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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011-08-31 "Schools told to follow rules or lose money; Feds hold schools to grant's reform policies" by Jill Tucker from "San Francisco Chronicle"
SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco school officials have some explaining - and complying - to do.
Last year, the district failed to follow the strict rules attached to a $56 million, three-year federal grant to improve student performance at 10 of its lowest-performing schools. The schools could lose the second installment - about $18 million - if they don't make adjustments.
San Francisco can take some solace in the fact that none of the 41 districts in California receiving similar grants followed all the rules, including Oakland, West Contra Costa and Hayward, and also risk losing a second round of funding.
The districts didn't know they would receive the grants until after the 2010-11 school year started and then didn't actually get the money flowing into the schools until December or January.
In addition, some of the federal Department of Education's rules attached to the cash were open to interpretation.
"There was a lot of confusion," said Chris Swenson, director of the state Department of Education School Improvement Division. "It was done rather hurriedly."

Four reform methods -
The schools, among the 188 schools ranked academically in the bottom 5 percent statewide, were required to adopt one of four reform models. Those included closing; converting to a charter school; bringing in new leadership and staff; or replacing the principal combined with other major reforms like an overhaul of teaching methods.
The schools that the district kept open to reform had to increase the school day or academic year.
In San Francisco, Willie Brown Elementary was closed. Four schools adopted the model requiring the turnover of staff and the other five replaced the principal and revamped instruction.
District officials, however, were dinged for failing to swap out, as required, at least half the teaching staff at three of the four schools, violating a major component of the selected reform model.
Guilty, district officials said without remorse.
Because the grant money came in so late, Superintendent Carlos Garcia refused to pull teachers out of classrooms midyear, said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.
"The superintendent made a decision that he would take it up with the state and federal authorities rather than do that to school communities after the school year began," she said.
The district fulfilled the requirement by the start of this academic year in August, which has satisfied federal and state authorities, Blythe said.

A reform principal -
There was also some confusion at Everett Middle School, which was required to replace the principal with a reform-minded leader. Federal authorities questioned whether the new principal, who was replaced as allowed within a two-year window prior to the grant, fit that description.
He was hired to fix the school, district officials told state and federal officials.
"This was an issue of miscommunication that seemed to have stemmed simply from the principal not self-identifying as a 'reform principal,' " Blythe said.
State officials conceded the point.
But San Francisco, along with nearly every district in the state, failed to adequately increase learning time for students and will have to do so this year to fulfill the requirement. That could mean summer school, longer school days or even Saturday school - for all students.
Each of the 41 districts will have to submit by Sept. 12 corrective action plans that show that they are in compliance before they can get the new round of funding.

When money arrives -
As soon as the problems are corrected, they'll get the money, Swenson said.
"The guidance continues to be refined," Swenson said. "They're getting another opportunity through this process."
In the meantime, the nine San Francisco schools that received federal grants are moving ahead with the second year of reforms, using first-year funds officials didn't have time to spend last year.
The funds will continue to be spent primarily on a few key areas: tutors, classroom coaches and teacher training; new and higher quality materials; and staff to help engage parents, district officials said.
Spring test scores released this month showed some improvements in student proficiency within those schools, but also that a lot of work remains to be done.
Federal School Improvement Grant reform models
To receive federal School Improvement Grants, district officials must choose one of four reform options for each school:
* Turnaround model: Replace the principal (if on the job more than two years) and at least 50 percent of the school staff, and rework the school's instructional program.
* Restart model: Convert the site to a charter school or select an education management organization to operate it.
* School closure model: Close the site and enroll students in higher achieving schools within a reasonable distance from the closed site.
* Transformation model: Replace the principal (if on the job more than two years), increase instructional time and adopt other improvement strategies.

San Francisco SIG grant schools reform models -
* Willie Brown Jr. Academy: Closure
* Bryant Elementary: Turnaround
* Carver Elementary: Turnaround
* Cesar Chavez Elementary: Transformation
* Everett Middle: Turnaround
* Horace Mann Middle: Transformation
* Mission High School: Transformation
* John Muir Elementary: Turnaround
* O'Connell High School: Transformation
* Paul Revere Elementary: Transformation

Saturday, August 27, 2011

2011-08-27 "Proof GOP is going to (but not helping) the dogs" by Wyatt Buchanan and Marisa Lagos from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Ever since the Republican Red Tide that swept the country stopped at the Sierra Nevada in November, we've been wondering how California's GOP would attract new party members.
(By the way, the Sierra also gave the Donner party problems in November, but that was a snowy winter nearly 165 years ago, and we digress.)
The influence of Republicans, who hold just 43 of the Legislature's 120 seats, has been threatened again recently by newly drawn districts, particularly in the Senate. But judging by some votes cast in the Senate last week, members of the state's Grand Old Party aren't quite ready to aggressively work to win over new constituencies.
First was a bill to prohibit the state from entering in contracts in excess of $100,000 with businesses that do not offer spousal benefits to employees in legally recognized same-sex marriages. All the Republicans opposed it.
Then came a resolution to request that the state rename the Eastshore State Park, which stretches from Richmond to Oakland, for Sylvia McLaughlin, who was instrumental in saving San Francisco Bay from environmental degradation. After Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach (Orange County), questioned it, the resolution was opposed by 11 Republicans, with two not voting.
Of course, since Democrats have nearly a two-thirds majority, both measures passed easily.
The coup de grace was AB971, a bill to re-enact the California Sea Otter Fund, a voluntary program that is paid for by people checking a box on their tax filings saying they want to contribute. Since 2006, when it went into effect, the fund has received more than $1.3 million for research on the health of the adorable creatures.
Instead of agreeing unanimously to the bill, Senate Republicans asked for a roll-call vote. The final tally was 33-3.
Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who presented the measure, and who is normally a paragon of civil discourse in the chamber, let it go a bit on this one.
"Who's against the sea otters for God's sake?!" he exclaimed.
The "no" votes came from three Republicans: Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville (Sacramento County), who is looking to challenge another conservative Republican in the next primary; Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine (San Diego County), and Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar (Los Angeles County).
The kicker: Anderson and Huff are the top two contenders to be the next Senate Republican leader.

