ministry to set up cameras for the signing ceremony, while Brown, a longtime advocate for environmental causes, heralded his state as a burgeoning source of pressure on other governments to address climate change. “Even though California is a mere subnational entity, it is equivalent to the eighth-largest country in the world,” Brown said at a news conference before the event. “And we intend to operate based on that … clout.” Yet Brown’s ambassadorship on the environment has been complicated in his third term by criticism from environmentalists in California. His trip – organized by the California Chamber of Commerce, which is suing over a provision of the state’s controversial cap-and-trade program – serves as a reminder, too, of Brown’s ties to industry and of his tenuous relationship with more liberal Democrats back home.
Obamacare at center of debate over California health insurance initiative
|As state insurance commissioner, Dave Jones has the power to regulate rates for car and homeowner insurance. He can halt an insurer’s proposed increase if the company can’t justify the higher cost. Health insurance is another matter. The former Democratic lawmaker has spent years working to give elected commissioners regulatory authority over health insurance rates. He’s asking voters in November to give him that ability with Proposition 45, asserting it’s the only way to slow down spiraling premium costs. Insurers, long opposed to the idea, now are making a new argument against it, saying the Affordable Care Act complicates his effort. Under the health care law, they argue, California already has a new system in place to manage the health insurance market.
Exposing PG&E's other "cozy relationship," with Mayor Ed Lee
News outlets from Sacramento to Los Angeles are crowing about Pacific Gas & Electric Company's alleged "cozy relationship" with the utlity that oversees it, the California Public Utilities Commission. At least 41 emails obtained by the city of San Bruno reveal an intimate, friendly arrangement between the monopolistic power company and the regulators that are supposed to keep them in line. Where the public would expect a seperation as hard and fast as church and state, the emails reveal a buddy-buddy relationship. This is of no surprise to long-time Guardianistas, who may remember Rebecca Bowe's cover story three years ago "The secret life of Michael Peevey, [5/11]" chronicling the CPUC president's extravagant trips to Madrid, Spain and Germany with top energy officials, as well as other activities that may seem strange for an official who's supposed to be a watchdog against PG&E malfeasance. But if world-trekking trips to pricey hotels aren't enough to raise eyebrows about the relationship between PG&E and its regulators, now we have suspicious emails to add to the pile.
Los Angeles Times
L.A. city government spinning out of control...
Labor board orders L.A. Council to rescind pension cuts for workers
A five-member panel that handles labor complaints at Los Angeles City Hall handed a stinging defeat to the city's political leaders on Monday, voting to strike down Los Angeles' bid to rein in retirement costs for civilian employees. The Employee Relations Board voted unanimously Monday to order the City Council to rescind a 2012 law scaling back pension benefits for new employees of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, on the grounds that the changes were not properly negotiated. That law, backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti when he was a councilman, was expected to cut retirement costs by up to $309 million over a decade, according to city analysts. Ellen Greenstone, a lawyer for the labor coalition, described the vote as a “huge, big deal” -- one that shows the city could not unilaterally impose changes in pension benefits on its workforce. Coalition chairwoman Cheryl Parisi said in a statement that the reduction in benefits, which included a hike in the employee retirement age, “devalues middle-class city workers and their dedication to serving the residents of Los Angeles. "It's appalling that city officials continue to try to make city workers pay for the city's bad financial decisions," Parisi said in a prepared statement. Garcetti is on vacation and his spokesman has refused to say where he is. A lawyer in City Atty. Mike Feuer's office could not immediately say how the city would respond. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, a high-level budget advisor, said the 2012 cuts had been a critical part of "bringing the city back to fiscal stability." "The city will explore all of its options," he said.
Panel rules that Los Angeles City Hall must toss out new pension rules
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s efforts to trim civilian employee pension costs suffered a major blow Monday when a labor panel voted to toss out new retirement rules touted by budget officials as a way to save the city $4 billion over the next three decades. The five-member Employee Relations Board sided with a report concluding that the city of L.A. violated labor rules when City Hall officials enacted new pension rules, including raising the retirement age to age 65, without negotiating with the unions. “This is a huge deal,” said the unions’ attorney Ellen Greenstone, speaking to reporters as she exited the hearing. Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said the city will appeal the decision. Appeals must go through the state court, officials said. Monday’s ruling ends a two-year battle for the unions, and comes amid similar disputes over pensions in cities like San Jose and San Diego. At the center of the fight in Los Angeles was whether city leaders could make sweeping changes to retirement benefits for future workers without the unions’ permission, or if such benefits need to go through the collective bargaining process.
State tightens its grip on your water...
Voluntary water conservation not effective, data show
Voluntary conservation measures are not reliably saving water during the worst drought to hit California in a generation, according to data from water agencies across the state. Only mandatory conservation rules, backed by a threat of fines, seem to prompt consumers to save. California water agencies with mandatory rules alone used 5 percent less water from January through May this year, compared to an average over the three previous years, according to a Bee analysis of the data. Agencies with only voluntary conservation measures saw water demand rise 4 percent over the same period. The difference is even more significant when examining only the month of May. That is the most recent month for which data is available. It also was an unusually hot month in many areas and marks a point when it was obvious that drought was gripping the state. During May, water agencies with mandatory conservation rules alone reduced water use 14 percent. Other agencies saw water use increase slightly. The data also revealed that Northern California is winning the conservation battle. About 75 percent of water districts north of the Grapevine, the Interstate 5 highway pass in Kern County, reduced their water use in May compared to previous years. Just 30 percent of districts south of The Grapevine could say the same. The data on water use was collected by the state water board in a survey of 276 local water agencies. Statewide, it showed a 1 percent increase in total water use in May, compared with the same month in 2013. As a result of that poor showing, the board on July 15 ordered larger water suppliers to impose mandatory restrictions on outdoor landscape irrigation, which accounts for more than 50 percent of urban water consumption in most communities. Water agencies that do not already have such rules on their books will be required to limit outdoor watering to two days per week. The state also banned washing driveways and sidewalks.
Los Angeles Times
So how many people are actually paying to ride?
Los Angeles transit officials proudly point to growing ridership on the county’s light-rail and subway system, which last year saw a 5% increase in the number of passengers getting on trains. But figuring out how many of those 115 million riders paid their fares and rode the trains legally has become a vexing question with important consequences. A Times analysis of agency data collected at rail stations found the Metropolitan Transportation Authority documented only 70 million legal rides last year. How much of that difference may be the result of fare evasion — or other factors — is difficult to gauge. Reducing fare jumping as much as possible has become increasingly important to Metro, which is under pressure to boost ticket revenue as its rail network rapidly expands. Income from fares covers just 26% of Metro’s bus and rail system operating expenses, one of the lowest rates of any major world city. That ratio must increase in the next few years or the agency risks losing crucial federal funding needed to continue building and operating the train network. Metro has responded by raising fares, starting in September, with more hikes proposed for coming years. Metro officials acknowledge they don’t know how many rail passengers are failing to pay or how much money the agency may be losing. But they stress that comparing ridership estimates to ticket counts doesn’t provide answers.
Orange County Register
Teen arrested for terrorist threats toward surfing competition
Cops all over social media...looking for any excuse to send SWAT to your house
A Huntington Beach teen was arrested for “terrorist threats” Friday night after police in New York noticed a post that referenced harming the crowd at the U.S. Open of Surfing, police said on Saturday. The 16-year-old boy, not identified by police because of his age, had no criminal past or record of mental illness, but other red flags like “dark” posts and photos showing him with guns on social media led local police to send the SWAT team out to his home for the arrest. He also had an online moniker he posted under, a pseudo name that was not his own. “We acted very quickly to determine what this guy’s capability was and where he was at,” said police chief Robert Handy. “He fit the profile as someone who was capable of doing this, based on his posts.” Police were tight-lipped about what the exact wording of the post because the investigation is underway, but did say the threat mentioned harm to the crowd at the U.S. Open, which started Saturday. A handgun and shotgun were found at the family’s home and were taken into evidence. The teen, taken to Orange County Juvenile Hall, told police he was just “messing around.” “We’re not sure if that’s true or not, that’s part of our investigation,” Handy said. Huntington police were tipped off by New York Police Department intelligence team scanning online posts for the upcoming U.S. Open of Tennis. The post by the teen was put up on Thursday. “They have very sophisticated equipment,” Handy said. The family was devastated to see a dozen cops show up at their house.
Los Angeles Times
California schools face lawsuit over physical education classes
Thousands of elementary school teachers have been asked this summer to hold on to their lesson plans as 37 school districts throughout the state seek to show that they are providing students with required exercise. A lawsuit was filed in October in San Francisco County Superior Court on behalf of plaintiffs Marc Babin, a parent, and Cal200, an organization he heads that advocates for elementary school physical education. Babin's children, now adults, went to school in the Alameda Unified School District, one of the defending districts, according to his Albany, Calif., attorney, Donald Driscoll. "School districts have been routinely ignoring the law," Driscoll said. And the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest, "has been a particular offender. They give lip service to the idea that P.E. is important. That just plain doesn't work. What that produces is kids who don't get enough exercise."
Orange County Register
Psychotic Santa Ana cops deliver Django style plantation beating to suspect who had surrendered
Olivia Arzate is the mother of Miguel Arzate, a 27-year-old man taken into custody by Santa Ana Police on June 20. A video showing one of the officers punching her son repeatedly while he is on the ground was recorded by security cameras outside a home on Sycamore Street. Olivia Arzate knew her son had been arrested, but she didn’t understand at first why he ended up in a hospital. It was weeks later that she saw a video of her son’s arrest – him on the ground, an officer delivering six punches and another swinging a baton at her son’s legs. “Yes, arrest and punish him, but why did he hit him?” Arzate said. Santa Ana police said this week the department is investigating the use of force by officers recorded by a nearby surveillance camera the night of the arrest. Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said investigators were aware of the video that night but were unable to obtain a copy for the internal investigation until weeks later. The video was captured by the security cameras of a nearby neighbor. In it, Edgar Vargas Arzate raises his hands into the air while an officer signals with a flashlight for him to get on the ground. Edgar Vargas Vargas lays on his stomach, out of view of the camera, and another officer moves toward him, then appears to put a knee on his back and delivers six consecutive punches. More officers arrive. At one point, Edgar Vargas Arzate can be seen on his side as officers reach toward his hands, which are near his stomach. The video was recorded by security cameras in the home of Miriam Grajales, whose family witnessed the arrest. “He (the officer) started hitting him hard, with anger,” Grajales said. “The guy (Edgar Vargas Arzate) was yelling, ‘Help me! Help me!’”
Attorney helps sound the death knell for capital punishment
Michael Laurence isn’t interested in taking credit for the demise of the death penalty in California. Plenty of other attorneys are helping to bring this state’s version of capital punishment to its knees. But when, not if, the death penalty is fully put out of its misery, Laurence will be among its chief executioners. During the past 25 years, Laurence has litigated the constitutionality of lethal injection and of the gas chamber, and the state’s failure to appoint competent lawyers for death row inmates. He is the lead defense lawyer in the latest case to upend capital punishment. A federal judge concluded earlier this month that California’s version of the death penalty is cruel and usual punishment because no one is being put to death. “To have a judge say the death penalty is unconstitutional, it is kind of stunning,” Laurence said by phone the other day. Laurence knows better than most the horrible acts that condemned inmates commit. He also sees sides of them that few others do, after they’re off drugs and less psychotic than they were on the streets. He has become expert in how brains function or don’t, about schizophrenia, and the impact of fetal alcohol syndrome. And he is an absolutist. “People don’t trust the governor to figure out their taxes, and yet they trust government to decide who lives and dies,” Laurence said.
