So the Second Amendment isn't so bad after all
California gun sales jump; gun injuries, deaths fall
Gun deaths and injuries have dropped sharply in California, even as the number of guns sold in the state has risen, according to new state data. Dealers sold 600,000 guns in California last year, up from 350,000 in 2002, according to records of sale tallied by the California Attorney General's office. During that same period, the number of California hospitalizations due to gun injuries declined from about 4,000 annually to 2,900, a roughly 25 percent drop, according to hospital records collected by the California Department of Public Health. Firearm-related deaths fell from about 3,200 annually to about 2,800, an 11 percent drop, state health figures show. Most of the drop in firearm-related injuries and deaths can be explained by a well-documented, nationwide drop in violent crime. The number of California injuries and deaths attributed to accidental discharge of firearms also has fallen. The number of suicide deaths involving firearms has remained roughly constant.
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Meet the California GOP's "Super-Minority" leaders!
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
|Los Angeles Times
Schools howl about fair funding plan and being held accountable for student performance
Schools with fewer needy students decry California funding change
The budget passed by the state Legislature on Friday gives more money to districts with higher concentrations of needy students. The compromise between Brown and state lawmakers raises the amount of money schools receive per pupil, known as the base grant, while giving local officials more flexibility over the money. It also revised the formula for distributing billions of dollars to disadvantaged students. Districts will receive an extra 20% of the base grant for each student who is from a low-income household, in foster care or still learning English, and an additional 50% for each pupil above the 55% threshold. Los Angeles Unified School District is the state's biggest recipient, projected to receive $1.5 billion by 2020-21 for its neediest pupils, who make up 86% of the student body. That amounts to $3,359 per student, according to state data. L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy hailed the budget formula as striking the "right balance" between restoring funding for all students and giving more aid to needy ones. "Those who have the least need the most support," he said. Other districts set for sizable supplements include Compton, Lynwood, San Bernardino, Fresno, Santa Ana and Anaheim. But Torrance, where 37% of the students qualify as disadvantaged, and 35 other school districts that will not receive as much recently formed the California School Finance Reform Coalition to lobby for changes. They have argued that more dollars should go toward restoring the programs serving all students that were slashed under crippling budgets during the last five years. Members also are urging for research into how much money is needed to effectively boost the academic performance of needy students.
San Francisco Chronicle
Nice stadium can't make up for crappy team
Cal’s whopping stadium debt: Selling pricey seats isn’t enough to pay it, officials admit
The plan was simple: Transform Cal’s aged Memorial Stadium into a sparkling new facility, add a state-of-the-art athletic center, and pay for it all by selling off the best club seats for the price of a high-end sports car or a new house, depending. All 2,902 seats were supposed to be sold by this month. Unfortunately for Cal, it appears most people prefer spending their car money on cars, and their house money on houses rather than on special seats to watch a (so far) losing football team. Worse, the stadium debt sits at nearly half a billion dollars.
Fresno among cities still teetering on edge of bankruptcy
Two inland cities, Stockton and San Bernardino, have filed for bankruptcy. Several others are teetering on the cusp. They include Fresno, the state's fifth largest city. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin's nearly $1 billion budget hinged on her plan to outsource trash collection to a private firm that would pay the city millions of dollars in franchise fees. Unions challenged it via a special election. Last week, a long vote count finally resulted in rejection of her plan. Fresno is scrambling to fill the hole, but may be forced to declare a financial emergency, a first step toward bankruptcy.
California finances healthy now, but huge bills coming due
Let's say you were buried under an avalanche of debt for years and could only make the minimum payments on your credit card bills. But then you started cutting back your expenses -- and even got a raise at work. Suddenly, you were paying your bills on time, and even going out to eat a couple of times a month. But then you find a huge stack of bills in your desk drawer from years past, and the first payments from that no-money-down car loan come due. Then your adjustable mortgage rate starts going up. And you realize things aren't as rosy as you first thought. That's one way to look at the situation facing California lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown as they celebrate a balanced budget that even includes a small surplus, all while staring down a mountain of future bills that amounts to more than twice the total of this year's general-fund budget -- more than $200 billion worth.
Reporters turing on their pals the Calderons...
Political clan wields clout
Robert Fierro, a preschool teacher and a city council member in this industrial town of fewer than 13,000 residents, didn't fully fathom the tidal forces and the powerful family he was taking on in 2008. He soon learned what he came to see as realities of California's 30th Senate District in southeast Los Angeles County: You don't provoke the political clan that is the Calderon family. Especially, you don't mess with one of its preferred patrons, the Central Basin Municipal Water District. "If you go after their special interests, they were going to come after you," said Fierro, who barely survived a Calderon-backed attempt to recall him from office. The clout and entitlements of this local dynasty are under scrutiny after FBI raids on the Sacramento office of Democratic state Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello and Southern California businesses with ties to his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon. The two are now directing reporters to their lawyers. In this diverse working-class district, where the family has long been revered and feared, residents find themselves rethinking their encounters with the Calderons over the years. Darrell Heacock, a local Realtor and longtime school board member in Montebello, remains an admirer and defender of the family. He calls them a "team of winners," "articulate" and "effective."
Los Angeles Times
Brown targets enterprise-zone tax credits
A battle is raging over a California program that grants businesses tax breaks for creating jobs but prevents the public from knowing who got them and why. At issue are enterprise zones, which were established to boost employment in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods and rural areas. California is home to 40 of these special districts, in which about 35,000 companies have qualified for tax credits. Last year they reaped an estimated $700 million in credits — a figure that state tax officials project will grow to $1 billion by 2016. Giants FedEx Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have availed themselves of these incentives, which are worth as much as $37,400 for each hire. So have small businesses, including two Sacramento strip clubs named Gold Club Inc. and Deja Vu Showgirls. But the identities of most beneficiaries are a mystery. Because of the confidential nature of state tax laws, it's nearly impossible to find out which companies got credits, how much they were worth and how the companies qualified for them. Gov. Jerry Brown is now seeking to eliminate enterprise zones, which he has decried as inefficient, opaque and "loose" in handing out tax breaks. His administration contends that the program has rewarded some firms for simply moving jobs from one part of California to another and that it has helped businesses not located in impoverished areas. And it has showered benefits on low-wage industries including fast-food restaurants and retailers that do little to build middle-class jobs.
Los Angeles Times
The Church's latest cowardly act...
Teacher at Catholic school loses job over ex-husband's actions
A veteran teacher at a Catholic school has lost her job because school officials are worried her ex-husband, now serving a jail sentence for domestic abuse and stalking, will pose a danger to students and teachers when he is released. When Martin Charlesworth, 41, showed up at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon in January, school officials put the school on lockdown and called police. By coming to the school, he was in violation of a restraining order, court records indicate. Later, school officials put second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth on "indefinite leave" and removed her four children from the school. Since then, Charlesworth, 39, has been on paid leave but recently was informed that, after 14 years as a teacher in the San Diego Catholic diocese, she will not be offered a teaching job for next school year. "Please understand that this was a very difficult decision to make, and we are deeply, deeply sorry about this situation," the diocese's director of schools wrote. "We will continue to pray for you and your family." Charlesworth said Friday that she and her children are being punished for her ex-husband's volatile behavior. She said she is unsure how she will support the family. "I was shocked that they were going to leave me without a job," she said. "It was devastating."
Dems bask in the glory of their campaign victories
California budget negotiations a breeze for Jerry Brown
California lawmakers have adopted on-time budgets so rarely in recent decades that the one they negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown this week filled the Capitol with an air of self-satisfaction -- if not disbelief. "Ho-hum," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the accord. "Another on-time, balanced budget in California." Brown had already thanked Steinberg and his colleagues for "doing their job and doing it well." By the time lawmakers approved the budget bill and began taking up the rest of the 22-bill budget package Friday, the only question was whether they could finish in time to start their weekend without returning for final votes this morning, the constitutional deadline. Yet this contentedness belied the extent of the rift between Brown and legislative Democrats over the budget as recently as a month ago. Brown dismissed a surge in tax revenue and promoted a relatively conservative spending plan, while Democratic lawmakers said they wanted more money for state services and programs.
Los Angeles Times
In the GOP fantasy world Jerry Brown is a conservative
'Less liberal' is the new conservative in state Capitol
As the Democrats who control the Capitol congratulated themselves over this week's state budget deal, another dynamic emerged: support from across the political divide for Gov. Jerry Brown's thrifty ways. Republicans who a few years ago had enough clout to hold up spending plans and block tax increases now rely on the governor, once the epitome of liberalism, to give them a voice in budget talks. They praised Brown as "conservative" and "restrained" — even if their support lacked a certain warmth — saying he at least attempted to put the brakes on the Legislature's more generous Democratic leadership. "In many ways, he's the Republicans' vehicle for budget negotiations," said Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), vice-chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. "It's through his less liberal approach that Republicans are able to … participate in what's going on."
Los Angeles Times
The latest Lib-tard fantasy: California passes a budget that could be a federal template
California lawmakers passed a budget Friday that lays the groundwork for the largest expansion of public healthcare in the country, placing the state at the leading edge of President Obama's federal overhaul. The budget, which the governor has until June 30 to sign, will also increase funding for schools, public universities and social services — a dramatic turnaround after years of deficits and cuts. The Legislature approved the $96.3-billion spending plan after a relatively smooth series of negotiations between Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders that maintained much of the fiscal restraint urged by the governor. California still faces financial problems, including the spiraling cost of public employee pensions. But lawmakers welcomed the change of fortune fueled by the improving economy and new taxes approved by voters in November at Brown's request. Senate budget chairman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) called the spending plan "the most encouraging and positive budget I've seen in my 11 years in the Capitol." Lawmakers are scheduled to return to work Saturday to consider more budget-related bills, most of them involving implementation. But the bulk of the spending legislation, which takes effect July 1, now heads to the governor's desk. The expansion of health coverage is a core part of the budget.
More bungling by GOP (what about the political process don't they get?)
FPPC alleges Berryhill brothers laundered campaign cash
As interest swirls around the Calderon brothers after federal agents raided Sen. Ron Calderon's office last week, California's ethics agency has set its sights on another pair of brothers in California politics.
The Fair Political Practices Commission has accused Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, and former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill of laundering more than $40,000 of campaign contributions in 2008. In administrative charges filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings in October, the FPPC alleges that Tom Berryhill laundered contributions to his brother's 2008 Assembly campaign through two county central committees. The FPPC also accused the Republican central committees from Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties of "aiding and abetting" the effort. Though most officials cited by the FPPC agree to a fine and settle with the commission, the Berryhill brothers and the central committees have denied the allegations and will try to combat the charges before a judge. The administrative hearing, originally scheduled for Monday, has been pushed back to November, according to FPPC officials.
This bridge has become a scam on taxpayers...
Incentives for Bay Bridge contractors raise concern
A Bay Area lawmaker expressed frustration Friday about a response from a top transportation official to concerns about the influence of incentives to contractors building the new Bay Bridge. "The contractors will receive an additional $20 million incentive payment if they reach a vaguely explained 'readiness for seismic safety opening' determination," said Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, in an interview. "I would hate to see Caltrans write a $20 million check on Labor Day and have the bridge open several months later because of other problems." Levine co-authored a request from 14 legislators to Steve Heminger, chairman of the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, voicing concerns that incentives might push construction too fast, jeopardizing safety on the troubled span. The bridge faces problems with broken bolts, corroded tendons, foundation-testing lapses and faulty welds. Heminger, who also heads the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said in a letter to the legislators that incentives do not drive the opening date. The $20 million payment would be based on the completion of certain major structural, mechanical, electrical and paving work, among other items. The contractor could receive the money even if the span fails to open as scheduled, just as it had received earlier incentives.