Don't tell me how to track my dog: Senate Republicans weren't the only GOP lawmakers making hay out of measures relating to animals this week - apparently saving dogs and cats from euthanasia doesn't make the partisan cut either.
On Thursday, the Assembly debated (and passed) a bill that would require shelters and pet owners to implant a microchip into animals adopted from a shelter or released back to their family after being lost. The rice-size chips allow officials to more easily reunite lost pets with their owners, and cost less than $50.
The change, according to Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, could save taxpayers up to $300 million a year - the amount the public pays to euthanize pets.
Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno had this response: "I rise in utter astonishment, that with a $4 billion budget deficit, we are talking about microchipping dogs." The measure passed, 45-21. As for what Dickinson thought of his colleague's opposition?
"My response to her is 'woof'," he said.

Oh so awkward: Now, we present some of the most cringe-inducing moments of the week at the Capitol.
First up, Gov. Jerry Brown's Thursday news conference on his job creation proposal, which relies on undoing a corporate tax break passed as part of the February 2009 budget deal. Brown called the break "perverse and outrageous" and said "very few people knew, including the governor, what the hell they were doing" when they passed it.
Standing right next to Brown was Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who negotiated the tax break with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He grabbed the microphone and said, "Of course we knew what we were doing, and it was an outrageous demand." He explained that Democrats agreed to it because the GOP agreed to temporary tax increases.
Steinberg wasn't the only one snubbed by Brown this week. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rolled out his own jobs plan a few weeks back - only to have it overshadowed by the governor's - was nowhere to be seen at that event. Not to be outdone - or forgotten - his office released this statement following Brown's news conference:
"I applaud Governor Brown for his renewed and vital focus on job creation and for adopting three of the key points in our recently released Economic Growth and Competitiveness Agenda - executive sponsorship, a jobs czar and focus on manufacturing," Newsom said in the written statement. "I look forward to continuing our work."
2011-08-27 "Democrats propose measures to rein in California initiative process; Some say the bevy of voter-mandated programs leaves lawmakers hamstrung and that the process is subject to abuse by special interests. Critics say the proposed changes would 'neuter direct democracy'" by Michael J. Mishak from "Los Angeles Times" newspaper
Reporting from Sacramento -- Democrats in the Legislature are trying to make it harder for Californians to pass their own laws at the ballot box, saying the state's century-old initiative process has been hijacked by the special interests it was created to fight and has perpetuated Sacramento's financial woes.
In the waning weeks of this year's lawmaking session, legislators will push bills to raise filing fees, place new restrictions on signature gatherers and compel greater public disclosure of campaign contributors.
One measure would allow the Legislature to propose changes that would appear on the ballot alongside an initiative even if its sponsor rejected them. Another would give the Legislature the right to amend or repeal initiatives that pass, after four years have gone by.
Such changes would severely weaken what little leverage Republicans and their allies still have in California after last year's election, which solidified Democratic control of the Capitol.
But Democrats say their efforts have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with moderating "direct democracy" gone wild.
"I don't want to get rid of the initiative process," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), one of the effort's leaders and author of a proposal to make signature gatherers wear badges showing they are paid to collect names. "I just want it to work better."
Republicans and their supporters are crying foul, saying Democrats just want to maintain the status quo.
"The long-term agenda is to neuter direct democracy in California under the guise of reforming the system," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., sponsor of Proposition 13, the landmark property-tax initiative.
DeSaulnier said most voters don't realize how constrained lawmakers are by the initiative system. In recent decades, Californians have approved costly new laws and government programs but have also made it more difficult for lawmakers to raise taxes to pay for those that pass without funding attached.
The Legislature has cut deeply into some of California's most prized assets — its higher education system, for example — as it has struggled to balance the books without being able to touch money earmarked by voters. California, lawmakers note, is the only state that doesn't allow its Legislature to amend or repeal statutes created by voters.
"We are trying to take on a giant with one hand tied behind our back," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), who with DeSaulnier is leading the charge to rein in initiatives.
Their prospects are unclear. The most far-reaching bills require Republican votes and are unlikely to get them. Even if they make it through the Legislature, they must be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has championed the initiative process and has been lukewarm to attempts to restrict it.
The lawmakers' move follows years of their party's successful use of the initiative process to create their own pet programs, DeSaulnier acknowledged. Legislative leaders won measures that enshrined funding for mental health providers and enabled Democrats to pass a state budget with a simple majority vote. And Democrats backed Proposition 98, which dedicated roughly 40% of the general fund to public schools.
Initiative experts and good-government groups said that although some of the proposed overhauls could improve governance, they would inevitably harm Republicans, who, while largely on the sidelines in Sacramento, have also enjoyed victories at the ballot box.
GOP efforts helped squash property taxes with Proposition 13, which also imposed on the Legislature a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases. Republicans persuaded voters to ban bilingual education and affirmative action in public institutions, toughen penalties for violent juvenile offenders and limit class-action lawsuits.
The proposed changes "are basically attempts to … blame the process because you are kind of losing the game," said Shaun Bowler, an initiative expert at UC Riverside.
Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Linda), vice chairman of the lower house elections committee, called the initiative legislation "the height of arrogance." Democrats "own the Legislature," he said, "and they are making it impossible for the people to rise up and say enough is enough."
Stymied in earlier efforts by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Democrats hope Brown, who used a political reform initiative as a plank in his first run for governor in 1974, will be more agreeable. But this month, he followed the lead of his predecessor in vetoing legislation that would have outlawed the practice of paying signature gatherers for each name they secure.
In his veto message, Brown wrote that eliminating the incentive would drive up the cost of circulating petitions, favoring wealthy interests. "I am not persuaded that the unintended consequences won't be worse than the abuses the bill aims to prevent," he said.