DeSaulnier calls for criminal probe of Bay Bridge construction problems
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, is calling for a criminal investigation into construction problems on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and said the release this week of a Senate investigative report will show how the California Department of Transportation knowingly accepted substandard work at taxpayer expense. DeSaulnier said the investigation for the Transportation and Housing Committee he chairs will expand on construction and management lapses described in a January draft report, and that these warrant a criminal investigation by the California attorney general or U.S. attorney. The report also confirms a June investigation that revealed how Caltrans knowingly accepted flawed, potentially hazardous work by a Chinese firm that welded most of the new suspension span roadway and tower, DeSaulnier said. His committee will discuss the report at an Aug. 5 hearing. New witnesses will corroborate earlier testimony about the welding problems and issues with the concrete foundation of the span’s iconic tower, DeSaulnier said. He said some expected testimony is “quite disturbing.” DeSaulnier also called for a comprehensive review of the new span’s known and possible defects by experts not biased by previous affiliations with the project, and an examination of the adequacy of oversight by the Federal Highway Administration. The California Highway Patrol is also investigating how Caltrans and its contractors handled weld cracks produced by the Chinese fabricator. Asked if he foresaw the need for a criminal probe, Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty deferred to the CHP, which does not discuss pending investigations.
The stealing continues: Candidate Paul Tanaka’s retirement cost Los Angeles County $339,424
Before Paul Tanaka declared his candidacy for Los Angeles County sheriff in August 2013, he took three months off work and, once retired from the Sheriff’s Department, the county government cut him a one-time check for $339,424. The payout covered unused holiday, vacation, sick time and other leave he accrued during his 31-year career — all paid at his final salary, when he was second in command. Including his seven months of wages and benefits, the county paid $591,000 for Tanaka in 2013, according to payroll records provided to the Bay Area News Group, part of the Daily News’ parent company. This made him the second-highest compensated employee, next to the chief neurosurgeon at the largest county-administered hospital. Tanaka did not violate any rules, county officials said. Nor did he “spike” his pension. None of the 339 days leave he cashed out applied toward his retirement income, officials say. The county code limits that widely criticized practice of boosting one’s final salary. Six-figure payouts aren’t rare at the Sheriff’s Department, though Tanaka topped the 2013 list. There were 500 other sheriff’s employees — more than at all other county departments combined — who received one-time payments in excess of $100,000, according to the 2013 data. For some county employees, those checks may have included bonuses or other taxable cash payments in addition to leave time. Tanaka, who did not respond to requests for comment, was pushed out of the department by Sheriff Lee Baca following a series of scandals. Federal authorities are investigating whether high-level sheriff’s officials were involved in witness tampering. During recent testimony, Tanaka told a prosecutor he was aware he’s a subject of the probe, and denied any wrongdoing. He is facing Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the November run-off election.
Los Angeles Times
Cops in L.A. might kick your ass, but they give Islamics the red carpet treatment
The inmate in blue jail-issue scrubs turned toward Mecca and sang the midday call to prayer heard at Muslim places of worship around Southern California on the last Friday of Ramadan. About 80 other inmates, many wearing traditional caps called kufis with their jail uniforms, sat in the pews of a chapel in Men's Central Jail during the service led by a volunteer imam. Before sunrise, the inmates had consumed a breakfast of eggs, peanut butter and jelly, a banana and milk that conformed to Muslim dietary rules. Now they were fasting until their evening meal, which they would eat together after sundown during a jailhouse version of iftar, the nightly Ramadan feast. Since 2012, when the ACLU began complaining about the treatment of Muslim inmates in the Los Angeles County jails, the Sheriff's Department appears to have made significant improvements. Muslims in the county jails now receive halal meals. During Ramadan, a deputy at Men's Central Jail works full-time with the Muslim inmates, ensuring they are fed the pre-dawn meal and that their other religious needs are met. Inmates no longer complain of verbal abuse from deputies denigrating the Muslim faith. In April, the Sheriff's Department issued a directive that Muslim inmates have a legal right to attend religious services. In the last few months, Men's Central Jail has held a Jumu'ah every Friday, according to inmates, volunteer imams and jail officials.
Jerry Brown, avoiding immigration debate, heads to Mexico
When Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, he accused Congress of “foot-dragging” on immigration and said Washington needed “a good push.” The move was uncharacteristic of Brown who, in his third term, had largely declined to engage in national policy debates. But an opening on immigration appeared available to Brown, the popular Democratic governor of an influential border state. President Barack Obama and Democrats in Washington were pressing the Republican-controlled House on an immigration bill, amid growing public support for changes to the nation’s immigration laws. “The power of this force of immigrants is so strong, so heavy, that even the politicians can’t ignore it anymore,” Brown said at a rally in Fresno in October, on the day he signed the driver’s license bill. Nine months later, the illegal border crossing of thousands of young immigrants from Central America has upended the immigration debate, shifting pressure onto Obama for his handling of the crisis and mustering conservative opposition to expanded protections for undocumented minors. In this newly charged atmosphere – moreover, an election year – Brown has fallen back. While declaring last year that he was “not waiting” for Washington to act on immigration, his administration now refers to the border crisis as primarily a federal responsibility. Brown has said nothing specific about the handling of immigrants bused into California and has not made stops in cities where tension over the influx of immigrants has flared. When he touches down in Mexico for the first official visit of his term, he is expected to confine himself to the nation’s capital city, far from the border, with talks focused on the environment and trade.
Yee faces racketeering charge in new indictment
Federal prosecutors have added a charge of racketeering to the corruption and gun-running case against state Sen. Leland Yee, filing an amended indictment this week that includes new allegations that the San Francisco Democrat traded official favors for campaign cash. The indictment broadens the scope of the charges facing the more than two-dozen defendants in the case and significantly increases Yee’s potential punishment if he is convicted. Yee, who has pleaded not guilty, could face a maximum sentence of 165 years in prison and $2.25 million in penalties based on the charges in the latest filing. Racketeering charges, developed 45 years ago to combat the mafia, gives prosecutors more latitude on presenting evidence. “The prosecution is always very careful not to bring that charge unless they got the goods,” said attorney McGregor W. Scott, a former U.S. attorney in Sacramento. “It really brings the connotation that it involves serious wrongdoing.” Yee is among 29 people ensnared in a sweeping undercover federal investigation into an organized crime ring allegedly overseen by Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a longtime associate of Yee, and Yee’s political consultant, Keith Jackson, according to a federal criminal complaint. The original indictment following Yee’s March 26 arrest alleged that he took campaign money from undercover FBI agents and offered to arrange an international arms deal. Yee was raising money to retire a debt from his run for San Francisco mayor and to wage a 2014 campaign for secretary of state.
"We gotta juice this thing"
Leland Yee: New racketeering count against California state senator adds to gravity of case
A new racketeering charge handed up by a federal grand jury against state Sen. Leland Yee says he was part of an organized crime operation in which he sold legislative votes and influence for piles of money, just as he was earlier accused of conspiring to traffic in guns. The indictment made public on Friday reveals for the first time a 2013 incident in which Yee, D-San Francisco, allegedly agreed to take $60,000 -- which he believed was coming from a National Football League team owner -- in exchange for his and another senator's vote on a bill dealing with workers' compensation insurance for pro athletes. "We gotta juice this thing," Yee allegedly told an undercover FBI agent. That money never changed hands, but the wheeling and dealing is part of the new racketeering charge, along with money he allegedly did take for other votes and actions. The indictment replaces charges that prosecutors filed in March against Yee; Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, the alleged leader of a Chinatown mob; Yee campaign consultant Keith Jackson; and dozens of others. Federal prosecutors in that earlier complaint claimed Yee, sometimes nicknamed "Uncle Leland," accepted checks and bags of cash from undercover operatives to pay off his campaign debts and help fund his bid to become secretary of state. Yee also allegedly tried to orchestrate an international arms deal with an undercover agent, promising to arrange shipments of high-powered weaponry from rebel groups in the Philippines for money.
San Fransisco Examiner
Feds: Leland Yee shook down NFL team, 'Shrimpboy' headed organized crime group
Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow led an organized crime outfit - the Chinatown-based fraternal organization Gee Kung Tong - whose members committed a raft of crimes such as racketeering, arms trafficking and murder-for-hire schemes, according to a new indictment filed Friday by the U.S. Attorney's Office. The new indictment, which further details the alleged activities of Ghee Kung Tong (which is also spelled Ghee Kung Tong) members, also details alleged bribes and payoffs taken by suspended state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and his compatriot, former San Francisco school board member Keith Jackson. Those include brides to change Yee's vote in regards to rules governing workers' compensation for NFL players, along with votes on medical marijuana laws and payments taken in order to facilitate the purchase of arms - specifically missile systems - in the Philippines. Yee, Chow and 21 others charged in the case - facing counts of extortion, arms trafficking, murder for hire, and drug trafficking and sales, among others - were arrested in an series of FBI raids in March that netted suspects from across the Bay Area and beyond. Yee, Chow and Jackson have all pleaded not guilty to the original charges. Along with the new charges of running an organized crime organization, which also were leveled against Yee and Jackson, Chow is charged with money laundering, transporting stolen property across state lines and trafficking stolen cigarettes. As for the state senator and his lieutenant, according to the document, "Yee and Jackson engaged in criminal activity, including wire fraud, honest services fraud, bribery, extortion, trafficking in firearms and money laundering."
Use of illicit drugs becomes part of Silicon Valley's work culture
For Google executive Forrest Timothy Hayes, heroin was the killer app. From the way the Santa Cruz cops talk about it, the security camera video that captured a reputed high-price call girl injecting the 51-year-old tech veteran with a fatal dose of the drug aboard his yacht in Santa Cruz was surely horrific. But it was particularly chilling for another reason: While the seven-minute-long death scene drew a final curtain on the life of the father of five, it raised another on a dark and largely hidden side of Silicon Valley in 2014. With a booming startup culture cranked up by fiercely competitive VPs and adrenaline-driven coders, and a tendency for stressed-out managers to look the other way, illicit drugs and black-market painkillers have become part of the landscape here in the world's frothy fountain of tech. "I've had them from Apple, from Twitter, from Facebook, from Google, from Yahoo, and it's bad out there," says Cali Estes, a Miami-based addictions coach who has helped 200 tech workers -- many of them high-level executives -- struggling with everything from cocaine and heroin to painkillers like oxycodone and stimulants like Adderall, a prescription drug used to treat attention-deficit disorders. "And it's a lot worse than what people think because it's all covered up so well," says Estes. "If it gets out that a company's employees are doing drugs, it paints a horrible picture." Hayes' overdose last November -- alleged call girl Alix Tichelman was arrested in connection with his death -- felt like an eerie tap on the shoulder. Most Bay Area residents tend to marvel at the innovation unfolding around them from the red-hot tech revival and do not fret about the shadowy behavior that might help propel it all.
San Francisco Chronicle
San Bruno: E-mails show cozy ties between state and PG&E
A high-ranking aide to the California Public Utilities Commission's president advised a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executive on ways the company could fend off a legal challenge during the fallout over the deadly gas-pipeline explosion in San Bruno, newly released e-mails show. The e-mails - among 7,000 obtained by the city as part of a lawsuit settlement with the state agency - show that PG&E repeatedly went to top regulatory officials with complaints or requests for help related to investigations stemming from the September 2010 explosion, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. San Bruno officials said the communications were proof of a cozy relationship between the commission and the utility it regulates. That has been a consistent theme of commission critics since the pipeline disaster, which the National Transportation Safety Board said revealed a "culture of complacency" in the state agency that was supposed to ensure PG&E operated its pipelines safely. "These are people who are acting like they are on the same team," said Britt Strottman, an attorney representing the city. "They are not supposed to be on the same team." City Manager Connie Jackson added, "These communications not only show an unprofessional, unethical and inappropriate relationship between PG&E and PUC officials - we believe it is illegal for this communication to have occurred." A commission spokesman called the communications routine and said they did not indicate that PG&E received favorable treatment from the state. PG&E said it would review the e-mails to ensure that they met the company's standard of communicating with state regulators in "an ethical manner."
While the Middle East and Crimea burn, Obama sets up straw man in L.A.