Bay Bridge: Open new span with or without bolt repairs, experts say
Nothing should stop Caltrans from opening the new Bay Bridge on Sept. 3 as planned, say two of the three internationally renowned bridge and seismic engineering experts commissioned to review its construction. The remaining punch-list items -- including the bolt-by-bolt examination that began in March when three dozen anchor rods snapped on the span -- are "minuscule compared to the overall seismic safety of the new bridge," said Frieder Seible, chairman of the Toll Bridge Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel. "There is no reason to keep traffic off the new bridge until after every last bolt has been 100 percent absolutely checked." "There is every reason to believe (the new bridge) will open by Labor Day," added fellow peer review panelist John Fisher. Transportation authorities are still one month and many test results away from a go/no-go decision on the opening. But Seible and Fisher said the critical findings are already in: The bridge relies on the broken bolts only during an earthquake, they said, and even if seismic repairs are incomplete Sept. 3, the new span is far and above the safest option for the 280,000 vehicles that will cross the bridge daily.
Los Angeles Times
Kaiser's Obamacare rates surprise analysts
In California's new state-run health insurance market, Kaiser Permanente will cost you. The healthcare giant has the highest rates in Southern California and some other areas of the state, surpassing rivals such as Anthem Blue Cross and other smaller competitors. The relatively high premiums from such a strong supporter of the federal healthcare law surprised industry analysts, and it has sparked considerable debate about the company's motives. Some experts say Kaiser intentionally bid high to avoid drawing too many customers next year who are sick or who have been uninsured for years and may be costlier to treat. Others suspect Kaiser was worried that lower premiums would bring an influx of newly insured patients that could overwhelm its in-house roster of doctors and hospitals. Making health insurance affordable is a crucial factor in the expansion of coverage to an estimated 5 million Californians — many of them lower-income and the uninsured — who will be eligible for a state-run exchange next year. Price will be paramount to many consumers, even for those who receive federal subsidies to help lower their costs.
Schools eye smaller classes, teacher raises after California budget deal
Woodland school leaders want to shrink kindergarten class rosters now jammed with 30 students. Natomas Superintendent Chris Evans wants to add a week of school. And Washington Unified leaders will give raises to teachers in West Sacramento. After Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders struck a deal this week to increase education funding for years to come, local districts are eager to expand programs for the first time since a recessionary wave of budget cuts hit schools in 2009. The state budget deal gives K-12 leaders confidence that they will have more money to spend next school year, and it charts a course to increase funding through 2020-21. It directs even more dollars to districts with high concentrations of poor students or English learners.
CalPERS loses lawsuit, must pay $52 million
CalPERS was ordered to pay about $52 million to a former business partner in a dispute over fees generated by an investment in a string of Florida nursing homes. A judge in Delaware ruled last month against CalPERS in a lawsuit filed by the former partner, an affiliate of New York investment banking firm Shattuck Hammond Partners. The firm is now known as Morgan Keegan Healthcare Investment Banking. The lawsuit stems from a partnership formed in 2001. The firm and the California Public Employees' Retirement System invested $250 million in a group of senior housing and skilled-nursing facilities in Florida. Within a few years, a disagreement arose over the fees CalPERS was supposed to pay the firm for managing the investment. The fees were based on independent appraisals of the value of the properties, and on two occasions CalPERS pressured the appraisal firms to revise estimates downward, according to the court's ruling. The Shattuck firm left the partnership in late 2008 and sued in a Delaware court a few months later.
Expanded role to examine Bay Bridge problems proposed for LAO panel
California Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Transportation and Housing Committee, on Wednesday introduced a revision of Senate Bill 110 to expand the scope of an expert panel examining questions facing the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The panel was assembled early this year by the Legislative Analyst's Office to address the structural stability of the foundation of the new span's iconic tower. Investigations found construction and testing problems for that foundation, and conflicts of interest among members of a Caltrans review panel that approved it.
San Leandro sued for targeting gay men with undercover sting operation
The city and its police department are being sued in federal court for violating the civil rights of gay men by having officers conduct undercover sting operations in hopes of stopping sexual activity in a restroom near the San Leandro Marina. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two men arrested during an undercover sting, could eventually represent dozens of gay men who were arrested for attempting to conduct a lewd act in public but never charged with a crime. Prostitution was not a factor in any of the cases cited in the federal lawsuit. Claims against the city and police department stem from city officials' attempts to thwart an activity commonly known as cruising, in which gay men congregate in a public area in hopes of finding a partner for sexual activity. While it's technically illegal to engage in sexual activity in a public place, targeting only gay men for the activity is troublesome and could be a valid example of discrimination, legal experts said. In the lawsuit filed against San Leandro, Steven Mengel and Michael Woody accused city officials of purposely targeting only gay men in its effort to stop sexual activity in public places. Furthermore, the men claim that the city caused emotional distress by distributing news releases identifying them and notifying the public that they had been arrested for attempting to conduct a lewd act in public. Mengel was arrested and charged with a crime in June 2012 but had his case dismissed by an Alameda County judge in November. Woody was also arrested in June 2012 but never charged with a crime.
Hands-free systems in cars are more distracting than handheld phones
Buy a new car today and you'll most likely be able to use your voice to send text messages and emails, check your Facebook page or order takeout food while driving. No need to hold a cellphone in your hand. But using hands-free devices that translate speech into text is actually more distracting than using a handheld phone, a study released Wednesday by AAA's Foundation for Highway Safety concludes. The finding poses a direct challenge to the direction that many automobile manufacturers, working closely with high-tech firms, are moving. "We're addicted to our phones, and once we hear the ping of a text or the ping of an incoming call as we drive, it's hard to ignore," said Chris Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety, calling the study's conclusions a five-alarm warning for motorists. What makes the use of these speech-to-text systems so risky is that they create a significant cognitive distraction, researchers found. The brain is so engrossed in interacting with the system that, even with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, the driver's reaction time and ability to process what's happening are impaired.
California budget deal overhauls four-decade-old school funding model
Seven months after his tax initiative refueled funding for California's beleaguered public schools, Gov. Jerry Brown has orchestrated what's being billed as a major overhaul of how the state funds K-12 education. The deal, scheduled for a vote Friday as part of the state's 2013-14 budget plan, gives districts more control over their own spending and props up schools that teach the most disadvantaged kids. The new formula will untangle four decades of growing mandates that created more than 60 pots of money for programs like school lunches and libraries. After years of state deficits focused the school funding debate on budget cuts, the proceeds from Brown's Proposition 30 and rebounding economy positioned the state to change the conversation. Starting this fall, most of California's roughly 1,000 school districts will receive a larger base grant to spend as they see fit -- supplemented by money for hard-to-educate students. Districts where more than 55 percent of students are poor, English learners or foster kids will receive even more money.
SEIU pay-raise deal could spawn hikes for other unions
California's largest public employee union and Gov. Jerry Brown reached a new labor agreement early Tuesday, sending a strong signal that pay raises are possible to other unions bargaining contracts with the administration. The centerpiece of the deal gives the 95,000 employees covered by SEIU Local 1000 an across-the-board 4.5 percent raise - far less than what the union wanted - and defers the increase until at least mid-2014, depending on the state's finances. The Service Employees International Union's tentative deal could form the basis of deals for the nine other unions bargaining contracts with the administration. Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Brown said the SEIU agreement is "a fair proposal" but declined to say more.
Nevada facing lawsuit over busing of mentally ill patients
Pols here mad that Nevada stole their idea on how to dump patients
The state of Nevada and its primary psychiatric hospital violated the constitutional rights of mentally ill people by discharging them via Greyhound bus to cities across the nation without proper consent or making arrangements for their care, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas charges. Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada on Tuesday jointly filed the lawsuit involving patient treatment at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas. The complaint, which seeks class-action status, names former Rawson-Neal patient James Flavy Coy Brown, 48, as its chief plaintiff. Rawson-Neal staff discharged Brown to a Greyhound bus bound for Sacramento without making arrangements for his treatment, housing or care.
California legislators question incentive payments to speed Bay Bridge opening
Bay Area members of the California Assembly and Senate formally requested that officials responsible for the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge disclose any incentives promised to the span's builders if it opens as proposed on Labor Day weekend. Public confidence in the project could be harmed, they said in a letter, by any appearance of a rush to meet the deadline by contractors seeking financial rewards. Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said in an interview that the request by 14 legislators to Steve Heminger, chair of the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, was meant to help ensure "that commuters know that safety is the paramount concern that is driving the opening of the new span."
Los Angeles Times
Brown, lawmakers come to terms on key budget issues
Jerry Brown and top lawmakers have reached agreement on some of the most contentious issues in the state budget, granting the governor significant victories on the redistribution of school money and expectations of revenue. The budget plan would increase funding for schools across the board and send extra money to districts with large numbers of poor students and English learners — a key goal for Brown. In addition, legislative leaders agreed to use Brown's more conservative estimates for state income, bolstering the governor's ability to limit state spending. The Legislature must pass a budget by Saturday, and the governor must sign it before it can take effect July 1. With those deadlines looming, lawmakers have been trying to refocus Sacramento's attention on state finances rather than a federal investigation into one of their own, Sen. Ronald Calderon (D-Montebello). Calderon returned to the Capitol on Monday for the first time since the FBI searched his office almost a week ago, and he broke his silence on the issue. A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Times last week that authorities are examining Calderon's "income stream." City officials in Los Angeles County and a utility contractor said federal agents have been asking questions about connections between a controversial water district, the senator and his brother, Tom Calderon, a consultant and former assemblyman.
As FBI probe roils the Capitol, Brown, Democratic leaders reach deal on budget
Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders reached agreement Monday on major elements of the state budget, including a compromise on Brown's controversial proposal to shift more money to poor and English-learning students. The proposal, which had been criticized by wealthier, suburban school districts, gained leadership's support after Brown modified it to spread more money to school districts statewide. In a major victory for Brown, Democratic leaders agreed to base the state's annual spending plan on the governor's relatively conservative economic forecast for the coming year. He proposed a $96.4 billion budget in May.
Calderon returns to Capitol following office search
Sen. Ron Calderon returned to the Capitol on Monday for the first time since the FBI searched his offices last week. The Democrat from Montebello spoke for about a minute and a half to a throng of reporters outside the Senate chambers, saying he and his family had "gone through a lot in the last several days," and that he wouldn't answer any inquiries from the media. "We're all anxious to put this behind us and carry on with a normal life," Calderon said. Legislative officials have said they expect authorities to question many people in the Capitol as part of the Calderon investigation. So far, Sen. Kevin de León is the only one to acknowledge that he's been subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney's office.
Huff Leads GOP Senators in support of $2 billion tax increase
With a Democratic supermajority, Republican votes no longer are needed to increase taxes in the California Senate. Yet in a strange development, five GOP senators backed a tax increase anyway. SB 11 is a $2.3 billion tax “extension” co-authored by a Democratic state senator, Fran Pavley of Calabasas; and by a Republican state senator, Anthony Cannella of Ceres. It passed the full Senate, 32-5, with two not voting and one vacancy. Yet in addition to Cannella, Republicans voting for it were Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Brea and Sens. Bill Emmerson of Redlands, Jean Fuller of Bakersfield and Mimi Walters of Irvine. Although Cannella did not, the latter four all signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a solemn promise never to raise taxes. The Senate Republican Caucus’ own analysis identified the bill as “the continuation of billions of dollars of vehicle registration fees and tire taxes for eight years.” Yet not a single Senator, Republican or Democrat, spoke against the bill. None of the Republican senators who signed the anti-tax pledge responded to CalWatchdog.com’s request for comment on their tax flip-flop. A spokesman for Huff referred comment to a YouTube video, in which Huff referenced his vote.