And Brown plans to use the initiative process next year to ask voters to approve the tax hikes that Republicans blocked in this year's budget fight.
The public appears wary of legislative action.
A June poll conducted by good-government groups found that although voters support bids for more transparency in the initiative process, such as a DeSaulnier bill that would require measures to specify how they would be paid for, they strongly oppose those that would give the Legislature more power.
Only 37% liked the idea of giving lawmakers the authority to amend an initiative after it has passed, even if the measure's proponent agrees.
Marc Klaas, whose daughter's abduction and murder helped fuel the "three-strikes" initiative in 1994, said citizen lawmaking is a critical check on unresponsive legislators.
"The initiative process … exists so the people of California can have the kinds of laws they want," he said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011-08-24 "$54 a month for water you can’t drink" by David Bacon from "New America Media"
Angel Hernández, Isabel Solorio and Jesús Medina, residents of Lanare, have discovered dangerous concentrations of Arsenic in their water supply. (PHOTO BY DAVID BACON)
Note from the editor: Here we present the first of a two-part series about contaminated water in the community of Lanare.
When Mary Broad moved to Lanare in 1955, there were only four other families still living in this tiny, unincorporated community in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, halfway between old Highway 99 and Interstate 5 on the cracked blacktop of Mt. McKinley Avenue.
It wasn’t always this way. Lanare used to be a company town, taking its name from rancher and speculator LA Nares, one of the last of a string of speculators from the east who became owners of the old Spanish land grants - in his case, the Rancho Laguna de Tache. From 1912 to 1925 the town had a post office and a station on the Laton and Western Railway.
Lanare and its neighbors drew their water and life from the Kings River. The next town up the road even changed its name from Liberty Settlement to Riverdale to advertise its proximity. But through the first half of the 1900s, farmers tapped the Kings in the Sierras to the east, to irrigate the San Joaquin Valley’s vineyards, orchards and cotton fields. Instead of flowing into the valley past Lanare and Riverdale, in most years the stretch below the mountains became a dry riverbed. Eventually Tulare Lake, the river’s terminus, itself was drained for farmland and disappeared.
So, almost, did Lanare. Its people left, and only a few families remained. But in California’s housing crunch of the last few decades, Lanare began to grow again. For farm laborers, truck drivers and poor rural working families, living in Lanare was cheaper than urban Fresno fifty miles away.
But for these new residents, the dry riverbed and a century of using its water for irrigation have spelled bad news. Today Lanare’s water comes from a well. And in this low-lying area of the San Joaquin Valley, chemicals have become concentrated in the water table. It was no surprise, therefore, that residents discovered their water had high levels of arsenic, a poison. Since then, their effort to find water they can drink has been a search for the life of their town itself.
By 2000 Lanare had 540 residents. A decade later, 589. People mostly moved into trailers. Because most are farm workers in the surrounding fields, a third live under the poverty line, with half the men making less than $22,000 per year, and half the women less than $16,000.
Today Lanare is one of the many unincorporated communities in rural California that lack the most basic services, like drinking water, sewers, and even sidewalks and streetlights. According to Policy Link, a foundation promoting economic and social equity, “Throughout the United States, millions of people live outside of central cities on pockets of unincorporated land. Predominantly African-American and Latino, and frequently low-income, these communities ... have been excluded from city borders.”
Three years ago, Policy Link partnered with California Rural Legal Assistance to create the Community Equity Initiative, to find answers to the critical situation of Lanare residents and others like them. The San Joaquin Valley alone is home to more than 220 unincorporated communities, with an estimated population of almost half a million.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2011-08-23 "CSU, community colleges try to cope with cutbacks; Antitax stance will result in fewer skilled graduates" by Nanette Asimov from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
SAN FRANCISCO -- California is witnessing a slow and steady decline of its prized systems of higher education specifically because legislative Republicans have blocked efforts to raise taxes to pay for them, the community college and state university chancellors said Monday in a blunt and sobering back-to-school message.
Both systems together lost $1.3 billion in state funding this year after Republican lawmakers invoked a pledge not to raise taxes, and the Legislature passed a budget with deep cuts.
As a result, community colleges are offering 5 percent fewer courses across all 112 campuses this year, with an unprecedented 670,000 students turned away for lack of space, Chancellor Jack Scott said.
Across CSU's 23 campuses, students will find fewer instructors and more crowded classrooms this year, while library shelves will be left unfilled and roofs allowed to leak, Chancellor Charles Reed said.
California's system is producing fewer skilled graduates than the economy demands, the back-to-school message said.
At the same time, students are paying far more than last year to attend.
They paid $26 a unit at community colleges last year. This fall they'll pay $36 a unit, and Scott said it's likely the price will rise to $46 by January.
CSU students are paying 19 percent more this fall than last: $6,422 vs. $5,390 a year.
"Republicans need to recognize what California needs - and that is a well-educated workforce. You can't get it for nothing," Reed said in a joint appearance with Scott.
"Taxes are the price of civilization," Scott said, quoting the 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke. "We can't have services without revenues."

Transfer program -
Amid the depressing message, the chancellors also delivered some good news: Transferring from community college to CSU just got easier.
Dozens of community college campuses are now offering a new "associate degree for transfer" program specifically for students who want to pursue a bachelor's degree. The idea is to solve a devilish problem: It's not always obvious which community classes are transferable, so thousands of students wind up taking far more than the 120 units required for a bachelor's.
The new system is meant to offer students a clear transfer track, with no more than 60 units at community college and guaranteed admission as a junior at a CSU. The chancellors estimated the transfer program will save $160 million a year when it's fully up and running by educating more students for the same money.
This fall, about half of all community college campuses - including City College of San Francisco, Ohlone College in Fremont, Cañada College in Redwood City and Solano College in Fairfield - are offering the degree in at least one major.
City College of San Francisco has two - psychology and speech communications - with physics in the works. The program is so fresh it didn't even make it into the course catalog for this fall. Even in the online catalog it's listed in the "addendum" section.
"It's a work in progress," Tom Boegel, the dean of instruction, said with a laugh.