Obama speaks of ‘economic patriotism’ at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College
Striking a theme of “economic patriotism,” President Barack Obama issued a clarion call on Thursday for stepped-up retraining of those unemployed during the Great Recession so that they can fill the skilled jobs that are becoming available today. The president, in a speech in front of more than 1,500 people at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College in downtown Los Angeles, said that about 10 million jobs have been created since the recession decimated the economy in the middle of the last decade and the unemployment is now at its lowest level since September 2008. “What we should be doing is training more people for the kinds of jobs that are opening up. And I encourage people to go back to school,” Obama said to a round of applause. “The decisions we made to rescue the economy and the auto industry have paid off.” Before arriving at the school the president make an unexpected stop at Cantor’s Deli for a quick lunch and chatted with customers. The crowd began gathering shortly after 11 a.m. under a hot sun, with many seeking shade under trees. Paramedics were soon at the scene to treat people who had trouble coping with the heat. As the president was about to step to the podium, a section of supporters began chanting a chorus of “four more years.” A heckler briefly interrupted the president at the start of his remarks but was drowned out by the pro-president crowd, which began chanting “Obama, Obama Obama.” A protest also broke out along Washington Boulevard about a block from the school, prompting heavy police response. The demonstration broke up after the president left. During his approximately 30-minute speech Obama touched on the familiar theme of the Affordable Health Care Act and how tough it is to deal with Congress on some matters and steps his administration is taking to help American workers.
I'm rich, get the hell off my beach....
Los Angeles Times
Coastal Commission enters fray over San Mateo County beach access
The California Coastal Commission on Thursday took what it called a "significant step toward restoring public access" at Martin's Beach in San Mateo County by calling on members of the public who have been there over the decades to fill out declarations saying so. If results of the "prescriptive rights survey" posted online show that the public has been using the private road now owned by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla as if it were public land for at least five years, then a court could establish a continued right of public access, according to the commission. The development adds another twist to California's highest-profile legal battle between those seeking public beach access and a private property owner who does not believe he is required to accommodate it. The family that owned the property south of Half Moon Bay prior to Khosla's 2008 purchase had allowed the public for decades to stroll down the private road that provides the only land access to the beach -- or drive down and park for a fee. Khosla initially allowed access at a higher fee but then closed the gate altogether in 2010 after he was told by county planning officials that he needed to open the gate year-round and lower the cost of parking to the historic rate of $2. The billionaire known for his green investments said in a recent interview that he found those demands "unreasonable" and that any state requirement that he provide access violates his rights under the U.S. Constitution. Khosla has also said he feels that he has been unfairly targeted because of his wealth and high profile, an allegation commission officials deny, saying for years they knew of the owner only as Martins Beach 1 LLC and Martins Beach 2 LLC.
San Francisco Chronicle
Vinod Khosla blames costly demands for Martins Beach trial
The ugly courtroom clash over Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, would not have happened if government and environmental zealots had not made unreasonable and costly demands, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said Thursday in defense of a beach closure that has captivated Californians up and down the coast. The venture capitalist said he closed the 53-acre property to the public after San Mateo County, the California Coastal Commission and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation unfairly tried to impose their will on him. "If they wanted you to make your backyard a park, would that hurt you?" he asked. "The Coastal Commission and the county have been completely unreasonable. They have been taking an extreme view and don't want to compromise on anything." Closing arguments were given last week in the Martins Beach civil trial, which is seen by many as a test case of California laws declaring that beaches are public property below the mean high tide line and that they must remain open. Lawyers for Surfrider want San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach to force Khosla to apply for a coastal development permit for closing the gate and making other changes on the property, which he bought for $32.5 million in 2008. They are asking for millions of dollars in penalties against Khosla for blocking public access. The judge is expected to rule in the case within 90 days.
Los Angeles Times
Color blind, trigger happy, idiot psycho cops cost taxpayers millions
Torrance surfer shot at during Dorner manhunt to receive $1.8 million
David Perdue planned to go surfing on Feb. 7, 2013, during the height of the Dorner manhunt, when his truck was rammed by a Torrance police officer and then struck by several bullets. Perdue was not hurt, and police at the time said his pickup truck matched the description of one belonging to Dorner, who had already killed three people and injured two others as he cut a bloody swath through Southern California last year. "The Torrance Police Department is very sympathetic to the disruption this incident caused our community and to all involved," said Sgt. Chris Roosen, the department's public information officer. The case was set to go to trial in August, and Perdue's attorney has questioned how police could have confused Perdue with Dorner. Perdue's pickup truck was not the same model or color as Dorner's, and the ex-cop was several inches taller than Perdue and roughly 100 pounds heavier, attorney Robert Sheahen previously said. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office previously cleared the officers involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing.
San Francisco Chronicle
Anyone else would already be in prison...
Aldon Smith a big test for Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
The two biggest distractions of the 49ers' offseason - packaged in two of the most productive players on the team - appeared before the media and microphones at 49ers' training camp Thursday. Earlier in the day, head coach Jim Harbaugh, standing in the shiny new news-conference room inside Levi's Stadium, declared that the 49ers were "the least unhappy team" that he's ever been around. And no amount of contract concerns or legal issues was going to change his stance. But Vernon Davis and Aldon Smith both have created different but significant strains of unhappiness over the past several months. Davis, whose minicamp holdout flew in the face of "the 49ers' way" as espoused by Harbaugh, couldn't say if his holdout was a mistake and claimed to not remember what he said on his June media tour. If he needs a refresher, that was when he announced that he wanted to focus "on building his brand," remarks that were roundly mocked around the universe. But he's back in camp and pronounced himself "elated," which is good news for a team that needs his offensive skills and versatility. In a far more serious vein, Smith is trying to put two years of trouble behind him, the type of trouble that has threatened to derail his career. He, like Davis, seemed cloudy on the details of his distraction. Smith, speaking for the first time since he was sentenced in a Santa Clara courtroom last Friday, was unclear on when and how exactly he would serve his sentence: 11 work-crew days in lieu of jail time, expected to be served on Mondays. "In the times I have free time, I'll take care of it," Smith said. "I think it's whatever works out best for my schedule." Sounds like he's trying to complete an incomplete algebra class instead of serving time for weapons and drunken-driving charges. We know that famous athletes get far more accommodations than the average law-breaker, but it's uncomfortable to see it displayed so brazenly.
Officials want to build a ‘total disaster city’ for training, with fires, explosions and crashes
Saying California’s emergency responders need more training to handle major calamities, state and local leaders are pitching plans to build a world-class $56 million training facility in eastern Sacramento County that would pit fire crews against a variety of realistic, pressure-packed simulated disasters. Emergency crews would be required to douse a real 727 jet as it lies in pieces across a field after a simulated crash at the training site; or make split-second decisions on how to approach a derailed train leaking crude oil; or figure out how to quickly pull survivors out of a partially demolished and unstable building after a terrorist bombing or earthquake. Initial construction on the Emergency Response Training Center has begun on 53 acres east of Mather Field in Rancho Cordova. The facility, billed as one of the most varied, modern and sophisticated training sites in the country, would be “a total disaster city,” said Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Chief Kurt Henke, one of the officials behind the push. “This is a one-stop shop,” he said. “Anything you can think of, you can set it up at this facility.” The project is a joint effort between Henke’s fire department, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Sacramento Fire Department. The three departments have set up a joint powers group called the California Fire & Rescue Training Authority.
Scaffolding purchase prompts blast from California Board of Equalization chairman
Work crews this weekend will replace leased scaffolding outside the defective Board of Equalization headquarters with scaffolding purchased by the state, prompting board Chairman Jerome Horton to blast the Brown administration for failing to find a new facility for the agency. Horton said Thursday that while the change may make financial sense in the short term, it sends a signal that the Department of General Services intends to keep Equalization’s 2,200 or so employees in the troubled building. The downtown Sacramento structure has a history of toxic mold, defective elevators, leaking windows, corroded wastewater pipes, floods, and exterior glass panels that spontaneously break or pop off. Employees have blamed some illnesses on the building, and Horton and other board members want a new facility for the tax-collecting department. Horton said General Services’ decision to move from renter to owner is “officially making the scaffolding permanent” around an “irreparably broken building” that sparked a $50 million tort claim earlier this month. The board has paid out $2.3 million in connection with building-related employee injury claims.
As bribery case continues, CalPERS reaps profits from tainted investments
It’s been one of the darkest chapters in CalPERS history, a bribery scandal that prompted a guilty plea from its former chief executive earlier this month. It’s also been rather profitable. America’s largest public pension fund has racked up sizable gains from investments brokered by Alfred Villalobos, the Nevada businessman accused of bribing top CalPERS officials. One $974 million investment midwifed by Villalobos is now worth $2.91 billion. A $701 million deal is valued on CalPERS’ books at $1.36 billion. The track record on Villalobos’ deals represents one of the great ironies of the CalPERS influence-peddling scandal. During a six-year stretch that ended in 2008, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System poured more than $4.4 billion into investments marketed by Villalobos on behalf of Wall Street clients. Out of 11 separate deals, only one has lost money, a relatively small transaction in which CalPERS invested $75 million. Experts say CalPERS’ investment profits don’t tell the whole story. They say Villalobos’ alleged misdeeds cost CalPERS money even though the deals he brought to the pension fund largely panned out. A 2011 investigative report commissioned by CalPERS said the pension fund likely paid tens of millions of dollars in additional investment-management fees because of Villalobos’ work. CalPERS routinely pays management fees to its investment partners, and the investigative report said those firms may have secretly inflated their fees to compensate for commissions they were paying Villalobos. CalPERS was able to recoup much if not all of that money. Using its considerable clout, it launched a campaign in 2010 to extract fee discounts from dozens of investment partners, including two that had hired Villalobos.
Despite conviction, Richard Alarcón keeps $116,000 a year from Los Angeles city pension
Despite being convicted of four felonies this week by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury, former City Councilman Richard Alarcón will continue to receive his $116,000 annual pension, an official said Thursday. Unlike some other California jurisdictions, Los Angeles doesn’t prohibit city employees convicted of felonies from receiving pensions, a representative of the city’s civilian retirement division said. Alarcón was convicted Wednesday of four counts of perjury and voter fraud for living outside Council District 7 and lying about his address on official documents. His wife Flora, 49, was convicted of three counts. His attorney Richard Lasting said Thursday he will file court documents in the coming weeks to have the case tossed out. Alarcón’s conviction comes three months after City Councilman Mitchell Englander introduced a motion that would require city workers convicted of a felony involving the use of their city position to forfeit their pension. The proposed law was spurred by revelations over the $72,000 annual pension collected by a recently convicted city building inspector, Englander’s motion states. Englander’s office didn’t respond to a comment Thursday. But earlier in the week, an Englander spokeswoman said the councilman is still pushing to pass the ordinance. Amid growing scrutiny over workers’ benefits, Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012 signed a law requiring public employees convicted of a felony to forfeit retirement benefits accrued after the date the felony occurred. However, Los Angeles has its own pension systems, and the state law doesn’t apply to the city.
Jerry Brown names law school professor to California Supreme Court
Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday nominated a Mexico-born Stanford Law School professor to the California Supreme Court, moving to replace one of the high court’s most conservative members with a Democrat. Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, who would replace retiring Justice Marvin Baxter in January, is Brown’s second selection to the court of his third term, both coming from the halls of academia. Brown appointed Goodwin Liu, then a UC Berkeley law professor, in 2011. Cuéllar, who previously advised President Barack Obama on immigration matters, would join Liu as the only Democrats on a court dominated by Republican appointees. Its composition is becoming increasingly liberal under Brown, however, and the Democratic governor has one more immediate vacancy to fill, to replace retired Justice Joyce Kennard. Cuéllar served as a special assistant for justice and regulatory policy in the Obama White House in 2009 and 2010 and co-chaired the Obama transition team’s immigration policy working group in 2008 and 2009. He worked in the Clinton administration’s U.S. Treasury Department from 1997 to 1999. Cuéllar was born in Matamoros, Mexico, and as a young boy walked across the border legally each day to attend a Catholic school on scholarship in neighboring Brownsville, Texas, the Governor’s Office said. He moved with his family at age 14 to California’s Imperial Valley after his family was granted green cards, and graduated from Calexico High School. The Governor’s Office said he became a U.S. citizen as soon as he was eligible in 1994. Cuéllar, who has taught at Stanford since 2001, told The Stanford Daily last year that “when you grow up on the border, you realize that a legal demarcation has such a huge effect in distinguishing one country from another, for example, and the whole structure of law shapes who’s a citizen and therefore who counts in one society or another.”