Los Angeles Times
Will the state really crack down on MD's Medi-Cal racket?
Doctors brace for pain as 10% cut to Medi-Cal rates looms
State officials argue the 10% decrease is necessary to keep healthcare spending under control, but medical providers fear it will devastate an already shrinking workforce and jeopardize patient care. The reductions target physicians, dentists, clinics, pharmacists and hospital-based nursing facilities. The cuts, which are retroactive to 2011, are necessary to bring the state's books into balance, according to Gov. Jerry's Brown's administration. They are projected to save the state $459 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The governor proposed the reduced payments, and lawmakers approved them in 2011 as part of a larger effort to close a multibillion-dollar state deficit. But with the books now balanced and the state in better fiscal shape, many lawmakers want to restore that money for those who care for the poorest Californians. A coalition of medical groups sued to block the cuts but lost in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the coalition is planning an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and has asked the appellate court to stop the state until a ruling is made. Last week, thousands of doctors and healthcare workers also staged a rally in Sacramento to protest the cuts.
Los Angeles Times
Whack-job once again proves California's so-called "tough" gun laws are a joke
As fifth rampage victim dies, Santa Monica College struggles to cope
A fifth victim of the Santa Monica shooting rampage died Sunday as Santa Monica College students and staff tried to cope with the violence and prepared to return to the campus Monday. Student Marcela Franco, 26, died with her family by her side at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica College officials announced. Marcela, who had just enrolled for summer classes at the school, and her father, Carlos Navarro Franco, 68, a groundskeeper at the college, were shot in the father's SUV in a campus parking lot. Authorities are still trying to determine what caused John Zawahri, 23, to open fire on Santa Monica streets before ending up on the campus, where he was killed in a shootout with police. Law enforcement sources have said he was suffering from mental problems. Sources said Sunday that his mother, who was out of the country when the shooting occurred, is now back in California. Dressed in black and armed with high-powered weapons, Zawahri began his rampage shortly before noon Friday by killing his father, Samir Zawahri, 55, and his brother, Chris, 25, at their Yorkshire Avenue home and setting it on fire, authorities say. He then forced a woman to drive him to the college. On the way, Zawahri randomly fired at cars and shot at a city bus, injuring several people, police said. He shot at the Francos' red SUV as they exited a campus parking lot. Once on campus, Zawahri fatally shot an unidentified woman outside the library, then made his way inside the building, where police shot him as students ran or huddled in terror.
San Francisco Chronicle
Another case of an Islamic running wild with a gun?
Police ID gunman in deadly Santa Monica rampage
23-year-old John Zawahri's was officially named by police as the shooter on Sunday. Investigators trying to determine why Zawahri planned the shooting spree focused on a deadly act of domestic violence that touched off the mayhem. The elder Zawahri brought his family to the neighborhood of small homes and apartment buildings tucked up against Interstate 10 in the mid-1990s, according to property records. John Zawahri had a run-in with police seven years ago, but Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks wouldn't offer more details because he was a juvenile at the time. She said the gunman was enrolled at Santa Monica College in 2010.
San Pablo boldly moves toward police surveillance of most of city
Now, everyone is a suspect...and that's just fine with the Police
When drive-by shootings occur in North Richmond, the escape route often is through neighboring San Pablo. Soon, every corridor linking the two areas will be monitored with sophisticated cameras that can home in on license plates and even faces. The effort is part of the city's ambitious multiyear plan to blanket crime hot spots with high-tech cameras and other surveillance technology. "This is a cost-effective way to reduce crime," San Pablo police Chief Walt Schuld said. The city already has cameras at two schools and several intersections. In January, the council unanimously agreed to spend nearly $900,000 over three years, money that will help the city place more than 75 percent of its 2.6 square miles under surveillance with either cameras, license plate readers or ShotSpotter audio gunshot detection. Police departments throughout the Bay Area have ramped up use of surveillance cameras and gunshot audio-detection technology. They say it helps deter crime by providing real-time monitoring of areas, as well as record crimes in progress, speed response times, nab suspects and more efficiently deploy resources. Police in Pittsburg use surveillance cameras that display real-time videos on computers and even officers' smartphones, an innovation that San Pablo has adopted as well. But Schuld says San Pablo's program, in a small city of about 30,000, may become the most comprehensive, which is fine with him. "I don't have a problem with being out in front on this," he said.
Scandal in Sacramento exemplifies everything that is wrong with modern firefighters
Sac Metro sex scandal is backdrop for wrongful-termination trial
A wrongful termination trial scheduled to begin today in federal court threatens to revive the salacious details of a sex scandal that rocked the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. Capt. Mark Thomsen claims he was fired because he disobeyed orders from the district's chief and its attorney to keep quiet about multiple on-the-job sexual encounters and, instead, pushed others for a criminal investigation of alleged rape and sodomy. On the other hand, the district insists Thomsen was fired "for illegally altering computer records" in an attempt to protect a district board member caught up in an embarrassing situation. Thomsen, 45, dismisses that account as a pretext. He was terminated in March 2007 but was reinstated at the same rank in November 2008 as part of a binding arbitration award that also included back pay and benefits. The arbitrator found the district did not present "clear and convincing" evidence of wrongdoing.
Big detour urged for rail funds -- California GOPer wants rail funds to go to New York, not California
Rep. Jeff Denham, the chairman of the railroads subcommittee in the House of Representatives and, like many fellow House Republicans, a critic of California's high-speed rail project, says the money should go instead to Amtrak's busy but aging Northeast Corridor, which serves the nation's most densely populated region. "Given that there are over 11.4 million Amtrak riders and over 200 million commuters that use the Northeast Corridor every year, it would be an investment in an area where we have proven ridership," Denham said at a Friday hearing at the site of the future Moynihan Station in New York, which is intended to replace the cramped Penn Station across the street. Denham, of Turlock, and other members of Congress, joined by Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, rode a train Thursday from Washington to New York and saw for themselves many of the century-old bridges and tunnels that limit the number of trains the line can accommodate, as well as the speeds they can travel. California's high-speed rail project is set to break ground in the Central Valley this summer. The project is a top transportation priority for Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama, both Democrats. About $6 billion in state and federal funding will be spent building the "backbone" of an eventual 780-mile system that would connect the state's big population centers: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento.
Tax-boost plan undermines Stockton's bankruptcy case
After Stockton filed its bankruptcy petition, however, the city's voters, angry over the civic embarrassment and rising crime rates, elected a new mayor, Anthony Silva, and some like-minded City Council members who promised big changes. Silva wasn't kidding. He's championed a ballot measure that would raise the local sales tax by a half-cent, raising an estimated $18 million a year that would be entirely spent on beefing up the city's Police Department. Given Stockton's growing reputation for violent crime – a new state data report says San Joaquin County, i.e. Stockton, has the state's highest homicide rate – it's hard to argue with the need for better policing. However, proposing a tax increase while the city's bankruptcy case is pending may undermine its argument that the city has no option to reneging on its bonded debt.
Will GOP try to rehabilitate the remorseless Duke-ster?
What next for Duke Cunningham?
Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the disgraced former North County congressman, took his nickname from John Wayne, the larger than life Hollywood star whose Westerns sometimes ended with him riding off into the sunset. The question now is whether Cunningham will do the same. Will the 71-year-old Vietnam War ace, released Tuesday from federal custody after serving more than seven years in a $2.4 million bribery case, quietly retreat to a small cabin in rural Arkansas and wait for what he’s called “my last flight into the wild blue yonder”? Or will he take the route of countless scandal-plagued politicians before him and climb back into the spotlight, maybe on the speaking circuit or with a book promising the inside story of his spectacular fall from grace.
Municipal bond expert doubts CA recovery
California comeback? Maybe not. Municipal bond expert Meredith Whitney was interviewed by Steve Forbes in Forbes.com about her new book, “The Fate of the States: A New Geography of American Prosperity.” She is well known for predicting bank problems just before the September 2008 financial crisis. She made this trenchant statement about California: “What’s incredible is from 2008 to 2011 the U.S. G.D.P. (gross domestic product) grew 6 percent. But California grew 1 percent to 2 percent. But Louisiana grew in the high teens. So you have an incredible divide between high single digit G.D.P. growth in the central corridor and basically next to no growth on the coasts. It’s a rebalancing of the economy. So the entire G.D.P. is two-plus percent. It’s the tale of two very different countries, I think.” So California grew at 4 percentage points less, helping retard the national recovery. According to Whitney, your future economic fate will depend on the fate of the state you are living in. Whitney had more to say about California in her interview than any other state. And what she said is troublesome because many in the media have declared that California is making a recovery. Gov. Jerry Brown also said in his State of the State address, “California is back, its budget is balanced, and we are on the move.” According to Whitney, “smart money” is voting with its feet by choosing to build businesses in Texas and Louisiana instead of California. Whitney asks, “What is the ultimate quality of life differential? Do I really want to drive down the Pacific Highway every day? Is it worth twice the cost to live in Texas, in Austin, and Wyoming? How much are things really worth?”
De Leon to testify as California Capitol probe expands
Three days after the FBI searched a state senator's offices, another Democratic lawmaker said Friday he has received a federal subpoena and will testify before a Los Angeles grand jury in July. Sen. Kevin de León of Los Angeles pledged in a statement that he would "cooperate fully," and a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he anticipated others in the Capitol will be drawn into the investigation as it proceeds. Federal officials have yet to release any details about their motivation for searching the offices of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, on Tuesday evening. Greg Hayes, a spokesman for De León, said of the subpoena that "we assume it's related" to the raid. De León chief of staff Dan Reeves said in response to questions that the senator was not a target of the investigation. Rumors have whirled through the Capitol since FBI agents entered two of Calderon's offices, the first time federal agents have raided a state lawmaker's Capitol office in decades. Calderon has not appeared at the Capitol since last week. The Bee reported Friday that the FBI had recently raided at least two California medical businesses with connections to Calderon and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.
Los Angeles Times
De Leon subpoena follows Calderon raid
A Los Angeles state senator said Friday that the U.S. attorney's office had subpoenaed him to testify before a federal grand jury, just days after the FBI raided the Capitol office of Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello). Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement that the testimony will take place in Los Angeles in July. Capitol sources said federal authorities have also subpoenaed other state lawmakers since Tuesday's raid, but their offices refused to confirm or deny such communications. In addition to serving subpoenas, federal authorities also questioned at least one Capitol lobbyist this week about Calderon and legislation he has promoted. The De Leon subpoena has fueled speculation in the Capitol that investigators are homing in on a group of healthcare companies that have paid Calderon's brother Tom, a former lawmaker himself, tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees since leaving the Legislature.
Los Angeles Times
California's strict gun law do nothing to stop killer
Santa Monica rampage witnesses describe gunshots, chaos
The college and surrounding neighborhood descended into chaos about midday Friday as a gunman armed with a semiautomatic weapon opened fire. It was a bloody trail that began on a residential street, where the man reportedly killed his brother and father before setting their house on fire, and ended on the college campus, where police fatally shot the gunman. By the time the rampage was over, four people had been killed by the shooter. And from start to finish, witnesses described horrific, surreal moments.
Los Angeles Times
One last party for self-absorbed Villaraigosa
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took over downtown's Grand Park on Friday night for a boisterous block party that was largely about celebrating him. On a giant podium erected on the steps of City Hall, a group of elected officials stood and praised Villaraigosa, who steps down this month after serving two terms as mayor. The event was billed as the culmination of a series of monthlong celebrations recognizing various ethnic and other communities. Early in the evening, a children's choir sang and Native American dancers performed as people milled around munching free nachos. A beaming Villaraigosa said the event wasn't only about him, telling the crowd: "Today's a day to party and celebrate us." But he was clearly the star of the show. Some in the crowd saw the event as a farewell to a leader they hoped was destined for bigger things. Others were more interested in placing a period on the Villaraigosa era. "He never governed, he was just in front of the cameras," said Kosta Kaporis, an environmental engineer with the city Bureau of Sanitation. "I'm pretty sure anything will be better."