Paying more for less -
At San Francisco State University, where classes began today, students say their experience already matches the more disheartening portion of the chancellors' message: paying more for less.
As a senior, Sadaf Malik is supposed to enjoy such benefits as priority registration so she no longer has to beg professors to let her enroll in classes she needs - a demoralizing process known as crashing.
And yet, "all the classes I need are still pretty full," Malik said.
She's a biology major, but she still can't get into a physiology class or the lab that goes with the class. Without them, her graduation next spring is in doubt.
"It makes me feel really frustrated," Malik said. "It stresses me out. And as college students, we have enough stresses as it is."
Malik also thought she'd paid her fall semester bill in full last spring - and then the CSU trustees voted in July to raise the fall tuition for the second time since November.
She paid her final $249 on Monday, meeting the deadline by mere hours.
"I've been working every single day," said Malik, an assistant property manager in San Francisco. "I just asked my boss for more hours."
While the state's chancellors pointed fingers at tax-hating Republicans, one of those Republicans - Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks (San Bernardino County), vice chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee - called their accusations "ridiculous on its face."
Donnelly agreed that public colleges and universities are in decline but said taxes are the wrong way to rescue them.
"All they're whining about is they want more taxes to chase more business out of the state," he said. "You can't have a high level of investment when you've killed off the golden goose."
A better fix, he said, would be to pay professors less and rein in labor unions and trial lawyers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

2011-08-22 "Debate over hemp farming project elicits laughs" by Marisa Lagos and Wyatt Buchanan from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
A debate over a pilot project that would let some California farmers grow industrial hemp got laughs Wednesday when Democratic lawmakers sparred with a police lobbyist.
The bill by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would allow hemp farming in Imperial, Kern, Kings and San Joaquin counties for products like paper, clothing, canvas, rope and food. Kings and Kern county sheriffs support the measure, but other law enforcement groups aren't so enamored. They say it's difficult to distinguish between marijuana and hemp plants.
"You cannot visually tell the difference," said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotics Officers' Association and Police Chiefs Association. "It means in every major trafficking prosecution, defense counsel will begin with the argument, 'This is not marijuana, it's hemp - prove it.' "
Democrats weren't buying the argument.
"Anyone with the gift of sight can tell the difference between hemp and marijuana," Leno said to laughter before launching into a description of how hemp plants are tall and skinny and planted close together, and "as we all know" marijuana plants are much more stocky and dense and planted at least 4-feet apart.
The measure passed out of committee without a problem.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peter Douglas, Hero of California
Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press
2011-08-11 "After 40 years of coastal activism, Coastal Commission chief Peter Douglas to retire" by Jason Hoppin
WATSONVILLE -- Peter Douglas, who for four decades wielded unrivaled influence over arguably the most picturesque stretch of land and sea anywhere, announced Wednesday he is retiring as head of the California Coastal Commission.
Douglas, who has battled lung cancer, said he is stepping down in November for health reasons and will take an immediate medical leave until that time. He made the announcement at a Watsonville meeting of the Coastal Commission, which oversees land-use policies along California's 1,100-mile coastline.
"My vision has always been that this agency will continue to carry out the public trust in a resolute, effective, strong way to protect the coast for future generations, and to maximize opportunities for the public to use and enjoy their coast," Douglas said in a lengthy statement accompanying the announcement.
Douglas, who could be a fierce opponent of development, was not available for comment at the commission's Wednesday meeting, and declined requests for interviews. He did not return a call for comment.
As the commission's top staffer, Douglas never wavered from a crusade to preserve and expand public access to the coast nor shrank from his many critics. But Douglas' activism on coastal issues goes back before he was made executive director in 1985.
Douglas was a co-author of Proposition 20, which created the commission in 1972. As a consultant to a legislative committee, he co-drafted the 1976 Coastal Act, a document that carries almost biblical importance among environmentalists.
"There's no question that Peter Douglas has been the heart and soul of California's coastal protection program for the last 40 years, but the legacy that he's left is a very strong program, dedicated staff, and an activated public," said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"If there's a face of coastal conservation and preservation, it's Peter Douglas," said Mark Stone, the commission's vice chair and a Santa Cruz County supervisor.
No stranger to controversy, Douglas survived numerous attempts by governors and the Legislature to remove him. He was a frequent critic of cuts to commission funding, and a fierce defender of the commission's independence. He was not afraid to mix it up.
"I've worked under seven governors, and every one of them has disliked the Coastal Commission because they can't control us," Douglas said at a Sacramento conference on the Coastal Commission held this summer.
"I've seen governors and senators and Assembly speakers all try to roll Peter Douglas, and they weren't successful," said former Assemblyman Rusty Areias, who once chaired the Coastal Commission, at the same conference.
Over the years, the commission has tangled with everyone from Hollywood celebrities to San Francisco's exclusive Olympic Club, forcing the latter to open up membership to women and minorities. It has played a key role in shaping the local landscape as well, including today's anticipated decision on the proposed beachfront La Bahia Hotel.
Born in Germany during World War II, Douglas, who is Jewish, immigrated with his family to the U.S. via Mexico in the early 1950s. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from UCLA, and over the years has collected numerous environmental awards.
Former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, now Santa Cruz County's treasurer, called Douglas one of the 100 most important Californians in state history.
"The California Coastal Act had a more profound land use effect on 1,100 miles of coastal California than any other land use act in the state," Keeley said. "It has done more to enhance and preserve the dry side of the coast than anything in the history of the state."
State Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, who said he was notified privately a few days ago that Douglas would step aside, said Douglas was "totally fearless" in defending the coast.
"There are a very small list of people that you can credibly say changed the face of California," Laird said. "He's one of those people."
But there have long been bitter resentments toward the commission and Douglas in particular, especially when private property rights conflicted with public access to the coast.
The commission is a frequent litigator in court, and property rights advocates say the commission has cost coastal homeowners millions when trying to refurbish their homes, often extracting easements or other public passages as conditions of approval.
"It is kind of frustrating from our perspective the kind of praise he's getting," said Paul Beard, a principal attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. "The idea that this guy's some kind of hero is foreign to us and the thousands of property owners that happen to live in the coastal zone. ... One would hope in this change in leadership, we replace a zealot with someone who's a little more pragmatic."
Areias concurred that the Coastal Commission can deploy a heavy hand.
"It's crazy what some of these people have to go through," Areias said in June. "People love their Coastal Commission ... as long as they don't have to go before it."
Senior Deputy Charles Lester has served in Douglas' role during health-related absences, and is considered a candidate to replace Douglas. The executive director serves at the pleasure of the commission, which is expected to discuss a succession plan at its September meeting.
Douglas has said he is proud of how the commission invites public participation in decision-making, and has warned of the dangers of having a public that is not engaged on coastal issues.
"I think the biggest threat to coastal protection is ignorance and apathy," he said recently.
Nothoff agreed, saying she thought new generations of Californians might take California's coastline, much of it preserved from development and serving as an international draw for tourists and nature-lovers, for granted.
"That's what they've grown up with. They haven't seen it threatened the way that they did back in the '70s, from the closed-gate communities and the sprawl on the coast," Notthoff said.
In his retirement statement, Douglas urged people to keep up the fight.
"I think the California coast is one of the greatest repositories of untold stories. People have to understand, it's like all relationships. You can't take our relationship with the coast for granted, because it took a lot of sweat, blood and tears to preserve it so we have what we have today," Douglas said.
He continued: "These things didn't just happen. The coast is what it is because a lot of people worked really hard and sacrificed to protect it. And if we want it to be there for our children, we have to keep fighting to protect it. In that way, the coast is never saved, it's always being saved."