Los Angeles Times
Want to go to UC, move out of state...
UC enrolling more new students from other states and nations
The number of new UC students from other states and nations will continue to increase this fall, extending a trend that university officials say is financially necessary but critics say is changing the nature of a beloved state institution. The percentage of all new UC freshman who come from outside California is expected to be 20.2%, up from 18.3% last year and 15.5% the year before, according to preliminary data based on students’ statements that they will enroll. Among the nine UC undergraduate campuses, the percentages are the highest at UCLA with 30.1%, UC Berkeley with 29.8% and UC San Diego with 28.4%. The lowest shares were at UC Merced with 1.2% and UC Riverside with 6.9%. However, UC officials say that the rise in new out-of-state students is not reducing the ranks of California freshmen, who are expected to total 35,943, just 21 fewer than those who said they would attend last year at this time. Administrators say that the nearly $23,000 that nonresidents pay annually on top of the regular $12,192 tuition helps support classes and financial aid for Californians. While the share of non-Californians among UC’s overall undergraduate student body has increased from 4.6% in 2007-08 to 11.4% last year, UC still enrolls much smaller numbers of out-of-staters than other highly ranked state universities, such as the University of Michigan and University of Virginia. According to the new statistics, 3,691 U.S. students from other states have said they will enroll as UC freshmen, up 389 from last year, and 5,412 international students have indicated that they will come to UC, 662 more than last year.
Delay likely in corruption trial for California Sen. Ron Calderon
The corruption trial of Democratic Sen. Ron Calderon will likely be delayed until next May, months after the suspended lawmaker is forced to leave office because of term limits. Calderon is fighting federal corruption allegations of fraud, bribery and money laundering, and the case was scheduled for trial on Sept. 16. Mark Geragos, his attorney in the case, described the amount of documents being produced by the government as voluminous and ongoing. Prosecutors agreed to Geragos’ request for time to go over the paperwork with his client ahead of the trial. The new date would be May 19. “That’s our estimate based on the amount of discovery,” Geragos said. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, said the judge has yet to approve the request. Court records state the government began producing documents relating to the case in late April, and the number has grown to 280,000 pages, including 10,000 FBI documents, 3,900 of grand jury testimony, 2,000 of recorded telephone conversations and more than 200 recorded meetings. The latest wave of documents was provided to the defendants on June 23. Tom Calderon, a former state lawmaker charged in the case, also signed the request for a delay. Ron Calderon was one of three Democratic state senators, along with Leland Yee and Rod Wright, suspended with pay in March after they were accused of criminal charges in unrelated cases.
San Francisco Chroncile
Police kill mentally ill drug adict...Family of man who died in struggle with Oakland police sues
Relatives of a man who collapsed while struggling with Oakland police and later died filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city Tuesday. Hernan Jaramillo, 51, became unresponsive after officers tried to put him into a police car for a psychiatric evaluation outside his home on the 2300 block of East 21st Street on July 8, 2013. Jaramillo's death was the result of an "onslaught of horrendous abuse of police power," Jaramillo's sister Ana Biocini and other siblings said in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Biocini had called police to the home she shared with Jaramillo after hearing him "making a great deal of noise for reasons unknown" in his bedroom, the suit said. She said she feared that he was being assaulted by an intruder. Jaramillo began struggling with officers as they tried to put him into a car, police have said. Biocini said she had pleaded with the officers to stop, "insisting that her brother was not the perceived intruder," the suit said. Officers threw Jaramillo to the ground, the suit said. One officer "pressed his knee into Mr. Jaramillo's back while other officers used their weight to hold him down. Mr. Jaramillo screamed out for help and strained to breathe under the collective weight of the four or five defendant officers." The Alameda County coroner concluded that Jaramillo died of multiple drug intoxication, with "physical exertion" as a contributing factor.
Naughty Nadia lashes out at Kamala Harris on Facebook
Nadia Lockyer, the wife of state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, is lashing out at Attorney General Kamala Harris for not pursuing charges against a former boyfriend she said assaulted her, promising “the opposition of the Lockyer family” if Harris ever runs for higher office. In a Facebook post last week, the former Alameda County Supervisor accuses Harris of making an “unjust, anti-feminist, anti-victims rights decision to not prosecute the man that almost killed me.” “So this pledge stands,” she wrote in all caps. “If Kamala Harris ever runs for higher office she will have to face the opposition of the Lockyer family and all those truly committed to victims’ rights.” The Facebook post, first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, refers to a heavily publicized case two years ago, when Nadia Lockyer’s affair with a methamphetamine addict and own drug use became public. Lockyer told police in 2012 that she was injured in a violent assault by her former boyfriend, Stephen Chikhani, a methamphetamine user she met in an addiction treatment program. The California Department of Justice, which took over the assault inquiry from Alameda County, declined to pursue charges against Chikhani. A spokesman for Harris, who is widely considered a potential future candidate for governor, declined to comment Monday on the Facebook post.
Los Angeles Times
Gov. Brown signs bill to reduce deportations for minor crimes
Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure aimed at reducing deportations of legal immigrants who are convicted of misdemeanors. The legislation aimed at reducing deportations of noncitizens who are legal residents cuts the maximum possible misdemeanor sentence in California by one day, from one year to 364 days. Under federal immigration law, a felony is a crime punishable by 365 days or more, in which case a noncitizen legal resident can face deportation, according to state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). Deportable crimes that carry a maximum one-year sentence include theft, fraud and forgery. "As a result of the differences between state and federal sentencing laws, some legal residents are torn from their families for committing minor crimes, such as writing a bad check," Lara said. The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will affect thousands of legal residents in California each year who might otherwise face a deportation hearing, said Zachary Nightingale, an immigration attorney in San Francisco. Each year, 10% of all deportees are legal permanent residents, and 68% of them are sent out of the country for minor, nonviolent crimes, according to the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group in Washington. "The governor signed SB 1310 to help ensure legal residents won't be deported for minor crimes," said Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown.
Los Angeles Fire Department to hire 165 new firefighters in wake of recruiting controversy
With a new fire chief awaiting confirmation and thousands of expected applicants, the city of Los Angeles is beginning the process of hiring 165 new firefighters even as standards and procedures are being revamped to avoid the problems that have plagued the department in the past. Applications will be accepted from 8 a.m. today through midnight Thursday. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who last week selected Assistant Chief Ralph Terrazas to be the next chief, had previously pushed up the hiring deadline to fill vacancies and help reduce response times. Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the mayor believes bringing in additional firefighters is critical to keeping our city safe. The move comes even as a report is still in the works by the RAND Corp. on how hiring procedures should be amended. RAND officials said they hope to have a draft to city officials by the end of July. The department’s criteria for candidates came under criticism this year because of the number of recruits who were related to firefighters, as well as accusations that some received special training to prepare them for the process. Some 850 applicants who had previously cleared the city requirements are now being required to reapply to the department to put candidates on equal footing. Frank Lima, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, has estimated the LAFD has lost 560 firefighters over the last six years and continues to lose about 10 a month through retirement or other factors.
Orange County Register
Labor costs driving push to raise taxes
Two Orange County cities considering sales taxes
In Orange County, it appears, La Habra is the only city with its own local sales tax now, at a half-cent. The sales tax in Orange County is generally 8 percent. But city hall staffers in Placentia and Stanton are recommending that residents create their own city sales taxes. In Placentia, the sales tax would be a half-cent on the dollar, raising $2.4 million annually for the city coffers. In Stanton, it would be a full cent, bringing in $3.1 million a year. If these cities create their own sales taxes, those spending in their towns would be paying 8.5 percent or 9 percent in sales tax. If the councils move forward with the possible sales taxes, voters in each town would make the ultimate decisions with their November ballots. “We obviously need money, and this is one thing that will help us maintain the level of services,” said Placentia Councilwoman Connie Underhill. She pointed out that many city employees are doing more than they were hired to do because the city can’t afford to fill numerous vacancies. City officials say rising pension costs and a relatively small sales-tax base have hurt Placentia; if changes aren’t made, the annual budget would have a $5 million shortfall in three years. Meanwhile, Stanton has been dipping into reserves for several years, including an anticipated $1 million for the current fiscal year, to fund services, according to a city report. Without additional measures, the city expects to run out of reserves in six years. The city already has made steep cuts in recent years in staffing, and in funding to the Sheriff’s Department and to the Orange County Fire Authority, which both serve Stanton.
Legislature puts California acupuncture board on notice
The state board tasked with licensing and regulating California’s roughly 11,000 acupuncturists has faced trouble before – a cheating and bribery scandal rocked the board in 1989. Now, amid criticism that the California Acupuncture Board’s priorities give short shrift to consumer protection, state lawmakers are moving for an overhaul and lobbing a pointed message at its executive officer to get in line. With the board’s authority set to expire Jan. 1, the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee has a bill to extend that date, with strings attached. Senate Bill 1246 narrows the board’s regulatory portfolio, offers a shorter-than-usual extension and includes a provision that could threaten the tenure of Executive Officer Terri Thorfinnson. Specifically, the bill says “the executive officer appointed on or after January 1, 2015, shall not have served as the executive officer of the board at any time prior to January 1, 2015.” Interpretations of the section vary. A Senate committee consultant, Le Ondra Clark, said the wording would not require the board to fire Thorfinnson, but would prohibit her reappointment after Jan. 1 should the board appoint a new executive officer. Thorfinnson said in her analysis for the board that the provision “effectively terminates” her tenure. “I’ve not ever seen them do this before,” Julie D’Angelo Fellmeth, who monitors state consumer boards and is administrative director of University of San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law, said of the Legislature’s approach. “They might just be sending a message to the board that the Legislature is not happy with the performance of the executive officer.” California has been regulating what is sometimes called “oriental medicine” since 1972, and is now home to a third of the nation’s licensed acupuncturists, according to a board presentation in December. After the Legislature’s sunset review process went dormant in the mid-2000s, the board went without a rigorous evaluation until 2012. At that point, the legislative committee said most of the issues it identified were ones that the Legislature had “struggled with for almost 14 years.” The former executive officer resigned in June 2012.
Report lists California 40th for children's wellness
California is near the bottom of the nation for child well-being in a new report released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Children Now. While disappointing, health experts said the 40th overall ranking is not surprising. The state had scores as low as 43rd for families and communities and 48th in economic well-being for its children. Child health was roughly near the middle at 26th. The measure was a slight improvement from last year when California placed 41st, but advocates are still concerned. "Big picture, ranking 40th nationally on children's well-being is just not acceptable," said Jessica Mindnich, a researcher for Sacramento-based child advocacy group Children Now. "We have more children than any other state in this country, so when kids in California aren't doing well, that has significant implications for kids nationally." Mindnich said the recession hit California really hard, causing child poverty rates to continue to rise and placing stressors on all the other connected factors for well-being. At the same time, the state had to cut back, so it dismantled many safety-net programs that supported children. "Our kids are vulnerable," she said.