In Colusa, a tribe uses gambling to reclaim its culture
Gambling makes a few rich...they call it culture
A little tribe with a casino on a road to nowhere 60 miles northwest of Sacramento has become the biggest employer in Colusa County and a role model for many of California's gaming tribes. The Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians has used casino revenue to reclaim the tribe's lands, restore its ancient culture and provide jobs, health care and other services to this rural county. "They are one of the best examples of what a smaller gaming operation can still do for a tribe," said Susan Jensen of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. "They show you don't have to make a ton of money to make a huge difference."
Jackson family give the public what it wants -- another whack-job
Paris Jackson now in all-too-familiar spotlight
Until he died in 2009, Michael Jackson was fiercely protective of his children (save for that one balcony-dangling incident). He covered their faces when they went out with him so they might enjoy the kind of normal childhood he missed out on as a member of the Jackson 5. But Prince, Paris and Blanket Jackson stepped onto a world stage without masks when they appeared at the King of Pop's public memorial. Paris, then just 11, delivered the most poignant words of the star-studded service when she tentatively took the microphone and said, "Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine." Since Jackson's death, Paris has become the most visible of his children, granting interviews to Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, appearing in magazine articles and amassing more than a million followers on Twitter. She has also expressed interest in starting a singing career and has plans to star in a movie. But on Wednesday, Paris became a trending tabloid topic all too familiar for the Jackson family after she was rushed to a hospital for unspecified reasons. All fire and sheriff's officials would say is that they transported someone from a home on Paris' suburban Calabasas street in the middle of the night for a possible overdose. They did not release any identifying information or additional details.
FBI searched two businesses with ties to Calderons in April
The FBI recently has raided at least two California businesses with connections to former Assemblyman Tom Calderon and his brother, Sen. Ron Calderon, whose offices were searched by federal investigators this week. In April, federal agents executed sealed search warrants at Pacific Hospital of Long Beach and Industrial Pharmacy Management in Newport Beach seeking "evidence of criminal allegations," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. Both businesses are listed as clients of Tom Calderon on a disclosure statement he filed during his unsuccessful run for Assembly last year. Ron Calderon's lawyer, Mark Geragos, said this week his client has done nothing wrong and that federal authorities "have no case." Tom Calderon referred calls to his attorney, Shepard Kopp, who said the FBI attempted to contact his client directly on Tuesday. Kopp said he could not comment on whether the FBI searches of the medical businesses and the senator's offices are connected. Tom Calderon makes a living as a public affairs consultant with clients that include water agencies and health care companies, according to the statement of economic interests. At least some of the health care companies he listed specialize in treating patients going through the state's workers' compensation system, which directs injured workers to specific surgery centers for care. Pacific Hospital was the subject of a Wall Street Journal investigation last year, which called the hospital one of California's most prolific spine-surgery facilities specializing in workers' compensation injuries. The story raised questions about small hospitals billing workers' compensation insurers hundreds of millions of dollars. It said Pacific Hospital billed $533 million for 5,138 spinal-fusion surgeries on workers' compensation patients between 2001 and 2010, three times as much as any other hospital in the state.
Los Angeles Times
Californians uneasy about fracking's safety, lack of oversight
Voters don't trust oil industry, or the government to get the job done right
As energy companies seek to plumb vast reserves of underground oil in California through the controversial drilling technique known as fracking, voters are concerned about its safety and uneasy with the state's lack of oversight, according to a new poll. Voters' concern about the environmental and safety implications of fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, surfaced repeatedly. Almost three in five voters said fracking should be prohibited in areas immediately surrounding sources of groundwater. And by a 15-point margin, a majority of voters backed tax incentives for companies with a record of operating safely. Despite California's reputation as a trendsetter in environmental protection, it lags behind other parts of the country in the extent to which it has demanded oversight of the drilling method. Energy firms are permitted to keep secret the mix of chemicals they use to extract the oil and gas, the state is not given explicit notice of when and where fracking is taking place, and the rules in place to protect groundwater are not as strict as in some other states. Yet although energy firms have resisted tighter regulation, the poll findings suggest that more government oversight may be the path to public acceptance. Lawmakers have proposed several measures that would bring more government scrutiny to the process, as well as put a stop to it altogether until it can be studied further.
California state workers rally for pay package -- demand huge bonus
Several thousand purple- shirted state workers took over the Capitol's west side Wednesday for a SEIU Local 1000 union rally that was equal parts picnic, party and protest. They danced. They chanted. They ate lunch in the shade at Capitol Park. And they complained about their pay. The night before the 10 a.m. event, Local 1000 fired off a mass email blasting "the state's bargaining team" - a euphemistic reference to Gov. Jerry Brown's administration - for rejecting several pay-increase proposals during recent contract talks. Among them: an across-the-board $2,500 bonus this year for all 95,000 state employees whom Local 1000 covers, followed by a 7 percent salary increase in 2014 and 9 percent boost the following year. Local President Yvonne Walker framed those proposals at Wednesday's rally as a fair request after years of furloughs, higher out-of-pocket pension contributions and other rising costs.
San Francisco Chronicle
Cops caught red-handed, lie and deny
SFPD denies racial profiling in pot busts
One day after a study by the American Civil Liberties Union reported that black people in San Francisco were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites in 2010, the Police Department denied it was engaged in racial profiling. The ACLU report, which was part of a national study that analyzed federal data from 2001 to 2010, found that San Francisco led California when it came to racial disparity in arrest rates. There are no differences between marijuana usage among whites and blacks, the study concluded. The ACLU said the racial disparity showed a "staggering racial bias." In 2010, the report said, San Francisco’s arrest rate for marijuana possession among African Americans (per 100,000 population) was 192, while the same rate for whites was 44. Black residents made up 6 percent of the city’s population.
Calderon no stranger to political fire
Few people around the Capitol are willing to talk openly about the FBI probe, and most who do business with Calderon will not be quoted by name. But interviews with lobbyists and legislative staff members reveal a common theme: When they heard FBI agents were inside the Capitol, there was little surprise that Calderon's office was the focus. Calderon, a moderate Democrat, is known for fancy campaign fundraisers in Las Vegas, traveling out of state at interest groups' expense, carrying legislation that benefits specific industries and being one of three brothers who treat Capitol politics as a family business.
Los Angeles Times
Calderon ties to water district may be part of FBI investigation
Ronald S. Calderon's knack for raising campaign cash and collecting gifts has attracted attention, often unwanted, since he arrived in Sacramento more than a decade ago. Now the Democratic state senator finds himself in the sights of federal investigators. Authorities are looking into the Montebello lawmaker's "income stream," a law enforcement source familiar with the case told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. Calderon's ties to the Central Basin Municipal Water District in southeast Los Angeles County appear to be part of the inquiry. Two local city officials and a utility contractor told The Times that the FBI interviewed them about legislation written by Calderon, and about water district consulting contracts held by the lawmaker's brother Tom Calderon. One of the officials, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is ongoing, said "100% of what they were asking about" involved the Calderons and the water district.
Latino Caucus not a raid target, officials say
A day after FBI agents descended on two legislative offices in Sacramento, officials corrected themselves and said that the office of the Latino Legislative Caucus was not a target. The second office searched, in the legislative office building, also belonged to Sen. Ron Calderon, whose Capitol office the FBI searched. "One of those offices was erroneously identified as an office of the Legislative Latino Caucus, based on an outdated roster of room numbers," Tony Beard, the Senate sergeant at arms, said in a statement, adding that "both offices that are subject to the sealed search warrants are the offices of Senator Calderon." A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the searches.
FBI raids offices of Sen. Ron Calderon, California Latino Legislative Caucus
FBI agents raided the offices of Sen. Ron Calderon and the Legislature's 24-member Latino Caucus on Tuesday as part of an undisclosed investigation originating in Los Angeles. Agents who executed the search warrants in the late afternoon left Calderon's office shortly after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, carrying several boxes of material. "Those warrants are sealed by order of the federal court; therefore we have no further information," said Tony Beard, the Senate's chief sergeant at arms, in a statement to the media. "The Senate has and will continue to fully cooperate with the agents in this matter." Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, said the Democratic leader would not comment "because it is a law enforcement matter." Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles, said the two office searches related to the same investigation. She declined to provide further details. Calderon, D-Montebello, 55, a business-friendly lawmaker who belongs to a family political dynasty, is serving out his final two years as a representative of the 30th Senate District. Two of his brothers have previously served in the Legislature, and his nephew Ian Calderon now serves in the state Assembly.
Los Angeles Times
Investigation reportedly clears LAPD in Christopher Dorner's firing
Of course it did...did you expect something else...like truth?
In the months since Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck launched a review of Christopher Dorner's firing and his allegations of racism and corruption in the department, police officials have remained silent on their findings. The much-anticipated report, Beck said repeatedly, would be made public when it was completed sometime later this month. That carefully laid plan was upended Tuesday by an Associated Press report that the department had concluded that Dorner's firing was appropriate and his claims of corruption unfounded. The report attributed the expected but nonetheless notable findings to Connie Rice, a well-known civil rights attorney who, according to the report, was allowed by the LAPD to review the lengthy report and hundreds of pages of background material. After he was fired in 2009 for falsely accusing his partner of kicking a handcuffed mentally ill man, Dorner resurfaced in February, bent on seeking revenge for his ouster. After the AP story was published, the LAPD tried to put the lid back on its investigation. The department said in a statement that the investigation into Dorner's firing "has not been finalized. Any comments or conclusions about the contents of the review are premature." Rice was contrite when The Times reached her Tuesday afternoon. She contended that she made the comments after the Associated Press reporter told her that the LAPD's findings on Dorner had been released to the public. Rice declined to discuss the LAPD report with The Times.
San Francisco Chronicle
Tolerant San Francisco targets blacks for arrest
Racial gap in pot busts extends to San Francisco
In San Francisco, a city that prides itself on a progressive attitude toward marijuana, authorities have been arresting fewer and fewer people for pot possession. But African Americans are arrested at far higher rates than whites, according to a report released Tuesday. The report by the American Civil Liberties Union, which analyzed federal arrest data, found that black people in San Francisco were 4.3 times more likely than white people to be arrested on the charge in 2010. The disparity was twice the state rate and slightly higher than the national rate. The divide in marijuana arrests - which the ACLU attributed to a "staggering racial bias" - persisted even though black and white people have been found to use pot with similar frequency, the report concluded. It questioned the high cost of marijuana enforcement at a time when Americans are increasingly favoring legalization of the drug. San Francisco Police Department officials did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment on the report. Mona Lynch, a criminology professor at UC Irvine who has written about drug arrests and racial disparity in San Francisco, said officers initiated stops based on the suspicion that a person might be smoking marijuana. The ACLU's findings were little surprise to members of San Francisco's Police Commission. In January, researchers from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a San Francisco group that seeks to reduce incarcerations, presented a report that showed members of minority groups in the city were arrested far more often for all drug-related crimes than white residents per capita.
Bay Area Killing Fields...
Violent crime up in many Bay Area cities, FBI report shows
Violent crime in the Bay Area, from Daly City to San Jose to Oakland, rose in 2012, an about-face from previous years in which crime dropped, according to FBI figures released this week. The largest spikes occurred in Antioch, Santa Clara and Oakland, and only four of the region's 15 big cities -- Concord, Fremont, Santa Rosa and Vallejo -- were immune from overall escalating numbers in murder, rapes, robbery and aggravated assaults, FBI data shows. Nationally, violent crime increased by 1.2 percent -- with the western region experiencing the steepest increase -- after declines of 4 percent in 2011, 6 percent in 2010 and 4.4 percent in 2009. The preliminary data released Monday compares crime from 2012 to 2011 in U.S. cities with populations of 100,000 or more. A full report released in the fall will include smaller cities.