2011-08-20 "High stakes over next Coastal Commission director" by JEREMY HAY from "THE PRESS DEMOCRAT" newspaper
Replacing the Coastal Commission's longtime executive director, Peter Douglas, likely will be a process influenced by intense lobbying over the future of the agency that regulates development on one of the world's most valuable coastlines.
“The power of money is at work 24 hours a day on the coast,” said Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who was named a commissioner in May.
Douglas, who has lung cancer, went on medical leave Monday and will resign in November.
His replacement will have to be able to “stand up to the power that money can bring to almost every conversation,” Kinsey said. “There are forces that want to change the direction and there are forces that want to continue the direction.”
The movement Douglas shaped was given early headwind in Sonoma County, where residents fought to preserve access to the coast through the 3,500-acre Sea Ranch development.
Now private property activists are deeply interested in who replaces Douglas, who headed the commission since 1986 and co-authored the 1972 ballot initiative that created it.
“Our outlook is that hopefully things can only get better from here in terms of the treatment of property owners in the coastal zone,” said Paul Beard, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation. He heads the coastal land rights project, that often has battled the commission over private property rights.
“I suspect you'd be hard pressed to find someone that rigid in his views about property and the environment,” Beard said. “That's where my optimism springs from.”
The foundation represented Gualala residents who fought the coastal commission over the right to hold July 4 fireworks.
Foes of the show said the fireworks disturbed nearby seabirds and the commission agreed, requiring the show's organizers to get a permit and demonstrate the birds would not be bothered.
More recently, the commission ordered a community of more than 200 mobile homes at Lawson's Landing in Marin County to be moved within five years, acting on concerns that the homes were damaging sand dunes. Kinsey voted against the order.
Those are North Coast examples of the commission's influence on coastal activity, extending to several contentious development restrictions on the central and Southern California coasts, achieved during Douglas's tenure.
“He had a whole lot to do with the success of demanding public access,” said Bill Kortum, a veteran Sonoma County environmental activist. “Whether you're a movie actor applying or a mucky muck, he held the ground.”
The Gualala ruling was upheld in state appeals court, one of thousands of court cases that sprang from contested commission orders.
“A number of those court decisions had the effect of expanding the authority of the commission,” said former Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Reilly, who was a commissioner from 1997 to 2011.
For opponents like Beard, the commission has become an agency that consistently over-reaches.
For supporters, it plays a vital role in ensuring coastal access at developments like Sea Ranch and protecting delicate coastal habitats from over-development.
Douglas has said he hopes commissioners will select as his replacement his senior deputy, Charles Lester, who is now interim executive director.
Lester is a “credible candidate with exceptional skills,”said Kinsey.
But, Kinsey said he thinks a broader search should be conducted.
“The commission should really strongly consider opening the door to see who else has the vsision, the passion and the unique skills to lead us,” Kinsey said.
“There will be a whole lot of pressure” on the commissioners, said Kortum.