Los Angeles Times
Most of Allergan's 1,500 job cuts will be in Southern California
Most of the 1,500 job cuts that Botox maker Allergan Inc. announced Monday morning will be made in Southern California, the company’s chief executive said. Allergan plans to eliminate 650 research and development jobs, the bulk of them at its sprawling Irvine campus, Allergan chief David E.I. Pyott said in an interview with The Times. The company will also close facilities in Santa Barbara (300 employees) and Carlsbad (100 employees), Pyott said. “Sadly, I have to say, it will be quite a big effect on Southern California,” Pyott said. “Clearly there’s a big impact in Irvine.” The cuts are intended to increase profits and make Allergan more appealing to investors as it attempts to fend off a $53 billion takeover attempt by Canadian rival Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, this will put more value on the table than the other side,” Pyott said. Valeant has vowed to slash research spending at Allergan if it acquires the company, a move that it said would significantly improve its profitability. Pyott said that the 1,500 jobs he intends to eliminate pale compared with the 5,000 jobs he said Valeant would cut if it acquired the company. The job cuts, announced Monday as part of a restructuring effort, account for about 13% of Allergan's global workforce. In addition, the Irvine-based maker of Botox plans to eliminate about 250 vacant positions. Valeant is backed by activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management is Allergan's top shareholder. The protracted takeover attempt has sparked concerns among Allergan employees, Irvine merchants and the city’s mayor over potential job losses. Of Allergan’s 11,000-plus global work force, about 2,300 employees are based at its Irvine headquarters.
Jerry Brown signs bill limiting full-contact football practice in California
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation limiting full-contact football practice for California teenagers, his office announced Monday. The legislation comes amid increasing concern about brain injuries in football. Assembly Bill 2127, by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, prohibits middle school and high school football teams from holding full-contact practices during the off-season and limits them to no more than two full-contact practices per week during the preseason and regular season. Nineteen other states have banned full-contact high school football practices in the off-season, according to a legislative analysis. Brown signed the bill without comment, one of 23 measures the Democratic governor announced signing Monday.
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's neural implants may hold key to unlocking brain's mysteries
Deep inside Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's Center for Bioengineering, scientist Sat Pannu and his research team are hard at work crafting spaghetti noodle-sized devices with a mundane appearance but an audacious goal: To rewire damaged human brains. Fitted with dozens of tiny microelectrodes, each of these brain implants is intended to monitor the electrical activity of brains devastated by physical injury or mental illness -- and provide the precise stimuli to help minds compensate for what they've lost. It sounds fanciful, like something out of Hollywood. But building on technology more than a decade in the making, center director Pannu and his associates envision a time, not too many years away, when advanced, so-called deep-brain stimulation implants combat the ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, even chronic pain or addiction. "This technology allows us to interface with the brain using hundreds, if not thousands, of electrodes," Pannu said. "If you had these devices implanted in the brain, you could record (neural activity) and see how therapies are working in real time." Pannu's $5.6 million project -- which is in the early stages of animal testing -- is part of an array of brain research underway at Lawrence Livermore, all of it linked to the implant technology. Members of the team have found success with artificial retinal implants, which are already giving some blind people crude, but functional, vision. Last week, Pannu's Neural Technology group got a $2.5 million grant for a "neuroprosthetic" project that hopes to combine neural implants with tiny computers to help restore lost memory function. The work is being driven by a Defense Department interested in treating the rash of brain injuries emerging from modern warfare, and President Barack Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative, which aims to map the brain's neurons to help target effective treatments.
Soaking up Spanish
Singing in Spanish and bouncing around her classroom in an animated style, Socorro Nelson belted out a simple verse to teach some new words: “Soy una pizza con mucho queso.” The reply in Spanish from 11 students came in a mix of motley accents: I am a pizza with lots of cheese. Nelson is a kindergarten teacher at the bilingual Cali Calmécac Language Academy in Windsor. But these weren’t her usual pupils. They were local teachers, librarians and other professionals taking part in the weeklong Spanish Language Immersion Institute at the Sonoma County Office of Education. With the Latino population on the rise in the county and schools, local government employees, nurses and educators are looking for ways to learn the language to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community. “A lot of the teachers have told me that many of the students that they are getting in their classrooms speak very little English,” Nelson said. “That’s why they are trying to acquire the basic Spanish, so they can help the students — (and) feed the needs of the growing Hispanic community that we have in Sonoma County.” The program is among several that are trying to boost Spanish literacy in the county. They include the Petaluma-based language school Colors of Spanish and classes at Santa Rosa Junior College that frequently draw educators. Guadalupe Tausch, founder of Colors of Spanish, said those who learn a new tongue are more receptive to new ideas and cultures. “People also earn more money,” she added. She offers 10-week Spanish classes for adults at her school. Many of her students are doctors, nurses and technicians in the medical field who often get patients who don’t speak English, Tausch said. “Learning a second language is a privilege,” Tausch said. “But it’s something you have to work hard at every day.”
Los Angeles Times
Psychopaths with guns and badges...
Santa Barbara cop placed on leave for video about running over bicyclists
A reserve officer with the Santa Paula Police Department who made a YouTube video joking about running over bicyclists apologized Saturday. The video, published Friday, unleashed a barrage of criticism on the department's Facebook page. Police Chief Steve McLean said "it's embarrassing, and I understand why people are upset." McLean, who became chief a year ago after 32 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "I understand what she was trying to do, to be funny.... But I was horrified with what she said and what she did, and they do not reflect my views or the views of the department." The video shows officer Laura Weintraub riding in a car providing commentary on bicyclists she passes on the road. "I hate bicyclists, every single one of them," she says, looking into the camera and smiling. Lamenting the dearth of cyclists on the road, she says, "I'm hoping we'll run over some soon -- or run into some soon, so I can actually make this video for you." Later spotting a rider on the shoulder, she says, "Looking good in that spandex, buddy -- no one ever said." The video ends with a still shot of a car smashing into a bunch of cyclists, captioned "Like you've never thought of it." "I will never cycle in your county and I hope others won't as well," Shana Buterbaugh posted on the department's Facebook page. "Meet Laura Weintraub, horrible person, incompetent videographer, and utter moron," said a Twitter poster with the handle bikesnobNYC who linked to the video. Weintraub, in her Facebook apology, said she had taken down the video, but it was quickly reposted Saturday by others. McLean said critics had taken a post he made weeks earlier about grabbing a cold beer after a hard day and twisted it to appear to be his commentary on the video. "That's why a lot of people are bashing me," he said. "Some idiot out there took a statement that had nothing to do with anything and applied it here." McLean also denied accusations that he removed critical posts, saying it was the work of a volunteer or administrator.
More free money for farmers
Cap-and-trade could aid preservation of California farmland
Abandoning the farm that he had worked for three decades, and that his wife’s family had owned for over a century, was never an option for Dan Port. Port and his family had continued to squeeze a profit out of their 180 acres near the small town of Ione, raising grass-fed beef to sell through farmers markets. Determined as he was to keep the farm running, Port said he recognized the constant pressure on farmers to give their land over to developers. So Port embraced a novel approach: in exchange for a payment from state bond money worth about half the value of his land, he agreed to an easement requiring the property to remain farmland. He has since reinvested the money in improvements like fixing up an ancient barn. More money of the type Port tapped into will soon be available, per an obscure section of this year’s budget agreement that will offer millions to protect California farmland from the forces of urbanization. In signing this year’s budget, Gov. Jerry Brown dedicated $832 million from California’s burgeoning cap-and-trade program to affordable housing and mass transit, including his embattled high-speed rail project. Also tucked into the legislation are directions to set aside agricultural land on the periphery of cities. It is meant to shield farmland from urban development, allocating a new source of money for a decades-old concept. Proponents believe the idea meshes with a broader vision for urban planning: a California where more people live in compact urban centers, commuting without relying on cars that percolate greenhouse gases into the air.
Death-penalty ruling won't alter election
Violent crime rates are at near-record lows...that has blunted GOP efforts to make hay out of crime
No single issue has dogged Gov. Jerry Brown more throughout his long political career than capital punishment, so it seems fitting that it would rear its head as Brown wages his final campaign for the state’s highest office. The death penalty, though, is unlikely to resonate much with the voting public these days. On Wednesday, a federal judge declared California’s death-penalty system unconstitutional and vacated a condemned man’s death sentence because of the “inordinate and unpredictable” delays between sentencing and execution. Only 13 of the 900 people sentenced to death in California since 1978 have been put to death, the court noted. It takes around 25 years to review the cases, which the judge said is a broken promise by the state to carry out the sentence. Some blame rests with the inmates as they file appeal after appeal, but Judge Cormac Carney, a George W. Bush appointee, mainly blamed state officials. There are other serious questions about the penalty, such as whether innocent people languish on death row. But Carney didn’t raise them. Instead, he found the punishment unconstitutional because it is irrational: “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.” The governor’s office had no statement in response to the decision, which is too bad given that it might clarify his latest thinking on the issue. Brown had long been against capital punishment, but has lived up to his vow to uphold the law as governor and attorney general.
Pérez calls off recount in California controller’s race
Assemblyman John A. Pérez abandoned his recount in the California controller’s race Friday, ending an effort to overcome a narrow third-place finish after picking up only a handful of votes amid increasing impatience from Democratic activists and others worried about its impact on the fall election. Perez called off the recount a week after it started. Election workers had finished hand recounts in less than a tenth of the more than 4,100 precincts in 15 counties listed in Pérez’s July 6 filing for what would have been the largest recount in state history. “While I strongly believe that completing this process would result in me advancing to the General Election, it is clear that there are significant deficiencies in the process itself which make continuing the recount problematic,” Pérez said in a statement Friday. “Even in the effort so far, we have found uncounted ballots, but there is simply not enough time to see this process through to the end, given the fact that counties must begin printing ballots in the next few weeks in order to ensure that overseas and military voters can receive their ballots in a timely manner.” Pérez, D-Los Angeles, finished 481 votes behind Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, also a Democrat, for second place and a slot in the Nov. 4 general election against Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican who finished first in the balloting.
Los Angeles Times
Guns: You got'em, we'll grab'em...
Jerry Brown signs a pair of gun bills
Gov. Jerry Brown signed two gun-related measures into law Friday, including one bill to make single-shot pistols subject to the state's handgun safety requirements. Most guns sold in California must comply with the state's safe handgun requirements -- including having certain safety devices or meeting specified firing tests -- but the law had exempted handguns that hold a single bullet. Gun control groups say semiautomatic handguns, which are subject to safety requirements, can temporarily be configured as single-shot pistols and then changed back. They advocated for Assemblyman Roger Dickinson's (D-Sacramento) measure to close the exemption for single-shot handguns. “Gun dealers in California have been skirting the law and selling handguns without child safety features, putting profits over the safety of Californians,” said Nick and Amanda Wilcox, legislation and policy chairs of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We applaud Gov. Brown and the California Legislature for taking action to make new handguns sold in the state safer.” The California Assn. of Federal Firearms Licensees opposed the measure. In a letter to Brown last week, the group's president, Brandon Combs, said the "clear intent" of the bill, AB 1964, is to "eliminate even more firearms in common use for lawful purposes from the non-peace officer (i.e., 'regular person') marketplace." Also on Friday, Brown signed a measure to speed up communication between the courts and the state Department of Justice when a person is deemed to be prohibited from possessing a gun. The bill, by Assemblyman K.H. "Katcho" Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), requires courts to report to the state Justice Department within one business day when a person becomes barred from having a firearm, either due to certain felony or misdemeanor convictions or for mental health reasons.
California medical fraud included fake spinal screws, lawsuit alleges
Bribed surgeons implanted counterfeit spinal hardware into the backs of potentially thousands of patients as part of a vast scheme overseen by Michael D. Drobot, the former hospital executive who as part of a plea deal admitted to bribing indicted California state Sen. Ron Calderon, according to a new lawsuit. The federal case against Calderon, who has been suspended from the state Senate, includes charges that the Montebello Democrat accepted money to try to preserve workers’ compensation rules that helped Drobot. In the years leading up to being indicted for fraud, Drobot was a prolific donor to California Democrats. While Calderon’s case remains unresolved, Drobot has struck a plea deal in which he admitted to funneling bribes to Calderon. He also acknowledged overstating the price of medical implants for which he sought reimbursements and paying kickbacks to doctors and marketers who brought patients to Drobot’s hospitals.