Los Angeles Times
Judge not inclined to let DWP keep salaries and names secret
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant stared in disbelief Tuesday at a list of hundreds of Department of Water and Power employees who have asked that their names and salaries be withheld from the public, citing safety concerns. On the list were mechanics, typists and meter readers. "This is frivolous on its face; I mean, these are DWP employees," Chalfant said, noting that the names of government employees are public and even undercover police officers have a hard time demonstrating they would be in danger if their names appeared on a list of department employees. "Judges have security risks. That doesn't mean my name and my salary don't have to be disclosed," Chalfant added. He ordered a lawyer for the largest DWP employees union to return Aug. 1 with a whittled-down list that includes only employees who can prove a legitimate safety concern. The union filed a lawsuit last month seeking to block the department from disclosing to the Los Angeles Times the names and salaries of members who claimed they had a safety concern. "The odds are nobody is going to be excused from having their name disclosed," Chalfant said.
Yet another way insurance companies can screw you
Geography affects premiums on California health insurance exchange
For the same health coverage from the same insurer, a 40-year-old Sacramentan will pay $78 more per month than a Los Angeles County resident through the state's new insurance exchange. In rural Mono County, the disparity will be even larger: $150 per month, nearly 60 percent higher than for identical benefits and co-pays offered in Los Angeles County. The premiums provide relatively basic coverage from Anthem Blue Cross, but similar regional differences exist in plans proposed by other insurers. The numbers reflect new rate-setting standards: How sick you are no longer matters, but where you live does. "This is a huge change from the current marketplace, where people are rated individually based on their health status," said Anthony Wright, director of Health Access California, a nonprofit advocacy group. Regional differences always have been weighed for insurance underwriting, but it was only one of many factors, including a policyholder's weight, blood pressure, medical history and physical fitness as well as whether the person smokes or engages in other risky behavior.
California exports drop
California businesses shipped merchandise valued at $13.07 billion in April, up 0.3 percent from $13.03 billion in April 2012, according to an analysis of Tuesday's U.S. Commerce Department figures by Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Adjusted for inflation, however, Beacon said the 2013 figure represented an annual decline of 0.9 percent. Beacon continued to point to declining shipments of electronic components used in the manufacture of personal computers. In the most recent three-month period (February-April 2013), Beacon said exports of those items were down 23.4 percent, compared with the same period last year. "The surging popularity of smartphones and tablets has been dramatically reshaping global supply chains in the electronics components sector," said Jock O'Connell, Beacon's international trade adviser. "This is a trend we have been observing since late last summer, and it has yet to run its course." Year-to-date, California's export trade totaled $52.44 billion, down from $52.91 billion last year.
Los Angeles Times
California lawmakers vote to exclude public from some meetings
Lawmakers on Monday voted to allow the public to be excluded from certain gatherings that include the governor and county officials. The state Senate sent to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk a measure created in reaction to a legal opinion by a county prosecutor. The official said a private 2011 meeting between Brown and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the public's right to see government business being conducted. At that closed-door meeting, Brown and the supervisors discussed his controversial plan, dubbed "realignment," to begin holding nonviolent felons and certain other low-level offenders in county jails rather than send them to state lockups. The plan followed federal court orders to reduce prison crowding. Such conversations would be permitted behind closed doors under the new legislation. The proposal drew criticism from open-government advocates, including state Sens. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) who said it would shut the public out of important public safety discussions.
San Franccisco Chronicle
Crime up in Oakland, much of Bay Area
With nearly 12 robberies a day and murders, rapes and assaults all on the rise, Oakland is the Bay Area's crime hot spot - but new FBI statistics show that the city is far from alone in confronting rising mayhem. Eleven of the Bay Area's 15 largest cities recorded higher levels of violent crime in 2012 than the year before, according to preliminary totals that the FBI released Monday. The figures represent an abrupt turnaround from a year ago, when data showed that crime had dropped significantly compared with 2010. The new data confirmed that all types of violent crime - murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults - increased in Oakland in 2012, as did property crime such as burglaries and thefts. The statistics show that Oakland has the highest per-capita crime rate in California. It's a trend that has rolled into 2013. Over the weekend and early Monday, 17 people were shot in incidents ranging from a sideshow - an illegal car rally - to a triple shooting outside a downtown nightclub. Among the victims was a 17-year-old boy, David Manson Jr., who was shot in the middle of the day Sunday on an East Oakland street. Overall, among cities with more than 100,000 people, violent crime went up in Antioch, Berkeley, Daly City, Fairfield, Hayward, Richmond, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, the FBI said. It was down in Concord, Fremont, Santa Rosa and Vallejo.
California officials launch effort to overhaul state parks
California officials on Monday launched a new program to analyze and overhaul the state parks system, to be led by a volunteer commission. Called Parks Forward, the effort is required by the California State Parks Stewardship Act, passed last year in the wake of a financial scandal that upended the leadership ranks at state parks headquarters. The system has been under scrutiny since The Bee revealed last year that top officials at the Department of Parks and Recreation hid $20 million in "surplus" money even as they set about closing 70 parks due to budget cuts. Among its other troubles, the department has a deferred maintenance backlog at its 280 parks that exceeds $1 billion. That is partly because the state general fund subsidy for parks has declined over the past 20 years, and revenues from visitor fees have not filled the gap. California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said Monday that Parks Forward aims to make the parks department "sustainable" over the next century. "We would like to get to a point where we are not deferring maintenance and we are adequately funding the stewardship of the parks," he said.
Judge says witnesses, evidence disagree in inmate beating case
The investigation concluded that five prison guards pinned down, kicked and stomped a handcuffed inmate so violently that one nearby onlooker wept, closed her eyes and began to pray. A second woman watched the officers beat the handcuffed African American male, according to a heavily redacted judicial narrative, and said it reminded her of the infamous Rodney King incident. The crying woman didn't respond, but a third observer agreed: "They're kicking the s--- out of him," she said. But a judge said there was no beating on that June morning two years ago at Susanville's High Desert State Prison.
Feckless pol released from prison...
'Duke' Cunningham a free man today
Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the former North County congressman convicted of taking bribes while in office, should be a free man today. His 100-month sentence completed, the 71-year-old Navy ace is due to be released from a halfway house in New Orleans. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful, but he’s said in various letters over the years that he plans to live in Arkansas, where he has family. Cunningham, a Vietnam War hero, admitted taking at least $2.4 million from defense firms in return for steering government contracts their way. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to bribery, fraud and tax-evasion charges and resigned his seat in Congress, which the Republican had held since 1991. He later said he regretted his guilty plea, which he blamed on being weakened by prostate cancer. Had he gone to trial, he faced a possible sentence of 36 years to life. Under his plea, he was looking at 10 years, but the judge reduced it to eight years and four months, citing Cunningham’s military record, which included downing five enemy planes during aerial combat.
Oakland: Triple shooting outside nightclub marks latest violence
Three people were injured in a shooting outside a nightclub early Monday morning, the latest violence over a bloody 48-hour period in the city, police said. A fourth person was shot during a robbery about an hour later and is expected to survive, according to police. Three of the victims -- two women and a man -- were shot outside a nightclub after gunfire erupted outside the Shadow Ultra Lounge, located at 341 13th St., police said. The nightclub shooting happened around 12:45 a.m., where a group of about 300 people had gathered for a party, Oakland police Lt. Brandon Wehrly said. Security enlisted for the party escorted a few people from the party after a fight broke out at the party, Wehrly said. After the ejections, people were standing outside the club on the sidewalk when someone fired a gun into the crowd, Wehrly said. Police did not have any suspects.
San Francisco Chronicle
California prison overhaul brings justice by geography
California counties face a momentous new choice when they punish many convicts. They can jail them for their full sentence, only to watch them hit the street with no follow-up, or “split” their sentence by building in a stretch of probation supervision designed to transition them back into the community. The choice came about with Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to reduce state prison overcrowding, known as realignment, which made counties responsible for thousands of lower-level inmates. But even though local officials are under pressure to thin their jail populations and save money, the use of split sentences has varied widely from county to county, records show, underscoring that justice in California often depends on geography.
San Francisco Chronicle
Fracking foes pressure Brown
Environmentalists typically count California Governor Jerry Brown as an ally. But on fracking, Brown has not yet taken sides. And many environmentalists want to change that. A new anti-fracking coalition submitted petitions to the governor last week, imploring him to slap a state-wide ban on the practice. Hydraulic fracturing — which involves shoving large amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground to break rocks and release oil or natural gas — hasn’t taken off here the way it has in Pennsylvania, North Dakota or Texas. Many environmentalists want to keep it that way.
State tax credit beneficiaries include Fortune 500 firms, casino
A rare glimpse into an embattled California tax credit program shows that Fortune 500 companies – and one casino – are its biggest beneficiaries. The state enterprise zone program offers businesses up to $37,440 in tax credits per employee as an incentive to hire workers in economically depressed areas. But the credits have come under fire from Gov. Jerry Brown and labor groups who claim they are ineffective and direct money away from more desperate state needs.
San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco boom leaving many behind
Amid a rebounding San Francisco economy, attention is being brought to the inequity found in neglected neighborhoods where residents are more likely to be killed, drop out of school, suffer health complications at an early age and earn low incomes. As the city attracts large, high-profile events such as the America’s Cup and Super Bowl L in 2016, and as a growing local technology industry drives the economic recovery, Supervisor John Avalos said San Francisco leaders must rethink how budget and policy decisions are being made at City Hall given the stark disparities among communities. “The City doesn’t always make the decision that is going to serve the most impacted, where the need is greatest,” Avalos said. Instead, he said, the more organized and well-heeled constituencies benefit more and some neighborhoods are “actually falling behind in the resources that they should get.”
How is this California Legislature different? Let us count the ways
Every legislative session has its own ambiance, but the current version that began six months ago is colored by unique, even historic, conditions. It's the first since an independent commission redrew legislative districts. The 2012 elections were the first with a "top-two" primary system. Nearly half of the Assembly's 80 members are new to the Capitol. A revised term-limit rule would allow them to serve for as long as 12 years, and Democrats won two-thirds "supermajorities" in both houses. The 2013 session's first phase ended Friday when hundreds of bills faced a deadline for first house approval.
Study finds unsafe mercury levels in fish from Delta watershed
The first comprehensive study of rivers and streams in California has found that sport fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed have higher concentrations of mercury and PCBs than anywhere else in the state. The survey adds to the history of high mercury levels in sport fish in the Sacramento region and dovetails with recent research that found consumption of sport fish from certain Delta region streams remains high, despite knowledge of the high mercury levels. The sport fish survey, conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board, surveyed 16 species from 63 locations in 2011. "While past monitoring looked at fish contaminants in lakes, rivers and streams, it was not focused on providing a statewide picture," said Jay Davis, senior environmental scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute. The survey piggybacks on similar surveys done on lakes and reservoirs as well as coastal areas – all of which found mercury to be the most common contaminant in fish. The survey is meant to provide information for future action and monitoring.