2011-08-26 "A new chapter at the Coastal Commission?" by Paul J. Beard II
Paul J. Beard II is a principal attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a watchdog organization for limited government and property rights.
Will we be seeing a new direction for the California Coastal Commission? Let's hope so!
Peter Douglas, the agency's longtime executive director, is battling cancer and has just announced his retirement.
This is a milestone development in the agency's history because the Coastal Commission and Douglas have been synonymous. He helped to create it in the 1970s and has been at its helm since the mid-1980s. In all those years, few of the agency's major initiatives have gone forward without his blessing.
As a vigorous critic of Douglas' stewardship, I wish him the best in his health battles. But it would be less than honest not to say that a new philosophy and a new set of priorities are sorely needed at this powerful bureaucracy.
Hardly any human activity can be performed along the California coast without OK from the Coastal Commission - and in practice, that has often meant that Douglas' direct approval was required for property owners to make use of their land. This is an extraordinary power to be wielded by one agency official and by an unelected board of commissioners who is not answerable to voters.
For many who own land on or near the coast - particularly those who have had to seek permits to do something on their property - the agency's record of arbitrary decision-making inspires fear if not loathing.
If you think I'm being hyperbolic, consider this criticism from another source: The Coastal Commission engaged in "an out-and-out plan of extortion." Those aren't the words of some disgruntled Tea Party leader; they're from the U.S. Supreme Court itself, in the landmark case, Nollan vs. California Coastal Commission. The court was denouncing the Coastal Commission's practice of seizing property as the price of giving people land-use permits.
The Nollan decision came down nearly 25 years ago, but the Coastal Commission is still trying to evade it, still trying to confiscate land without the constitutionally required "just compensation."
Just last month, in the case of Sterling vs. California Coastal Commission, a San Mateo County Superior Court judge rebuked the agency for putting the squeeze on a family seeking to build a house for themselves on their property. The commission was demanding that, in return for a permit, they dedicate the rest of their land as open space - without being paid a penny.
The commission's unfriendliness to property rights along the coast has a dollars-and-cents impact for all Californians, even far inland. One need only consider the countless projects - and the employment opportunities and state tax revenues they would have generated - that the commission has denied. Or consider the millions of dollars that permit applicants have been forced to waste on consultants, lobbyists, attorneys, scientists and other experts - even for the most straightforward, environmentally credible projects, or even to build a single-family home.
The Founding Fathers wrote the defense of property rights into the Constitution because property rights are essential to all other freedoms - and to prosperity. Here's hoping that a new chapter now opens for the Coastal Commission, in which this important truth will serve as a guide.

2011-08-11 "Battle over online class fees moves to Capitol" by Nanette Asimov from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Efforts to quickly legalize student access fees for community college cyber-classes - fees that are banned by state law but which may be rampant across California campuses - have hit a snag in the state Capitol.
Darrell Steinberg, president pro tem of the state Senate, has strongly criticized a recent recommendation by a community college task force to change state law to permit such fees, which are charged by publishers capitalizing on the explosive popularity of online courses.
The problem, he told community college leaders, is that the group met behind closed doors, was heavily weighted with publishers, and failed to disclose conflicts of interest.
In his letter last week, the Sacramento Democrat also warned Community College Chancellor Jack Scott and Scott Himelstein, president of the community college Board of Governors that hasty legalization of such fees could open the door to "predatory publisher practices at the expense of students and families." He called for "a full vetting" of the issue with proper public notice and participation.

Open resources -
Echoing Steinberg's concerns are advocates of free online curriculum - known as open educational resources - and the state's nonpartisan legislative analyst.
"We want to know how widespread this (fee) practice is," said Paul Steenhausen, a community college specialist at the Legislative Analyst's Office. "This is something the Legislature will review."
Enrollment in online courses has soared in the past decade. In 2000, 115,000 California community college students took at least one such class, but last year more than 600,000 took online courses, according to a report by Steenhausen. While community college enrollment grew by just 1 percent a year in that time, online enrollment climbed by 19 percent a year, the report found.
Now the fee controversy puts California at a crossroads about how to proceed: Should the state make it easier for publishers to provide sometimes costly, off-the-shelf cyber classes, or should lawmakers encourage a greater reliance on free or low-cost curriculum, often developed by professors for broad distribution online?
Pearson, a big publisher that sells online classes to 3 out of 4 California community colleges - says students and faculty strongly benefit from its courses, which provide instant quiz grades and academic feedback, "freeing instructors to spend less time grading and more time working directly with their students," the company said responding to inquiries from The Chronicle.
But advocates of free online instructional materials also have powerful proponents. They say that textbooks in the public domain are increasingly necessary as the costs of college - and books - rise ever higher.
The U.S. Department of Education endorses free curriculum as a matter of policy, and this year began requiring community colleges that rely on federal grant money earmarked for developing online curriculum to offer it at no cost to students.

Push for lower fees -
In California, former state Senate leader Dean Florez heads a foundation called 20 Million Minds, which works to lower the cost of college texts through the use of open educational resources. It's across the street from the state Capitol, and Florez hasn't hesitated to tell his former colleagues that it's a bad idea to let publishers charge for access.
"As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation," he said. Permitting the fees "has the potential to create a very, very bad precedent."
"It's not just about academic affordability or fee stability. It's bigger. It's the potential for open educational resources to be put into the mix," Florez said.
The fee controversy came to light in June after The Chronicle published a story about student anger over a $78 fee for an online math class at Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills. To enroll, students had to pay the fee to Pearson on top of their $85 registration fee to the college, effectively doubling the price of the course.
College officials defended the publisher's fee as a legitimate charge for instructional materials. Yet state law prohibits such fees unless students can keep the materials they've purchased.
Students said they couldn't download, store or print the electronic textbook they paid for, and that their access code had an expiration date. Jason Jordan, a senior vice president at Pearson, confirmed that students "can't download it and keep it. It's a purely Web-based application."
Fred Rassaii, a Foothill student who first complained to campus officials about the fee in April, believes every student who has paid such a fee - perhaps thousands statewide - is owed a refund.

'Multibillion-dollar fleecing' -
"Students are being robbed," he said. "It's not limited to California. We're talking about a multibillion-dollar fleecing of American students."
Rassaii called Steinberg's effort "a good start."
Foothill College was once a hub of advocacy for free courseware - and many professors still use it. Hal Plotkin, a former trustee of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, was a huge proponent and now serves as a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education.
Although the Obama administration has taken no position on the fee issue, Plotkin said he was "greatly heartened" to see Steinberg's letter, which also urged the college leaders to consider "other online educational resources that may be lower in cost or free to students."
Chancellor Scott and Board President Himelstein have not yet replied to the letter.