Orange County Register
Scammed politicos to get back $4 million...
You get swindled, you lose - Pols get swindled, they get paid back
Prominent California politicians swindled of $8 million by Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee will get back about half that money under a settlement reached this week with Durkee’s bank. First California Bank agreed to pay $4 million to the campaigns of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez and Susan Davis, as well as state Sen. Lou Correa. Wylie Aitken, one of the attorneys representing the politicians, said the bank was aware that Durkee was illegally transferring money among accounts of state and federal clients. Aitken also alleged the bank knew she was writing checks from the accounts that could not be covered. He said the behavior “should have raised countless red flags to the First California Bank leadership and staff.” Durkee, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012 and at that time had less than $100,000 in her liquidated property, leading victims to look to First California. “She obviously looted the accounts and there is no money left. So this (settlement) is a good situation,” Aitken said. “It’s really the donors who got looted. It’s really a victory for people who participated in democracy.” Attorneys for First California could not be reached for comment.
San Francisco Chronicle
49ers star to do no jail time for guns, DUI violations
Meanwhile California prisons continue to fill with poor young black men
A Santa Clara County judge Friday sentenced San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith to jail time, fines and probation for illegal possession of assault weapons and drunken driving, but the football star will spend no actual time behind bars. Superior Court Judge Daniel Nishigaya ordered Smith to serve 12 days in jail and three years probation - but he was given credit for one day served and will be allowed to serve his sentence on consecutive once-a-week work days starting July 28. This effectively keeps him from serving any jail time. Smith also was sentenced, for the weapons charges, to 235 hours community service, a $2,000 fine and a prohibition on possessing guns or ammunition for three years. Smith, 24, could have received up to four years and four months behind bars, but Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Brian Buckelew said he thought the sentence as handed down was fair. Some of the weapons and DUI counts were originally filed as felonies, but Nishigaya reduced them all to misdemeanors.
For Sale: Beautiful 2003 Lexus SC 430 - $14,500.
A beautiful car that has been well maintained by the dealer, and kept in a garage.
E-cig vote reveals a ban-happy mindset
What does it say about the state of our free society when officials are so eager to severely limit a product before any ill effects are found? Why the rush to ban things?
Peevey the crook: PUC president's unethical behavior laid bare
We knew Michael Peevey was PG&E's biggest ally in fending off accountability for the deadly San Bruno explosion. We knew the president of the California Public Utility Commission placed his cozy relationship with the utility above any responsibility to the public. We've been calling for his head for three years. But now, thanks to the Public Records Act, there's proof of where Peevey's loyalty lies.
Los Angeles Times
Gov. Brown knows better than to let lobbyists pay for his Mexico trip
Having the trip financed by business interests seeking to curry favor is a bad idea
Gov. Jerry Brown is on a four-day trip to Mexico City to talk to government officials there about trade and immigration issues. That's a reasonable thing for a California governor to do. Brown is not traveling alone: Nine administration officials and 15 legislators (some using campaign funds) are with him. That's probably reasonable too. But then there are also 88 business executives and lobbyists on the trip, each of whom has paid $5,000 to cover his or her costs, as well as those of the governor and his administrators. That's not so reasonable.
Neel Kashkari Lets His Rainbow Flag Fly
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pete Wilson and perhaps even George Deukmejian didn't really care if same-sex couples won the right to marry, not that they'd let their Republican base in on that before their first elections as California governors. So give Irvine's Neel Kashkari, the GOP nominee squaring off against Jerry Brown in November, credit for freely flying his rainbow flag. Yes, Gipper lovers, that wasn't Mr. Clean waving to the crowd while walking in San Diego's 40th LGBT Pride Parade on July 19. It was Kashkari who--correct me if I'm wrong--would be the first California Republican nominee for governor to do such a thing.
An obscure state agency creates big money problems
Spur-of-the-moment decrees and a lack of long-range planning created a mess that will hurt workers and employers, undermine California’s emergence from recession, and give government another black eye.
Indicted California senators insult voters by collecting salary
Another day, another superseding indictment and another insult to the California electorate.
Contra Costa Times
Time to step back and compromise on Chevron refinery upgrades
Five years after a judge halted work on Chevron's modernization project at its Richmond refinery because of inadequate environmental review, a divided City Council is poised to vote night on a scaled-back alternative. More work has gone into preparation of this plan and the analysis of its effects. But the gap between environmentalists and the oil company remains. Chevron should take a holistic approach. Furthermore, the company should look for opportunities to reduce pollution locally before mitigating environmental effects with improvements elsewhere. When Chevron officials say "trust us," they forget that we once did.
Political activists increasingly turn to courts for their causes
The passage of Proposition 13 – California’s landmark property tax limit – in 1978 marked a major, even radical, change in how the state makes public policy. Ballot measures, some from the political right and some from the left, proliferated during the ensuing decades as the Capitol’s policymaking role diminished. The governor and the Legislature became subsidiary and reactive to what was happening in the initiative arena, even to the point that politicians themselves began using the ballot. That syndrome hit a high – or low – point in 2005 when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, declaring it to be a “year of reform,” tried, but failed, to win voter approval for four far-reaching ballot measures. Ever since then, the number and scope of ballot measures have declined. Only occasionally, most notably with the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 in 2008, have ballot measures represented major policy issues. More often, they have been relatively narrow efforts by specific interest groups. If ballot measures filled the vacuum created by legislative dysfunction in the decades since 1978, what now is filling the void that their fading presence leaves? The courts.
Raoul Lowery Contreras
Ethnic political hacks snub their own
In 2012, Marine Col. Rocky Chavez, a former acting secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs under Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Jerry Brown (D) and elected Oceanside city councilman, was overwhelmingly elected to the State Assembly, having carried every precinct in the district. He was and is totally issue-oriented. He finds much common ground with others who share his concerns about education and immigration and joined several bipartisan efforts in the Assembly on a resolution supporting comprehensive immigration reform, on allowing an illegal alien to practice law and other efforts found lacking in general Republican support. When he arrived in the state capitol, he mentioned to Democratic colleagues that he would like to be involved in the Latino Legislative Caucus so he could work with its members on bipartisan issues. He never heard back from the group.
For bullet train, hopeful headlines but old trouble
Backers of the bullet train have been shouting “all aboard” again, trying to encourage a rush of support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s $68 billion project to link the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas at 200 mph. Their fans in the California Legislature pushed through a plan to use cap-and-trade revenue, meant to combat greenhouse-gas emissions, to help fund the high-speed-rail project. Saying that cap-and-trade will provide just the sort of stable funding stream that makes the bullet train viable, they were able to wangle murmurs of interest from private investors from the United States and Europe, winning some positive headlines. And while all of this was going on, they made a move to build political support here in L.A. County by floating a plan to move up construction of a segment between Burbank and Palmdale. So, amid these small indications that the bullet train is heading in the right direction, is it time to jump on board No. We recommend staying in the station — and keeping a close eye on your valuables.
Brown’s appointees will nudge state Supreme Court leftward
The U.S. Supreme Court has undergone very obvious ideological cycles – depending on who happened to be in the White House when vacancies occurred. Currently, the court has what might be called a 4-4-1 lineup, with four conservatives appointed by Republican presidents, four liberals appointed by Democrats and one GOP-appointed swing vote in Sacramento’s Anthony Kennedy. California’s Supreme Court, arguably the nation’s most influential state court, has been no less prone to such swings. And with two appointments already and at least one more coming during his second governorship, Jerry Brown may be nudging it leftward – albeit not as far as his father Pat Brown did, nor as far as Brown 1.0 attempted to do.
Citizen cellphone videos help monitor police
A California Highway Patrol officer straddles a woman near an exit ramp on Interstate 10 in Los Angeles. He is punching her in the face -- pummeling her like a boxer while she writhes on her back, trying to fend off the blows. Chances are we would have never known anything about this July 1 incident, which has now been all over the news, were it not for the fact that a man named David Diaz happened to be driving by moments earlier. Diaz, who was in a car with three other people, stopped when he saw a CHP officer attempting to arrest a woman walking on the freeway. He turned on his cellphone and captured the officer as he started punching the woman in full view of passers-by. Diaz uploaded the video to YouTube. It went viral. You can't watch the clip of the beating -- the relentlessness of the blows -- and not be sickened. "This is a grown man punching to the point where she could have died out there," Diaz later told KNBC 4. Oakland attorney John Burris is a member of the legal team representing Marlene Pinnock, 51, who has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the CHP. Burris, who represented Rodney King and Oscar Grant's family in civil suits where citizen video of police actions played a major role, said Diaz's cellphone video will be a key piece of evidence. Regardless of what may have occurred in the moments before the beating, Burris says, "The video shows that he (the officer) was throwing punch after punch at her while she was in a subservient position." The video is exhibit A for why citizens should have a right to videotape the police going about their official duties in public places. Given the value of citizen-produced video in helping to hold police officers accountable, the right to videotape the police is worth fighting for.
Shootout for Los Angeles County board may be most interesting race
In an otherwise lackluster campaign season, California’s most interesting political duel may be one for a rare vacancy on the five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. It’s interesting because a supervisor’s seat in a county that’s more populous (10 million-plus) than all but eight states is a powerful political prize. And it’s interesting because of the two candidates who survived the June primary. A few decades ago, when all members were white men, the board was known colloquially as the “five little kings.” It’s more diverse these days, and its five seats have been carefully apportioned by the board itself – one African American seat, one Latino seat, one Jewish seat (all Democratic) and two Republican seats. Latino activists believe that with half of the county’s population, they should have another seat.
State Fair shows California’s youthful talent, but for how long?
When you get past stands selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs and ignore booths peddling the latest kitchen gadgets, not to mention seemingly dozens of liquor purveyors, there are a couple of spots at the State Fair that should bolster your faith in California’s future. One is in the fairgrounds’ southeastern corner, where hundreds of youngsters from 4-H and Future Farmers clubs tend their livestock. The other is across the fairgrounds in a block of concrete exhibit buildings, where machines, instruments and other devices, designed and built by students enrolled in what used to be called “vocational education,” are on display. The exhibits would be impressive were they the handiwork of adult professionals. The designs are clever, the workmanship is precise, and the time students devote to their projects is immense. These are the kids who will design, build and maintain our houses, our cars, our electronic devices and the other products we will use later in the century, and in doing so will keep California’s economy functioning – maybe.
Los Angeles Times
Punished for saving water
Talk about mixed messages: While Gov. Jerry Brown is warning that California faces its worst drought since record-keeping began and regulators have approved fines of up to $500 for wasting water, some Southern California cities are continuing to issue warnings and citations to residents who let their lawns go brown. It's tone deaf and irresponsible to preach conservation and then slap people with penalties when they actually conserve water.
Democrats place pointless advisory measure on ballot, but why?
The Legislature’s Democrats voted to place an advisory measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, asking voters whether Congress should pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly controversial ruling removing barriers on corporate contributions in federal campaigns. This week, Gov. Jerry Brown allowed the measure, Senate Bill 1272, to become law without his signature. It’s a dicey situation in several respects.
Overwatering is a crime – except for state’s biggest water user
California hasn’t quite come to threatening unrepentant water wasters with time in the big house. But emergency rules adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board Tuesday do take the state a lot closer to criminalizing the squandering of a precious resource. It’s an unpleasant but necessary measure. As a study by UC Davis makes clear, the ongoing drought hurts the state’s economy. It’s a pain that trickles down to all of us, even those already doing their part to cut back. But it is frustrating that agriculture has been let off the hook. It’s unfair to put the entire conservation onus on residents, who have done so much. In fact, the ag industry has put an even greater burden on the state’s dwindling water supplies by overdrafting groundwater to sustain water-sucking permanent crops like almonds and growing alfalfa for export. Many water-conscious farmers have adopted voluntary conservation measures and should be commended, but they are the exceptions.