NAACP: Black cop was racially profiled
A racially tinged dispute broke out Friday over a San Francisco traffic stop in which three police officers pulled over an off-duty colleague, who was arrested on suspicion of resisting police and later retained an attorney to pursue a potential civil rights lawsuit. The NAACP held a news conference to denounce the treatment of the off-duty officer, who is African American, by the three white officers. The organization said the arresting officers had racially profiled Officer Lorenzo Adamson during the Thursday night stop by asking him if he was on parole. The Police Department, at its own news conference, said Adamson had been uncooperative and had left his co-workers with scrapes and bruises. Officials said they did not know what was said during the stop, but that it is not improper to ask a person who is stopped if he is on parole - and thus subject to a search. Officer Carlos Manfredi, a police spokesman, said the three officers did not recognize Adamson, who did not identify himself as an officer until he was arrested. The department is investigating the conduct of the officers, Manfredi said. Adamson, a 15-year veteran, could not be reached. The attorney he retained, John Burris, declined to comment.
Los Angeles Times
Insurance firm sues to avoid Miramonte abuse-case settlement
If the company wins, L.A. Unified could be on the hook for the $30 million it agreed to pay 58 alleged victims of former teacher Mark Berndt
An insurance company has sued the Los Angeles Unified School District seeking to avoid paying settlement costs related to alleged child abuse at Miramonte Elementary School. The action, if successful, could leave the nation's second-largest school system on the hook for an estimated $30 million that it agreed to pay to 58 alleged victims of former teacher Mark Berndt. At least as many claims remain unresolved, with attorneys seeking higher compensation than the settlement provides. The suit was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court by New Jersey-based Everest National Insurance Co. The company "disputes that there is any coverage under the Everest policies" for the claims by L.A. Unified. "A judicial declaration is necessary and appropriate," according to the suit. So far, other insurers also have refused to pay Miramonte-related claims. Were the companies to prevail, the consequences for L.A. Unified would be extreme. For one, $30 million is the equivalent of shutting the district down for two days. And besides Miramonte, costly settlements or judgments are anticipated in abuse-related cases at other schools. Because they provided general liability coverage, the companies should be responsible for Miramonte costs beyond a "self-insurance" amount, in the district's view. The district's share of the liability should be $3 million or $5 million, said Sean Andrade, an outside counsel representing L.A. Unified.
Oakland: Competing budget plans would fund 15 new jobs in police department or employee raises
The battle lines were drawn in Oakland's budget fight Friday when council members released competing proposals that pit the needs of the police department against a strong push for employee raises. Council President Pat Kernighan's plan would preserve Mayor Quan's call for five additional police dispatchers and also fund 10 more civilian jobs in the police department, including investigators, evidence technicians and crime lab specialists. A counter proposal from Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Larry Reid and Noel Gallo would kill Quan's call for the five police dispatchers, provide no funding for additional civilian jobs in the police department and eliminate the city's contract with the California Highway Patrol to help police Oakland streets. Their plan would commit more than $3 million a year to fund a 3 percent raise for civilian employees who have gone without a cost-of-living increase since before the financial crisis.
Lib-tards roll out more climate hysteria
Climate change study: 82 percent of Calif. native fish species risk extinction
Climate change may cause the extinction of 82 percent of California's native fish species, including iconic ones such as Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt, according to a new study. The peer-reviewed study by fishery experts at UC Davis created a framework to measure how vulnerable numerous species are to climate change. It assesses habitat conditions, climate change projections and temperature sensitivity for the 121 native and 50 nonnative fish species that inhabit California. It found that 82 percent of the native species are at risk of extinction in the next 100 years, largely because climate change will make water temperatures too warm. For nonnative fish, which are generally more adaptable to warm water, only 19 percent are likely to die off.
Marijuana regulatory bill stalls in California Assembly
The California Assembly quashed a bill Friday that would have created a state agency to tax and regulate the state's overgrown medical marijuana landscape. Since California voters gave the green light to medical cannabis in 1996, the state has seen cities and municipalities deal with quasi-legal pot in a variety of ways, with critics saying that many dispensaries serve all comers under the pretense of helping the sick. Assembly Bill 473 would have established a Division of Medical Marijuana Regulation and Enforcement, a regulatory agency housed in the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, aimed at taming the cannabis jungle and establishing some guidelines around the cultivation, sale and taxation of cannabis. It would have required dispensaries to register with the agency. Lawmakers were not being asked to vote on the merits of medical marijuana, said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, noting that Proposition 215 is the law despite the fact that "some of us may not have agreed with the voters." Proponent's arguments weren't enough to convince Assembly members, who rejected the bill on a 37-35 vote, with 41 needed for passage.
Heller steps down...
Nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Watchdog issued an email this afternoon announcing that its executive director is leaving, effective immediately. Doug Heller is stepping down after 16 years with the Santa Monica-based organization best known for its battles with the insurance industry. As Consumer Watchdog's executive director, Heller was the oft-quoted face of the group for the last nine years. In a telephone interview after the announcement, Heller said that he had discussed his departure with the organization's board some months ago. Despite the suddenness of today's news, he said, "there's zero acrimony" prompting his exit.
Crime Cancer continues to get worse
San Jose records fifth homicide this week
An already violent week got bloodier Friday night when a man was fatally stabbed in West San Jose just blocks from the posh Santana Row entertainment district, marking the city's fifth homicide of the week. The slaying brought the year's homicide tally to 21 and put the city on pace to surpass the 46 tallied in 2012, which was a 20-year high. San Jose police were called about 9:55 p.m. to reports of a stabbing in the 2900 block of Magliocco Drive, about a block south of Moorpark Avenue and a busy stretch of Winchester Boulevard that's also home to the famed Winchester Mystery House. Officers arrived to find a 35-year-old man lying in a carport who was suffering from stab wounds, police said. The victim, whose identity was not immediately released, was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Neither suspects nor a motive were immediately known. The death wasn't the only significant violence reported Friday: A brazen daylight shooting at a bustling East San Jose apartment complex wounded a man. The attack, which detectives are treating as gang-related, was reported about 5 p.m. on Kollmar Drive near Story Road and East Capitol Expressway. The victim is expected to survive. Last Sunday, two teens were gunned down near Independence High School and a man who had recently moved to the city from Ohio was shot in South San Jose in a separate incident. Then on Thursday, a man was killed in an early-morningshooting on Audubon Drive in East San Jose. Motives and potential suspects have not been announced in those cases.
California Democrats' hegemony in jeopardy
When Democrats – perhaps surprising even themselves – won two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative houses last year, party subfactions began buzzing over how their new hegemony would be employed. As maneuvering for 2014 legislative elections begins, survival or demise of the supermajorities will be the unspoken issue, especially in the Senate. Half of the 40 Senate districts – those with even numbers – will be voting for the first time following redistricting by an independent commission. Of the 17 senators who'll be forced out of their seats by term limits next year, 14 are Democrats. The makeup of the 20 even-numbered districts indicates that Democrats' 29-seat supermajority could shrink, perhaps dropping below the magic 27-seat level. It boils down to three districts that are in play. If Republicans win all three, Democrats lose their Senate supermajority. If Democrats win just one, they keep it. That would seem to give the advantage to Democrats. But one of those districts, in Orange County, has no incumbent and is almost certain to go Republican, while another in the rural San Joaquin and Salinas valleys has a strong Democratic voter edge but a Republican incumbent, Anthony Cannella, who has beaten partisan odds.
Bay Bridge fix could delay opening for months
Motorists could be forced to use the existing Bay Bridge eastern span for several additional months if Caltrans isn't able to fix its broken-rod problem on the $6.4 billion replacement bridge in time for its scheduled Sept. 3 opening, officials said Wednesday. The state is unlikely to know until July 10 whether the new bridge will open on time, said Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. That's the "drop-dead" date for determining when Caltrans can complete a fix for the broken steel rods, which are used to anchor seismic safety structures on the new bridge, Heminger said at a commission meeting in Oakland. "We absolutely want to do what's right and not be rushed," Heminger told the panel, which is made up mainly of Bay Area elected officials. Caltrans set the Labor Day weekend as a target date two years ago because the agency must shut down the existing span for several days to complete the transition to the new bridge. Heminger said that traffic is typically light over Labor Day and that three previous shutdowns over that holiday have gone smoothly. The state won't shut down the existing span during a normal workweek because of the chaos it could cause on other bridges and BART, Heminger said. It's unclear when traffic and weather conditions will align again to allow for a bridge closure, but it could be months after the Sept. 3 target date, he said.
Poll finds support for Prop. 13 change
A majority of Californians believe Proposition 13, the 1978 measure limiting property tax, has been good for the state but would support changing it to tax commercial properties at their market value, according to a new poll. The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 58 percent of all adults polled support the landmark measure but that 58 percent favor a split-roll property tax that lets homeowners keep Prop. 13's protections while exposing business owners to higher taxes. Thirty-three percent oppose such changes. Such a change was proposed in a bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, but the measure was held in the Legislature and won't be heard again until at least next year. According to the survey, 64 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans all supported splitting the property tax roll. Those results are similar to what pollsters found when they asked the same question in January 2012 and found support from 60 percent of all adults. But another change to Prop. 13 to make it easier to approve new taxes was not as popular with those surveyed. Pollsters asked whether respondents would favor lowering the threshold for passing local special taxes from a two-thirds vote to 55 percent of voters.
State court rejects new execution rules
California prison officials violated state law several ways when they rewrote lethal injection rules, a state appeals court ruled Thursday in another legal decision likely to prolong the state's six-year, court-ordered moratorium on executions. The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said state officials had failed to explain their insistence on using three drugs - an anesthetic to render the prisoner unconscious, a second drug to paralyze the muscles and a third to stop the heart - instead of a one-drug execution adopted by several states. The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation simply concluded, without explanation, that single-drug executions would not be more effective than the current method, Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline wrote in a 28-page ruling. That violated a state law requiring officials to explain their rejection of reasonable alternatives when they pass new regulations, said the court, upholding a December ruling by Judge Faye D'Opal of Marin County Superior Court that rejected the proposed new rules.
California eases payments by Red Hawk Casino
Red Hawk Casino, underperforming since the day it opened and struggling to pay its bills, moved a step closer Thursday toward gaining financial relief. Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a new gambling compact that reduces the revenue the state will collect from Red Hawk and its owner, the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. Brown signed AB 1267 by Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, which ratified the new compact the governor signed with the tribe last November. Despite the governor's signature, the Shingle Springs casino isn't out of financial trouble yet. The tribe has to restructure $500 million in debt owed to private creditors before the new state compact takes effect. The new compact recognizes the dire financial issues confronting the casino and tribe. The document says Red Hawk "cannot currently or in the coming years generate enough revenue for the tribe to cover its financial obligations." Since 2011, the tribe stopped making principal payments on a $66 million startup loan from Lakes Entertainment Inc., the company that operates Red Hawk. Most of the rest of the tribe's debt is held by bondholders who financed construction of the casino, which opened in late 2008. It's not clear if the Shingle Springs tribe has made any headway in renegotiating its debt; tribal officials couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
Advocates fear Gov. Jerry Brown's school funding plan could hurt small programs
Advocates warn that the California School Age Families Education program, or CalSAFE, and others like it could become casualties of Gov. Jerry Brown's push to streamline California's school funding machinery. Currently, school districts receive millions of dollars via dedicated streams known as "categoricals," programs enacted to lift specific subgroups of students or bolster goals like career education. Cal-SAFE is one such categorical. The governor's proposal would eliminate most categoricals, weaving the different threads into grants that districts can spend as they see fit. When he defends the proposal, the governor is fond of invoking "the principle of subsidiarity" - or more simply, giving districts leeway to spend money on their individual needs, without worrying about satisfying cumbersome state mandates. The strategy has precedent. During the fiscal tumult of the last few years, California sought to help schools cover budget gaps by making most categoricals flexible and allowing districts to decide where the money went. Brown's plan builds on that momentum.