2011-08-11 "Database: See dropout rates for every California school" by Phillip Reese
During 2010, about 4.6 percent of California high school students dropped out, better than the 5.7 percent dropout rate from the prior year, according to data released Thursday. Over a four-year period, about 18 percent of high school students will quit school.
[ ... ]

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

2011-08-10 "Jerry Brown's Bad Bet: The governor and legislative Democrats avoided truly drastic budget cuts by banking on the economy recovering in 2011" by Robert Gammon
When Governor Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats agreed in late June to an on-time budget, it appeared to be a rare occurrence. Sacramento had become notorious for budget battles that lasted well into late summer or early fall. The problem became so severe that state voters approved an overhaul last November for how budgets are passed in California. However, in recent weeks, it's become increasingly clear that the governor's budget wasn't that unusual after all. Like many deals before it, this year's pact was based on smoke and mirrors.
A cornerstone of the deal was that it depended heavily on California's economy rebounding in 2011. And based on the first several months of the year, the prediction didn't seem that outlandish. Through May, the state had collected $6.6 billion more in tax receipts than it had anticipated.
Brown's prediction of $4 billion in extra tax revenues in the second half of 2011, in turn, allowed him and the Dems to avoid even deeper cuts to state services than they already had made. In particular, their bet spared K-12 education from the budget axe and avoided the complete shredding of the state's social safety net. To be fair, Brown and the Dems were partly forced into making the bet when Republicans refused to go along with the governor's plan to put tax-extension measures on the ballot.
But looking back, it seems clear that Brown and the Dems should have realized that the same Republican intransigence was playing out on the national level in the form of the debt-ceiling crisis. Staunch GOP opposition to closing tax loopholes for big corporations and the wealthy not only had forced Washington into political gridlock, but it had sent the stock market into a tizzy. For a time, it actually looked as if the US government, egged on by Tea Party fanatics, might default on its debts for the first time in history. At the same time, the economy appeared to be stalling, as consumer spending remained flat and unemployment stayed at historically high levels.
Then last Friday, Standard & Poor's downgraded the nation's credit rating for long-term debt. Although S&P deserved the sharp criticism it received from the Obama White House for erroneously overstating the nation's debt problem by $2 trillion, the ratings company's other rationale for the downgrade had a ring of truth to it: The US government, because of political wrangling in Washington, could no longer be completely trusted to pay its debts. S&P specifically pointed out the opposition to raising tax revenues, and even though it didn't identify the Republican Party by name, it was clear that it was laying blame, at least partially, at the feet of the GOP.
Consequently, an economic recovery, whether nationwide or in California, now seems remote. Indeed, many economists are predicting that the chances of a double-dip recession have risen substantially, and now stand at about 35 to 40 percent, particularly in light of Washington's misplaced focus on the debt rather than on jobs. Consequently, Brown and the Democrats' prediction now looks foolish. Brown's "revenue projections were silly before," Chris Thornberg, founding principal at Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles consulting group, told the Contra Costa Times. "It was always unrealistic, and now it's just that much less realistic."
As a result, it now seems obvious that come January, the governor and state Democratic leaders will have to further devastate public education in California. Some analysts are predicting that the California school year, already much shorter than many other nations, will shrink further to just 168 days of instruction, down from 180 just a few years ago.
Two Oakland public charter schools, however, appear to have little to worry about, thanks to Brown. In fact, statewide budget cuts may have little impact on the governor's arts and military schools here. Why? The Los Angeles Times reported that Brown has raised an astonishing $2.5 million for his schools in the first half of this year, soliciting donations from many special interests groups that have business with the state. Both Indian-gaming casinos and card clubs, for example, have pumped at least $290,000 into the schools in 2011 as they battle over the future of online gambling in California.
Brown, of course, claims that there is no quid pro quo — that he is not soliciting big bucks for his two pet charter schools in exchange for political favors. He said the same thing earlier this year about the sweetheart deal he hammered out with the state's prison guards' union after it spent $3 million last year getting him elected. Last week, the Sacramento Bee reported that the sweetheart deal was even sweeter than previously noted. One of its provisions, for example, allows hundreds of guards to party this weekend in Las Vegas on the taxpayers' dime. The partying is expected to cost California about $400,000 and was included in the guards' union contract under the euphemism "activist release time."

Brown on Beer and Signatures -
The governor, however, appears to have made at least one good move last week. He signed into law a bill that will make it easier for breweries to offer tastings to the public, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The new law exempts breweries that don't serve food from strict health code requirements imposed on restaurants. Wineries have enjoyed a similar exemption since 1985.
Brown also signed a bill that makes it illegal for companies to sell beer infused with caffeine, the LA Times reported. The new law came in response to several high-profile incidents in which young drinkers were hospitalized after drinking caffeinated beer drinks.
And Brown vetoed a bill sponsored by East Bay legislator Ellen Corbett that would have made it illegal to pay ballot-measure-petition-signature gatherers by the signature, the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle reported. Advocates of the bill argued that paying per signature induces signature gatherers to lie. But Brown said the bill, which would have required that signature gatherers be paid by the hour or day, would have driven up the cost of putting measures on the ballot.

Three-Dot Roundup -
Oakland set a city record for National Night Out, as residents hosted about 560 block parties on the evening of August 2. ... Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts and Mayor Jean Quan announced that the city is immediately rehiring 24 of the cops laid off last summer, plus eight more later this year. ... East Bay state Senator Mark DeSaulnier is demanding a probe into the legality of a plan by MTC to leave Oakland and use bridge tolls to buy an old post office building in San Francisco. ... And has already pumped $3 million into a proposed ballot measure that would allow it not to collect sales taxes from its customers.