State has done two big deals with Leon Black, and both resulted in scandal
Two state agencies have done multibillion-dollar deals with high-flying investment banker Leon Black, and both have resulted in scandals, two decades apart. Black was a top aide to junk bond king Michael Milken in floating billions of dollars of high-interest corporate debt during the 1980s, but survived the legal bloodbath that sent Milken to prison. After Milken’s 1989 downfall, Black struck out on his own, and soon signed up some French investors seeking to purchase a multibillion-dollar portfolio of junk bonds held by Executive Life Insurance that Black had helped assemble. In 1991, just weeks after becoming California’s first elected insurance commissioner, John Garamendi seized Executive Life, contending that its junk bond portfolio was too risky to support payments to more than 300,000 retirees and annuitants.
It’s open season in Capitol for rent-seekers
Economist Anne Osborn Krueger coined the term “rent-seeking” in 1974, the year in which Jerry Brown was first elected governor. There is a connection between those two events. “Rent-seekers” came to mean those who use government to enhance their ostensibly private investments. With countless billions of dollars floating around, rent-seekers have proliferated and none has benefited more than Elon Musk. The sky’s the limit for rent-seekers these days.
Is it a crime to be a career politician?
The district attorney’s case against former Councilman Richard Alarcón is taking an odd twist. Rather than rely solely on whether or not he lives within the boundaries of his council district, the office is arguing that his main offense is being a “career politician.” During the trial last week, Deputy District Attorney Michele Gilmer repeatedly invoked the term, saying Alarcón was someone who moved from Los Angeles to Sacramento and back again whenever a more favorable political office opened up. But if he is to be convicted of that, what do we do about other politicians? Look at Gov. Jerry Brown, who began his career on the Los Angeles Community College board, then took a series of state jobs in Sacramento — including secretary of state and governor — then served as Oakland mayor, before returning to Sacramento as attorney general and, again, governor. City Hall now has eight elected officials who have come down from Sacramento, starting with City Attorney Mike Feuer and Council President Herb Wesson. Some came after their time in state office ended, but others left midterm when a city job became vacant.
Stockton bankruptcy judge seeks fnal answer on pension status
Ever since Stockton filed for bankruptcy two years ago, Judge Christopher Klein has strongly hinted that he’s willing – perhaps even eager – to declare that city employee pension obligations are debts that could be trimmed along with those of more conventional creditors.
Pension reform comes at a price
Finally, Sacramento police officers will start paying into their own pension accounts – a positive step for the city’s financial stability. The new contract ends a yearlong standoff with City Hall and brings police in line with the city’s other major employee unions. But the deal demonstrates yet again that significant savings from pension reform in California won’t come quickly or easily, and that powerful public safety unions can extract costly trade-offs.
Overtime pay should be the exception, not the rule
When Richmond Fire Capt. Angel Bobo collected $279,105 in overtime last year, boosting his total salary to $426,303, alarm bells should have gone off. Even after taking vacation, he had been on the job about 6,500 hours in 2013, or roughly three of every four hours, night and day, for the year. Sure, firefighters, unlike most workers, can sleep while at work, but those numbers are way beyond the pale. No public sector employees should be collecting that much overtime, nor working that many hours -- especially not police and firefighters who should be well-rested to make life-and-death decisions.
Bomber subsidy bill puts liberal legislators on the spot
If you are a liberal Democrat, two of your likely ideological tenets are ending tax breaks and subsidies for corporations and reducing spending on nuclear arms to free up money for health, social and educational services. Assembly Bill 2389 violated both.
California Legislature financial reforms fall way short
Sadly, no one in the room is surprised that the California Legislature conveniently lost interest in enacting significant reforms that might impede its members' access to campaign money. No less an expert than former Golden State political powerhouse Jesse Unruh told us years ago that money was the "mother's milk of politics." He certainly knew whereof he spoke.
CalPERS ‘victory’ a warning to uppity cities
The nation’s largest pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, has racked up another victory in its effort to halt any effort by municipalities to get out from under their crushing pension obligations.
Perez’s recount sends politics into uncharted territory
California politics is meandering into uncharted procedural and legal territory with former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez’s go-for-broke decision to seek a vote recount in his duel with Board of Equalization member Betty Yee for a spot on the November state controller ballot. Pérez spent relatively little on his campaign to win a spot on the ballot but now must put up a lot of money for the recount – leading one to believe that if he had spent a bit more on the primary, he might not be facing his current dilemma.
A mushroom bill on home care workers may backfire
At any given moment, dozens of comatose bills float around the Legislature – vessels to be filled with whatever the powers-that-be want to enact quickly and semi-clandestinely. They often pop up as “trailer bills,” so named because they supposedly implement the state budget. But it’s a common – albeit unethical – practice for legislators to load them up with stuff that has little or nothing to do with the budget and get them passed quickly before opposition develops. This year was no exception as new issues surfaced in budget trailer bills.
They are children, for heaven’s sake...
Immigrant children deserve our compassion, not jeers and taunts
There is only one correct way to view the estimated 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have streamed through the United States-Mexico border over the past year and who are now crowding federal detention facilities: children fleeing desperate, dangerous places who need our help. Instead, they have become political pawns to the anti-immigration forces who are intent on demonizing the children as a way to push their own agenda. It was an unflattering picture of America.
Is mob rule now the American way?
It’s a good time to ask once again, what kind of country are we? In between parades and barbecues, Americans can show their patriotism by being on their best behavior. This didn’t happen the other day in Murrieta. In that city about 90 miles north of San Diego, an angry mob holding placards and shaking fists terrorized a busload of about 140 children and mothers, while chanting “USA, USA.”
Legislators approve a subsidy 'jam job'
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 6-0 on Thursday to provide a $420 million subsidy to a defense contractor even though Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, complained that it was a “jam job” and compared the experience to buying a used car from a salesman who is hiding information. He vowed not to let it happen again. The real question is why the committee — Democrats and Republicans alike — let it happen at all. (And it later was approved by the full Senate and Assembly, and sent to the governor.)
Easy loans a source of college problems
Whenever educational issues are debated in the state Capitol, legislators operate from an unchallenged assumption: more government aid will lead to better opportunities for students. But the plight of a well-known Santa Ana-based private college system shows the reverse may often be true.
Facebook on its mood manipulation study: Another non-apology apology
There may be no company on Earth more experienced at saying "we're sorry, but not really" than Facebook. The latest example concerns the company's now-infamous 2012 psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 unwitting users, which broke into public consciousness over the weekend when its researchers published their findings in a scientific journal. Speaking in New Delhi, according to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the following: We never meant to upset you. This apology deserves a score of 0.0. What has people upset isn't how Facebook "communicated" the study--it never communicated anything about it until now, two and a half years after the secret study was conducted. As for claiming "we never meant to upset you," arguably the study was designed to upset users--the company manipulated posts in their news feeds to raise and lower their moods. Sandberg's statement falls right into line with the company's habit of mistreating or misleading its users and apologizing, lamely, only after it gets caught. Its strategy is always to plead "guilty, with an explanation."
Should California subsidize new Air Force bomber?
The U.S. Air Force apparently wants to develop a new high-tech strategic bomber – but the scope of the project, or even whether it materializes, is a bit hush-hush. If a new bomber flies, it apparently will be a bidding competition between a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin on one side and Northrop Grumman on the other – but even that is a bit fuzzy. The aerospace giants brought their dogfight to the Capitol on Tuesday as a Senate committee considered – and changed – a bill that would provide as much as $420 million in state subsidies to the Boeing-Lockheed Martin combo. Subsidies for manufacturing significant portions of the “advanced strategic aircraft” in California have kicked around the Capitol for months. But suddenly, last week, the Assembly passed a newly drafted measure that would provide tax credits for California jobs created by a “major first-tier subcontractor” – a term that, as defined, applies only to Lockheed Martin, Boeing’s junior partner. The Finance and Governance Committee’s staff suggested in its analysis of AB 2389 that if it’s enacted “without complete and verified information,” legislators “should expect other firms to threaten to shift employment out of California unless the Legislature grants them significant tax benefits outside the usual process …” Indeed they should.
Justices set stage for further rollback of mandatory dues
Forget the Hobby Lobby ruling. The most significant U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday arguably was Harris v. Quinn, where the court found that laws forcing home health-care workers to pay union dues violate the First Amendment. The 5-4 ruling in an Illinois case likely will have much impact in California.
Thomas D. Elias
Early inmate releases a hazard for Gov. Brown
From early in his career, Gov. Jerry Brown has had a proclivity for dismissing problems with wisecracks or aphorisms. He’s done the same thing lately as companies like Toyota and Occidental Petroleum announced they were moving headquarters and thousands of jobs out of state, noting that those firms and their jobs are just a tiny fraction of the California economy. Now, with the state beginning to release some nonviolent prisoners to comply with a federal court order demanding that prison crowding be reduced, Brown told a reporter that “The U.S. Supreme Court ordered us to release thousands of prisoners.” The releases, he said, “are a creative solution.” Which means that if he doesn’t want political trouble either this fall or in a future term as governor, Brown needs to come up with a more creative solution to the overcrowding issue. Or else he will get at least some of the blame for any new crime increase that might come.
California courts sought stability, found instability
When the Legislature and then-Gov. Pete Wilson agreed in 1997 that the state would assume the entire cost of financing California’s largest-in-the-nation court system, judges rejoiced. What seemed like a good idea at the time, however, has become a classic example of how political decisions often carry unintended consequences. Some of the court system’s problems are self-inflicted. The shift to state support was supposed to bring financial stability to the courts but instead has brought much higher instability. It wasn’t the first time a sweeping policy backfired: The disastrous 1996 energy “deregulation” scheme is another classic example. And it won’t be the last. Meanwhile, the Legislature is on the verge of passing a bill – pushed by unions and opposed by judges – that would make the court system’s financial travails even worse.
Whom do we hold accountable for vital services?
Who ensures that California has an adequate supply of reasonably priced electric power? Who oversees Californians’ access to health care, now the state’s largest single economic activity? Who’s responsible for collecting $200 billion a year in state and local sales, income, excise and property taxes? ho controls resources for the nation’s largest court system to resolve criminal and civil conflicts? Who controls the flow of that most precious commodity, water? In other words, whom do we hold politically accountable for the public and private services that are utterly vital to our personal, collective, social and economic well-being? Don’t know? Don’t feel ignorant because, really, no one knows. Jurisdiction for these and many other aspects of modern life have been diffused among so many agencies that even the most astute observer can be flummoxed. So who’s accountable for outcomes? Seemingly everyone, and therefore no one.
Cheap politics revives a bitter old debate
Senate resolution denounces Pete Wilson for 1994's Proposition 187
Poet Khalil Gibran wrote that “The real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners pleasantly.” And so on Monday, Senate Republicans stoically endured one of the rudest and most gratuitous floor debates this year, as Democrats brought up a resolution dealing with a long-dead statewide initiative. Senate Resolution 51, which passed on a 24-7 party line vote, marked the 20th anniversary of Proposition 187’s qualification for the ballot “as a day to celebrate California’s diversity and a united future.” Really, it turned into a chance for the Democratic leadership to unleash politically tinged rhetoric under the guise of a state proclamation. Democratic senators — including those who often prattle about civility and ethnic harmony — decided to rehash that ugly, old debate for no practical purpose.
Legislators lack direction for a water fix
Few issues are more important to the future of California than providing a reliable source of water for the state’s growing population. But despite the sense of urgency caused by this year’s particularly severe drought, legislators still aren’t sure exactly what to do about the problem.
Los Angeles Times
Have police departments gone too far with SWAT units?