California high-speed rail faces delays as high-stakes trial begins Friday
High-speed rail officials acknowledged Thursday that they almost certainly won't break ground on the $69 billion project as planned in July after hitting some last-minute bumps in the road. And even more delays are possible as a court battle begins that could wipe out voters' approval of the bullet train. On Friday morning, opponents from the Bay Area and Central Valley, led by the former chairman of the project, will begin arguing in Sacramento Superior Court that the train has run so far off-track that a judge should take the extraordinary step of hitting the brakes on construction plans. They want to invalidate the $10 billion bond measure voters approved in November 2008 because the project has since doubled in cost while ridership estimates have dwindled and ticket price projections have shot up. What's more, Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democratic heavyweights are hurriedly lobbying an obscure federal agency to approve high-speed rail construction -- an unexpected obstacle that also threatens to slow the bullet train. And the state must soon finish navigating a delicate process to award the first lucrative construction bid and buy out several unhappy property owners along the route.
Ban menthol cigarettes, Oakland-based African-American group urges
An Oakland-based group is urging federal regulators to ban menthol in cigarettes, noting that such products are especially prevalent in the African-American community and appeal to beginning smokers. "Menthol allows the poison to go down easier," said Phillip Gardiner, co-chairman of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, during a Thursday news conference. Menthol is a highly aromatic compound derived from mint oils. It creates a pleasant taste and a cooling sensation that masks the harshness of tobacco products. For those reasons, it is a popular "starter product" that helps entice young people to smoke, Gardiner said. More than 80 percent of African-American smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared with 24 percent of white smokers. Gardiner and co-chairwoman Carol McGruder accused the tobacco industry of "predatory marketing" tactics that include lower pricing and heavier advertising in African-American communities.
Planning for displacement
It's a bold vision, laid out in an airy document called the Plan Bay Area — and it's about to clash with the facts on the ground. Namely, that there are already people living and working in the path of the new development. And there's a high risk that many of them will be displaced; collateral damage in the latest transformation of San Francisco.
Hapless GOP stands-by helpless as California Senate approves seven gun control measures
The California Senate approved a package of bills Wednesday that would tighten the state's regulation of firearms by outlawing detachable and large-capacity magazines, keeping track of people who buy ammunition and widening the category of offenders prohibited from owning guns for 10 years. Senate Democrats drafted the bills in response to December's school shooting in Newtown, Conn. "The package, if you look at the whole array of measures before this body today, are designed to close loopholes in existing regulations, keep the circulation of firearms and ammunition out of the hands of dangerous persons, and strengthen education on gun ownership," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said to his colleagues as he argued in favor of the legislation. "These bills attempt to respond to those well-publicized tragedies and many more that go unpublicized," Steinberg added.
Senate passes series of gun, ammunition bills
Invoking the image of recent mass shootings, Democrats in the state Legislature on Wednesday passed a series of firearms bills designed to reduce the chances for widespread carnage even as opponents warned that the measures would not keep weapons from those intent on committing horrific crimes. Among other changes, the bills that passed between the Senate and the Assembly would expand the list of people who are prohibited from owning firearms, require permits and a fee when buying ammunition, and ban semi-automatic rifles with detachable ammunition magazines. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who pushed the ban on detachable magazines, said the bills would close loopholes in existing laws, keep firearms away from dangerous people and strengthen requirements for gun ownership. He said banning rifles that can be reloaded quickly with detachable magazines would not end gun violence but that it would help. The bills were among roughly three dozen that were introduced in the Legislature this year as lawmakers in California and other states sought to respond to the mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado. Other states, including New York, also have approved tough firearms laws this year.
Los Angeles Times
The party is on...! California lawmakers OK a dozen gun-control measures
California lawmakers Wednesday advanced a dozen gun-control measures, including background checks for ammunition buyers. Mass shootings such as the one in Newtown, Conn., in December spurred Democratic lawmakers to look for ways to tighten California's gun laws, already some of the toughest in the nation. "We all can recite the horrific acts that have occurred in our country over the last year," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "These bills attempt to respond to those well-publicized tragedies and many more that go unpublicized." Californians who want to buy ammunition would have to submit personal information and a $50 fee for a background check by the state, under a bill passed by the Senate. The state Department of Justice would determine whether buyers have a criminal record, severe mental illness or a restraining order that would disqualify them from owning guns. Ammo shops would check the name on buyers' driver's licenses against a state list of qualified purchasers. The goal of the bill is "to ensure that criminals and other dangerous individuals cannot purchase ammunition in the state of California," said Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), author of SB 53. The Senate also OK'd a bill that would outlaw the sale, purchase and manufacture in California of semiautomatic rifles that can accommodate detachable magazines. The measure, SB 374 by Steinberg, also would require those who own such weapons to register them with the state. The Assembly joined the action on guns by passing a measure to require the state Department of Justice to notify local law enforcement agencies when someone buys more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition. The bill would also ban kits that convert magazines to carry more than 10 rounds and would extend a ban on gun ownership for anyone who conveys a serious threat of violence to a licensed psychotherapist. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who authored the bill, AB 48, said mass shooters often "have a mental health history." The legislation approved in the Assembly on Wednesday now goes to the Senate and vice versa.
Cops go on hunting trip in East Oakland...Police shoot, kill man; two others arrested
A man was shot and killed by police after a foot chase Wednesday afternoon in East Oakland, marking the city's first fatal officer-involved shooting in more than a year, police said. There were no other reports of injuries. Police did not immediately release the man's name, age, or city of residence. Police were tight-lipped Wednesday about what led to the shooting. Police would not say if the man pointed or waived a gun at officers or what prompted the officer to shoot the man. The officer who shot the man was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney's office and the department's internal affairs division. The executive force review board will determine if the force used was in compliance with department policies and procedures. The name of the officer was not released.
Cha-Ching! State workers cashing in..California employee retirements are rising
California will likely bid farewell to more than 10,000 state employees by the end of this year as a range of factors from age to the economy to politics prods them to retire. The latest data from CalPERS shows that nearly 5,100 state workers took their pensions in the first five months of this year, up about 6 percent from 2012. State retirements are trending toward levels not seen since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration. A record 11,554 state workers took their pensions during the Father of the Three-Day Furlough's last year in office, 2010. Age plays a huge role. Currently, four in 10 state workers are 50 or older. A 2011 analysis showed more than half of the state's managers and above could retire by 2016. Still, there's more than age pushing state workers to the exits, said Michael Shires, a public policy expert at Pepperdine University. Unemployment is down. Home values are up. The stock market is roaring. The world looks more secure to a prospective pensioner than it did a few years ago.
Bridge of Death: Decision on Bay Bridge delayed; governor orders review of Caltrans
Transportation officials faced tough questions Wednesday about broken bolts, corroded tendons and bad welds on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and announced that any decision to open the span on Labor Day weekend will not come until July. They told Bay Area Toll Authority commissioners at an Oakland meeting that testing and construction required them to set July 10 as the new deadline. "We're going to need a little more time," said Metropolitan Transportation Commission executive director Steve Heminger at the Oakland meeting. "We're not quite there yet. We absolutely want to do this right, and not be rushed." Also on Wednesday, the Brown administration said it had ordered an independent, system-wide review of the California Department of Transportation, which is at the center of controversy surrounding construction of the new bridge. Brian Kelly, acting secretary of the Business, Transportation & Housing Agency, said in a prepared statement that experts from the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a group housed at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will "take a fresh look at Caltrans operations and help improve performance, communications and management." Gareth Lacy, an agency spokesman, said the agency had been contemplating the outside review for months. The study is expected to cost $270,000.
Bay Bridge: Opening day decision put off until July 10
Anxious commuters must wait until July 10 to learn whether the much safer new Bay Bridge will open Labor Day weekend or have its debut pushed out weeks or even months. Nearly three months after high-strength steel anchor rods snapped in key seismic stabilizers on the $6.4 billion span, leaders of California and Bay Area agencies building the bridge say they are still writing the investigative report about why the bolts broke, as well as testing the integrity of several thousand other steel fasteners to determine if they must be replaced, and if so, on what time schedule. They are also finalizing shop drawings for the steel saddle and cables chosen to replace the defective anchor rods, and do not yet know if the parts can be fabricated and installed in time for a Labor Day opening, the agency leaders told the Metropolitan Transportation Commission during a special 21/2-hour meeting Wednesday afternoon. "We need all three of these things and if we get all three, we will forecast an opening on Labor Day," commission Executive Director Steve Heminger told the board. "If not, we will have to take a delay and choose another day." The date was selected because engineers need four days to connect traffic lanes in the new span, and lower traffic volumes and good weather make it an attractive choice. Caltrans has closed the bridge over the same holiday three times for this project with success. If it doesn't happen, the opening will have to be rescheduled to another long weekend with good weather, and that could mean a months-long delay, he said. In the fifth and longest briefing yet since the steel troubles surfaced, Heminger and his counterparts at Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission took the board of county and city elected officials -- who also sit as the Bay Area Toll Authority -- over familiar yet increasingly more technical ground.
Dumb law doesn't work...neither do the bureaucrats charged with enforcing it
California agency failed to collect $100 million for cleanup of contaminated sites
A California agency spent $100 million in public funds over the past 26 years to clean contaminated property for which polluters were liable but never were sent a bill, officials said Wednesday. The neglected reimbursement stemmed from 1,700 sites ranging from junkyards to small businesses, said Deborah O. Raphael, chief of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversaw the cleanups. "It's not a pretty picture, and it makes me mad as a resident and as a director," she said. No list of polluters was released Wednesday, so it was not clear how much California taxpayers spent on each cleanup project or what percentage of the $100 million was spent in recent years. Military bases or massive contamination sites eligible for federal Superfund money were not involved. But Raphael's department provided a handful of examples, including that of a former midtown Sacramento junkyard, Orchard Supply Co., at which lead-acid batteries and agricultural chemicals were among items stored. The state spent $1.5 million on cleanup after the firm went bankrupt in 1989, said Tamma Adamek, DTSC spokeswoman.
Delta tunnels: Firmer cost estimates spelled out for Gov. Jerry Brown's water plan
The cost of Gov. Jerry Brown's controversial plan to build two massive tunnels to move water from north to south increased more than a billion dollars to $24.7 billion on Wednesday, but officials insisted it will be a bargain for water users around the state. Critics of the project have attacked the administration for its delay in releasing figures outlining the benefits of the project. But Wednesday's release of the final chapters of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for the first time hung a price tag on the benefits -- at least $5 billion over the next 50 years. With every move the administration makes, opponents chip away with criticism and dangle the threat of lawsuits that could further delay resolution of a problem that most agree exists: a water supply system that is perennially at the edge of crisis and a fragile eco-system that needs to be shored up.
Los Angeles Times
California plan to overhaul water system hub to cost $25 billion
The state plan to overhaul the hub of California's water system will cost nearly $25 billion to build and operate, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday. The proposal, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration and the Obama administration, calls for habitat restoration and the construction of two enormous tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River and carry it under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to southbound pumps. Water users, including San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts and urban agencies in Southern California and the Bay Area, would bear roughly two-thirds of the cost, with the rest coming from federal and state sources. The proposal - in the planning stages for seven years - represents the biggest water supply project in California since the 1960s launch of the State Water Project under Brown's father, Gov. Pat Brown. But important questions are hanging over it, in particular whether federal fishery agencies will approve operating rules that will deliver the volume of water sought by the contractors who will pay for most of the project. By building a diversion point on the river in the north delta and restoring more than 100,000 acres of habitat, the contractors hope to escape the endangered species restrictions that have reduced their water deliveries from the delta.
San Francisco Chronicle
Assembly bill would expand who can perform abortions...Now just about anyone can do it!