The ACLU study looked at a tiny fraction of police agencies, so its conclusions should be treated with caution. Still, the routine use of SWAT units to serve warrants has been documented elsewhere and constitutes a worrisome example of mission creep: If police departments have the units, they tend to use them, even in scenarios for which they were not initially envisioned. Militarized teams were deployed about 3,000 times a year in the 1980s; by the mid-2000s, annual deployments reached 45,000.
Latinos have paid price for broken criminal justice system
Criminal justice reform is no longer optional in California. Overflowing prisons, budget-busting costs and federal court orders have seen to that. Now an equally unstoppable force is emerging to shape solutions – the state’s growing Latino population. Immigration tops media coverage of Latino concerns for good reason, but California’s search for alternatives to mass incarceration puts Latinos at the center of a decision-making process that cannot be postponed. Latinos have paid disproportionate costs for the dysfunction. They’ll have to play a disproportionate role in any fix. Compared with whites, Latinos are more likely to be murdered, killed by strangers and shot. They get burglarized more often and are more likely to experience multiple crimes. Research also reveals a pattern of cumulative disadvantage in the justice system, in which Latinos face unequal treatment at every stage, from unjustified police stops to harsher sentencing.
California politicians trying to draft a new water bond
With the state budget behind them, the Capitol’s politicians are turning to water, always California’s most divisive political issue – but particularly so during a very severe drought, as a state Senate debate and vote demonstrated Monday. They are trying – some harder than others – to write a new water bond to replace an $11.1 billion proposal placed on the ballot in 2009 but already postponed twice and widely believed to face voter rejection. Six would-be successors are floating around the Capitol while private negotiations among politicians and myriad stakeholders seek a magic mix that could win two-thirds legislative votes and stand a decent chance of voter approval. The many moving parts demonstrate anew what decades of water politics have proved – any change that gains support from one set of interests often raises opposition from others.
Plastic bag ban scam nails consumers, enriches grocers
When municipal officials started to impose bans on lightweight plastic shopping bags, it seemed like the latest attempt to inflict a little pain on consumers — a mostly symbolic effort to make us feel like we were “doing something” to save the planet. But as a statewide plastic-bag bill advances in the Assembly, it’s clear it also largely is about money — about protecting some industries and trying to shift around the costs of waste disposal and cleanup.
PUC under Peevey just keeps getting worse
The California Public Utilities Commission is a disaster. The degree of incompetence is so high, it's hard to find anything the PUC does well under President Michael Peevey's leadership. Gov. Jerry Brown has refused to remove Peevey, but he's got to find a new leader for this critically important regulatory body when Peevey's term expires at the end of the year. If Brown renominates Peevey, the state Senate should refuse to confirm him.
Low primary voter turnout foretells November, could hurt Democrats
Although election officials are still counting votes from the June 3 primary election – and a few contests are still in doubt – the lukewarm tenor of the Nov. 4 general election is evident, and that could be bad news for California’s dominant Democrats.
Ignored issues undercut Legislature’s better image
Approval ratings of the California Legislature, as measured in periodic polling, were in the teens a few years ago but have since improved. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California says that 40 percent of all adults – but just 29 percent of likely voters – like the Legislature’s performance. A couple of balanced budgets probably account for the Legislature’s better public standing. However, the next time you hear someone crow about what a bang-up job the Legislature is doing, consider these glaring shortcomings.
Californians should wise up about our stupid tax code
Are California taxes too low or too high? Fair or unfair? Whatever. Most important, our code is stupid. You'd think rival states such as Nevada, Texas or Florida designed our tax code to undermine us. Our tax situation is absurd. It is time to start over. And now is the moment to do it. We have solid Democratic and reasonably functional legislative majorities, and a powerful and remarkably sensible governor, plus the potential to get even the Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce on board. The solution is a straightforward and standard prescription in economics. California should tax primarily what can never escape its borders: its real estate. And we should abandon state income and sales taxes.
Four reasons why the bad guys lost
I do not mean to overstate the case. But we can pat ourselves gently on the back after last Tuesday's primary election. There were signs -- tentative but clear -- that voters sniffed out the fools and pretenders and chose a better class of candidate. Voters remain busy, and they don't always follow the ins and outs of a campaign. But it's becoming harder to remain blissfully ignorant of the warts of our elected officials.
Is debate over Internet gambling about morals or market share?
My favorite way to explain the regulatory process, at least when it comes to regulating vices, harkens back to Prohibition. The two groups that lobbied most heavily to keep alcoholic-beverage sales illegal were the “Baptists and the bootleggers” — the former for moral reasons and the latter for financial ones. A similarly odd alliance has emerged as the California Legislature moves forward on a bid to legalize online poker. Various groups, from online poker companies to Indian casinos to a billionaire owner of a Las Vegas casino company, have been taking positions that they say are based on protecting the public.
Election indicates GOP may be coming back
It’s risky – perhaps even foolhardy – to read much into the results of an abysmally low turnout primary election. With that caveat, however, it appears that the California Republican Party, which has been on the brink of utter irrelevance, may be making at least a mild comeback. Three of its candidates for statewide office present a new, more moderate and more inclusive face to voters, with banker Neel Kashkari’s defeat of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly the most obvious example.
David Evans and his smart daughter impress the pros
Just about the time you think you understand California politics, David Evans comes along, with his daughter, Kistie. Evans is the California City accountant who spent $600 on his campaign for state controller. As of election day, Evans was in a dead heat with former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, the goliath who spent $2 million and is the choice of much of organized labor, for the second spot in the top-two primary. “It is not rocket science,” Evans told me by phone Wednesday. “I don’t profess to be the smartest political guru. But I did pretty well on $600.” He spent that princely sum on his ballot statement, which reads, in full: “Most qualified for Controller.” That’s it. He listed his email address in the official voter information guide. His personal email. And his phone number. Not his campaign headquarters number. He doesn’t have a headquarters. His sent his own number to 17.7 million registered voters in California. And he answers it himself, “Hullo.” Wise pundits offer plenty of reasons why Evans amassed 636,109 votes on election day, to Pérez’s 638,545 votes and 632,109 votes for Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, another Democrat who spent $600,000. The three trail Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, but not by a great deal.
Jungle primary leads to tame results
Economists use a term called “rational ignorance” to describe a sobering political reality: Voters often pay minimal attention to the choices that appear on the ballot because they find it’s not worth the time to do lots of research given the low chance of any single vote having much influence. That’s especially so when there’s little at stake in the races. Perhaps this theory explains the projected statewide turnout near the record low of 28.2 percent from Tuesday’s primary election yawner. The top spot in the governor’s race was a foregone conclusion. Second place was more notable — with Neel Kashkari defeating Tim Donnelly — but mainly to political junkies and GOP leaders, who are trying to figure out a way to remain relevant in this increasingly Democratic state.
Top-two primary gives business interests an opening
Professional politicians clearly dislike California’s still-new “top-two” primary election system, which was forced on them by voters. Placing all candidates on the same primary ballot, with the two top finishers facing each other in a November runoff, makes outcomes less predictable by broadening the universe of voters who can cast ballots. If there’s anything political pros dislike, it’s uncertainty. Amateur ideologues who dominated closed primaries, but now wield less influence, also aren’t happy. The top-two system was sold to voters as a reform to reduce ideological polarization in a dysfunctional Legislature by allowing pragmatists and centrists – with appeal to a more homogenous voter pool – to win seats. California’s business community, which supported the top-two system, wanted to sand off the Legislature’s ideological corners – especially those of the Capitol’s dominant Democrats. Business interests wage perennial political war with liberal groups – unions, environmentalists, consumer advocates and personal injury lawyers – over the latter’s legislative agenda. Electing more centrist Democrats, executives believed, would make it easier for their lobbyists to win bill battles. The 2012 elections were the top-two system’s first test and outcomes appeared, in the main, to meet business expectations.
New progressive cry: Power to legislators
Few things have defined California’s politics more than the three election reforms championed by the state’s 23rd governor – the initiative, the referendum and the recall. Hiram Johnson’s system of direct democracy, used early and often in California since 1911, was designed to place power in the hands of “the people.” That era’s “progressives” believed voters needed the power to circumvent legislators, who were beholden to railroad barons and other special interests. Johnson said the reforms “may prevent the misuse of the power temporarily centralized in the Legislature” and will help control “weak officials.” Today’s Legislature is dominated by officials who also call themselves progressives, yet many of them have become increasingly leery of direct democracy. They routinely propose bills to rein in the use of the initiative in particular.
‘Save or spend’ is the main issue in budget negotiations
It’s been nearly a decade since the Capitol’s politicians last had a substantial amount of extra money to spend. During the mid-2000s, a short-lived housing boom poured billions of extra dollars into the state’s coffers, and politicians pumped them out as fast as they came in. General fund spending exploded by nearly 30 percent in three years. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was an eager spender to overcome declining popularity as he sought re-election in 2006. Schwarzenegger used the windfall to placate interest groups – unions, particularly – that had whipped him a year earlier on ballot measures, even though the revenue jolt, everyone knew, was temporary. Within two years, the economy was in free fall, revenues were plummeting, and the state had begun to run up massive budget deficits. It was not the first time that Capitol politicians had squandered a short-term spurt of revenues. But would it be the last?
Los Angeles Times
How California's Supreme Court called the police unions' bluff
Last week's ruling by the California Supreme Court requiring police agencies to make public the names of officers involved in most shootings was a clear victory for public scrutiny and police accountability, both important mainstays of a functioning democracy. The ruling, which held that the Public Records Act does not exempt the names of officers in shootings, has been welcomed by advocates of open government, and clearly demonstrates this court's embrace of the public's role in supervising its representatives.
What’s at stake in this primary election?
It’s a pretty strange election when the most interesting contest is between two Republicans vying for the right to be buried in a Jerry Brown landslide. The duel between Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the darling of the Republican right, and Neel Kashkari, a moderate whom the GOP establishment hopes will eke out a win, gets a lot of media attention simply because there’s not much else to stir interest. Apparently voters agree with that appraisal because the voting that started a month ago and ends on Tuesday is likely to be among the lowest turnouts for a statewide election in memory.
State policies exacerbate poverty by raising living costs
CNN, the television news network, offers a handy website calculator that allows a user to compare the cost-of-living differentials among the nation’s towns and cities. It reveals, for instance, that someone contemplating a move from Austin, the capital of Texas, to Sacramento would have to pay 22 percent more for otherwise identical basics such as groceries, housing, utilities, transportation and health care. And that doesn’t take into account California’s substantially higher taxes. Using CNN’s calculator to make various comparisons essentially confirms what most Californians already know – this is a relatively expensive place in which to live. It’s the reason, for instance, that the Census Bureau, using an alternative method of calculating poverty that includes cost of living, determined that California has the nation’s highest rate with nearly a quarter of its 38 million residents impoverished. Liberal legislators propose all sorts of remedies, ranging from increasing the minimum wage and welfare benefits to raising taxes on the wealthy. However, they never examine how their own policies may be contributing to the syndrome by raising the costs of living. Restrictive land-use policies are certainly a factor in high housing costs, while green-energy mandates are raising utility rates sharply and soon will push gasoline prices, already among the nation’s highest, even higher. Moreover, as basic living costs rise, they put upward pressure on wages in all sectors, which translate into higher costs for other services and commodities. It’s fine to talk about government programs to help the poor, but wouldn’t it be better to alleviate the high living costs they face every day, and to create an economic climate that would give them more opportunities to climb the ladder through better jobs? Or at the very least, not consciously push their living costs even higher?
Environmentalists Cheer California's Latest Plan to Sink Its Economy
Environmentalists are gleeful at the news reported last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that the amount of recoverable oil from California's Monterey Shale formation — predicted to be the nation's largest reserve of oil — is a whopping 96-percent below original production estimates.
Fixing the DWP starts with culture shift
Fixing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will take no less than a change in its culture, its attitude, its habit of telling customers what they should want and to hell with what they do want.
Sacramento Update Washington D.C. Update