Women could go to a medical professional other than a doctor to end some pregnancies under a bill advancing through the state Legislature. The bill by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would allow nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician's assistants to perform so-called aspiration abortions during the first trimester. The method involves inserting a tube and using suction to terminate a pregnancy. Atkins said her bill, AB154, would help expand access to abortion services in areas of the state that have few physicians. Half of California's counties do not have abortion providers, she said. "The growing shortage of abortion providers creates a significant barrier for women's access," Atkins said. "Authorizing trained health professionals to provide early abortion services removes those barriers."
Scrap ineffective enterprise zone tax credits
Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators should end the state's poorly structured enterprise zone tax breaks and look for more effective ways of spurring business growth and hiring.
California's inland city budgets still weak
California's monthly report on jobs and unemployment includes a county-by-county breakdown, providing graphic evidence of the state's bifurcated recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression. In the main, coastal California metropolitan areas – particularly the San Francisco Bay Area in the north and the San Diego-Orange county region in the south – are recovering smartly, with strong job growth. Inland counties are still struggling with double-digit unemployment rates, especially those in rural areas.
Patient dumping comes in all forms
Cops release whack-job because in "their opinion" he was OK
After determining that Paul Weston was neither a danger to himself nor gravely mentally disabled, Sacramento County jailers released him at 11:13 p.m. Weston started walking. He didn't hurt himself or anyone else as he wandered the streets for the next 24 hours. But Weston's release from jail without any plan or protective net is an all-too-common practice that in time could end up costing Sacramento County many millions of dollars.
California's big power shift full of pitfalls
Something of a feud has erupted between environmentalists who embrace large-scale solar projects in the desert to meet the 33 percent goal and opponents who say solar should be on rooftops or "degraded land." Even assuming that enough "renewable" projects are sited, permitted, financed and even built, another issue has emerged – whether there'll be enough power from other sources to offset the inherent unreliability of projects that depend on the sun shining and the wind blowing. Finally, the shift to renewable power, if it occurs, could be a negative factor in the state's business climate. It will drive California's electric power rates, already among the highest in the nation, even higher.
State must increase its capacity to inspect refineries
Recent headlines about the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 people and injured 200 was a tragic reminder of what could have happened to Richmond and other East Bay communities during last August's Chevron refinery fire. While the East Bay avoided deaths, the refinery fire was not without consequence: workers narrowly escaped serious injury, and 15,000 residents sought medical treatment. So what more can be done to prevent these types of incidents? Ultimately, employers are responsible for safe workplaces, but perhaps if state regulatory agencies are able to devote more resources to planned inspections, we can transform an industrywide culture of reaction into one of prevention.
Presumptuous items in state budget deal
Fortunately, no legislators got hurt as they patted themselves on the backs for meeting their constitutional deadline for approving the new budget. More importantly, thanks to voters who approved a $6 billion tax hike last year, the Legislature on Friday approved a balanced $145 billion budget, with a $98 billion general fund that will pay down some of the state's debt. As happens each year, however, the 2013-14 spending plan contains its share of gimmicks.
Why GOP isn't in the zone on enterprise zones
Being "pro-business" isn't the same as being pro-market, pro-economic growth or, for that matter, pro-free enterprise. I offer that as a friendly admonishment to Republicans opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to end California's enterprise zones. They really should know better. Instead of fighting for a flawed scheme to entice businesses, Republicans would do well to make a vigorous case – call it "populist" if you like – for liberating Californians from central planners, well-heeled lobbyists and $400-an-hour corporate consultants. At this point, really, what would they have to lose?
Steven T. Jones
Everyone but Mayor Lee sees SF's worsening "housing affordability crisis"
There was a clear theme that ran through yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting from beginning to end, something understood equally by renters, homeowners, and politicians from across the political spectrum: San Francisco has a crisis of housing affordability that is forcing people from the city. And the only person who doesn’t seem to understand or care about that is the person with the most power to deal with the situation, Mayor Ed Lee, who opened the meeting by essentially dismissing both short- and long-term gentrification forces and claiming “our city has some of the toughest anti-displacement laws in the country.”
San Francisco Examiner
BART labor seeking more money for not laboring
BART's board of directors will vote on a $1.53 billion budget that includes $673 million in operating expenses. Some 57 percent of those expenses, or $382 billion, is for "labor" — or, too often, the lack thereof.
Pay hikes of the past come back to haunt county
The responsibility for money woes within the Sheriff's Department rests with the supervisors themselves. They have approved overly generous pay raises for deputies that the county can't afford. Next year's scheduled pay hike of 4.5 percent comes on top of compensation enhancements for deputies of more than 30 percent over the last five years. These hefty pay raises for deputies have come in the midst of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. They have come as the county has tried to hold the line on salaries for its other employees. They come at a time when the county workforce has been cut by 25 percent and most of those who remained – not deputies, of course – were forced to accept furloughs ranging between eight and 16 days in 2009 and 2010.
Is California's new budget balanced? Not really
Gov. Jerry Brown blunted the expansionist tendencies of his fellow Democrats in writing a new state budget, but that doesn't mean it's the "balanced" spending plan that he and other Capitol politicians are claiming.
San Diego Union-Tribune
Shameless unions want Prop 30 payback
The demand by state labor groups to share in the spoils of the Proposition 30 tax hikes typifies the me-first shamelessness of California’s public-employee unions. Brown’s budget currently has no wage increases, but whether he and the Legislature will ultimately bow to pressure remains to be seen. You know what they say about paybacks.
Night Stalker meets death but not penalty
Richard Ramirez is dead. The serial killer dubbed the Night Stalker was the face of evil for many Southern Californians, and now he is the face of something else -- the futility of this state's system of capital punishment. The death penalty has been costing the state more than $100 million a year on legal battles and death row incarceration. And it's not killing people. Since the state resumed executions in 1992, 13 condemned convicts have been put to death, while more than 700 sat in prison. Ramirez became the 85th death row inmate to die of natural causes.
Jerry Brown 2.0 gets his way on state budget
Jerry Brown spent most of his first governorship running for office – twice for president, once for re-election and once for the U.S. Senate – rather than running the state. Older and presumably wiser, he's fully engaged and has not hesitated to confront the Legislature, still controlled by his fellow Democrats. He usually gets his way, as the 2013-14 budget deal that emerged Monday indicates.
California's enterprise zone credits are a farce
California taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize card rooms and strip joints, legal though these businesses are. But that's what's happening. Originally championed by thoughtful conservatives such as the late U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, enterprise zones were intended to encourage businesses to hire unemployed people in impoverished inner cities. In California, however, the enterprise zone concept has been twisted into a profoundly dumb policy. California allows businesses to retroactively claim credits, receiving as much as $37,000 per employee for hiring decisions made years earlier. Consultants visit businesses in enterprise zones and show them how to capitalize on the state's stupidity – for a cut of the action.
California Senate hit by turmoil
The revelation that Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, is under FBI scrutiny, apparently involving some local water politics and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, creates big doubt about whether brother Tom could inherit the family Senate seat next year.
San Francisco Chronicle
Sean Parker’s Big Sur playground
And so we learn that billionaire Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame) had quite a wedding down in Big Sur last weekend - complete with A-list guests, a pond, waterfalls and many more amenities. About the only thing the $10 million party lacked was the permit required to do such a development on land under the regulation of the Coastal Act. The Coastal Commission caught wind of the party planning, and Parker ended up agreeing to a $2.5 million settlement. But it didn’t stop the lavish wedding, which went off as planned last weekend, with guests that included state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose potential duties include service as a nonvoting member of the Coastal Commission. "Potential" is the operative word because Newsom, as his predecessors, delegated that duty to the executive director of the State Lands Commission. What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty. One could only imagine the outcry from Harris, Newsom and a multitude of other Democrats if an oil baron had decided to turn an ecologically sensitive area of Big Sur into a playground for his rich pals and Republican bigwigs. Some may remember Newsom calling for the resignation of state Fish and Game Commission President Daniel Richards for hunting a mountain lion in Idaho. Their silence on Parker’s party is truly deafening and revealing on the principles of convenience in politics.
California and Obamacare: The rest of the story
Covered California is the new state agency that will oversee the health-insurance exchange through which uninsured residents and employers can buy coverage as Obamacare takes full effect on Jan. 1. Given the enduring unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act, it is vital that Covered California do all it can to create a strong first impression of competence and trustworthiness.
Will review of Caltrans truly be independent?
As the troubled San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge project nears completion - some $5 billion over budget and a decade late - Gov. Jerry Brown has belatedly ordered an independent external review of operations within the state Department of Transportation. An in-depth review of Caltrans management is long overdue.
Who Will Pay for Jerry Brown’s Father Complex?
It's full speed ahead for mammoth infrastructure projects in California -- especially the ones designed to build a legacy for Governor Jerry Brown. No matter. Brown is burnishing the family name. As he faces his own mortality, he is imposing debt on future generations to finance projects of dubious value, including one that will damage a pristine environment. As it turns out, we were worried about the wrong Jerry Brown.
California budget has many holes to fill in 10 days
Anyone who would tune into the Legislature's budget conference committee sessions this week expecting to learn how the 2013-14 budget is shaping up would be disappointed. The committee is going through the budget item by item, at least those items where the Assembly's Democrats and the Senate's Democrats differ, but anything more than slightly controversial is being "left open." That's political speak for those items that will not be resolved in public but rather behind closed doors, with the largest left to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature's top leaders.
Why does U.S. pay so much for basic medicine?
If Obamacare, or any reform of the U.S. health care system, is to work, we have to figure out how to bend the cost curve downward. U.S. costs clearly are way out of line.
Are California enterprise zones just for cronies?
Yes, it was a semi-cheesy, made-for-media event – two state legislators standing in front of a suburban Sacramento strip club to complain for TV cameras that it got corporate tax breaks meant to help the poor. But Monday's event in front of Déjà Vu Showgirls, featuring Sens. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, dealt with a real issue: the evolution of well-intentioned economic development programs into crony capitalism. Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature did away with local redevelopment agencies that had gone down that path.
Safety is latest worry about California bullet train
Take "The Little Engine That Could," remove the hero's underdog charm and the inevitability of a happy ending, and you've got the saga of the California bullet train as the project nears the scheduled start of construction next month.
'Tort wars' heating up in California Capitol
No legislative session occurs without some new tort war skirmish, but it appears that 2013 is particularly active. Lawyers, unions and other groups that want to expand litigation helped Democrats swell their legislative majorities and believe that the moment is ripe to move long-stalled agendas. Quite a few such bills have already emerged and others are waiting in the wings.
William Osborne & Steven Greenhut
California, the ninth-largest economy in the world, is a profoundly troubled state. It remains badly broken in many fundamental ways even as the national economy slowly but steadily emerges from the Great Recession and as cash from November’s voter-approved tax hikes pours into the state treasury.
State toxics agency could use a cleanup
Apparently, Caltrans isn't the only state agency that needs thorough scrutiny. Evidence is mounting that the state Department of Toxic Substances Control could use a good scrubbing as well. The agency has spent more than $100 million in public money since 1987 to clean up 1,700 contaminated sites across California, but has yet to bill the polluters. Earlier in May, the department's chief deputy director, Odette Madriago, resigned and announced her retirement at the end of the year after the Fair Political Practices Commission opened an investigation into a complaint that she has a financial stake in companies the agency regulates. These revelations embolden critics who say that while California has among the nation's strongest environmental protection laws, it has some of the weakest enforcement due to DTSC's shortcomings. It does make one wonder: What other problems might there be?
Brown should revise plan for Proposition 39 funds
Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing a massive overhaul of school funding formulas to put more resources where they are needed most: in low-income communities and other places where children need more help to get a good education and the money will do the most good. It's unquestionabl