Friday, August 5, 2011

2011-08-05 "Oregon's tiny, 'idyllic' hotbed of marijuana" from "The Week" online news journal
What happens to a town when pot growing is the bedrock of the local economy?
As politicians and legislators wrangle over the legal status of marijuana — for medical as well as recreational uses — the rural hamlet of Williams, Ore., has taken matters into its own hands. The "idyllic" Williams, with a population of about 2,000 people, has emerged as the crown jewel in the "Emerald Triangle," a verdant region along the Oregon-California border with a rich heritage of pot cultivation. More than 400 people, or roughly 20 percent of the small town, are each registered with the state of Oregon to legally grow up to six marijuana plants for medicinal purposes. In one local zip code with 80 residents, 60 people have pot-growing permits. Here, a brief guide:
How did all this pot growing start?
The area around Williams has an ideal climate for growing marijuana. When hippies from California and elsewhere traveled here in the 1970s, they found a remote agricultural area with a "live-and-let-live" attitude, making it perfect for pot cultivation. After Oregon's medical marijuana law was implemented in 1999, many illegal pot growers "came out of the woods and started doing it legally," said Keith Mansur, editor of the Oregon Cannabis Connection, as quoted by the Associated Press.
What's the economic impact?
Profound, according to the locals. Like many parts of the Northwest, Williams and the surrounding communities have been pummeled by the downturn in logging, farming, and other economic mainstays. The recent surge in marijuana cultivation has stimulated the local economy through sales of growing equipment like fencing, fertilizers, and potting soil. But because a lot of the cash-based commerce takes place off the books, it isn't taxed, and thus doesn't help local schools, libraries, or other struggling public services.
Are the police cracking down?
Yes, to a degree. There are limits to what people can get away with, even in laid-back Williams. A local couple was busted in 2009 for having 220 pounds of pot, far more than the 16.5 pounds allowed by Oregon law. Since it was a first offense, the couple served just a month in jail after pleading no contest. The total amount of illegal selling and growing in the area is difficult to determine.
Is everyone in the town happy about this?
No, especially at harvest time in the fall, when growers take aggresive action to thwart pot thieves. "Some people dress up like Vietnam and walk around with guns," says local grower and activist Laird Funk. "But you could kill people like that, so I don't." Still, people see value in an agricultural crop that can replace a once-vibrant timber economy. "Forget cutting the trees," says area resident John Rickert. "Let's legalize marijuana."

California environmentalism

2011-08-05 "The Deep Differences On Environment Among California Regions" by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
A recent statewide survey [] revealed that there are deep regional differences among Californians when it comes to environmental issues. Being a life-long California resident with a heritage which goes back at least seven generations in the Central San Joaquin Valley, the survey confirmed what I already suspected. Conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and released on July 27, the survey showed that in the San Joaquin Valley, the Inland Empire and Orange/San Diego Counties, some environmental issues are not considered as big a priority as in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County.
Climate change is one area where the more politically conservative areas of the Central Valley and the Inland Empire differ in opinions from the more politically liberal areas of the Bay Area and LA, as the following charts illustrate.
Support for regulating greenhouse gas emissions differs according to regions, with more in the Bay Area and LA County in favor of such measures.
When it comes to local efforts to address global warming, LA County residents are the most critical.
The good news is that 61 percent of all Californians think global warming effects have already begun, up from 54 percent in 2010. Californians more likely than adults nationwide to hold this view, and over six in 10 across regions say action should be taken right away to combat global warming.
Nuclear power and offshore drilling -
When it comes to nuclear power, only 38 percent of all Californians support building more nuclear power plants.
More residents of the Central Valley, Orange/San Diego Counties and the Inland Empire support oil drilling off California’s Coast than the Bay Area and LA County.
Californians in polluted areas think smog is a problem -
When it comes to air pollution, the views of Californians depend on how polluted their regions happen to be. Overall, two in three Californians consider air pollution to be either a big problem (29 percent) or somewhat or a problem (37 percent), and only 33 percent say it’s not a problem. The biggest change in this perception occurred in the Central Valley, which since last year, is up eight points.
The State of the Air 2011 report by the American Lung Association shows that in LA County, the Inland Empire and the Central Valley pollution is a huge problem. Counties in LA, the Central Valley and the Inland Empire are all in the top 25 most polluted counties for both short term and long term air pollution. However, Orange and San Diego Counties are also on the 25 list for short term pollution. Clearly, residents in both counties need to be educated about short term pollution in their regions.

What the numbers represent -
The difference in numbers among California’s regions represents the vast political and cultural differences in those regions. For example, the Central Valley has much more in common with the Midwest and the South than it does with California’s other regions. It’s considered to be the agriculture center of the world, and as such, is largely rural, with only one large city, Fresno. Although Central Valley residents are aware of how polluted their region is, which isn’t surprising given the high asthma rates here, there are some who still don’t believe in global warming. I’m not sure educating hardened climate deniers works. I speak from experience as there are people I know who fall into this category. However, educating children does work, for children are the future of any region.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2011-08-02 "Budget Deficits, Bond Debt, Billionaires, the Brown Family and Big Profits, Part One" by Patrick Porgans and Lloyd G. Carter
Patrick Porgans and Lloyd G. Carter have both been writing about California water issues for 40 years. Porgans’ email address is pp [at] Carter’s email is lcarter0i [at]
Editor’s note: This is a two-part series.
Part One focuses on how the wealthy and landed have used the public bond process in California to further their own interests, while promoting and profiting from the state’s “budget crisis.”
Part Two, which will run August 8, focuses on the family legacy of Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, who first mastered the art of selling water bonds half a century ago, to finance the construction of the State Water Project, which was sold as a project that would pay for itself, and unify the state. It never has, and it is at the crux of the Bay-Delta conflict and the state’s water crisis.
In Part Two, Porgans and Carter discuss how the water bond phenomena was pioneered by Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, Sr. and now plays a key role in the lives of his son, current Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry’s sister, Kathleen Brown and the investment firm Goldman Sachs.
California’s 90 billionaires (according to Forbes Magazine) and 662,735 millionaires got rich in a lot of different ways. But, there are those billionaires that thirst for more.
California’s land rich billionaires – whose wealth, ultimately, depends on water - have had a significant role in using the “system” (tax-base revenue, credit rating, and natural resources) to promote and support issuances of tens of billions of dollars of General Obligation (GO) bonds to fund vested interest public works projects, particularly water and water-related grant programs which considerably enhance the value of their land. And the grant money, often used to build local water district infrastructure and help fund developers, is free. At the same time, they are having the public pay to increase their water supply, and are selling this water back to the public at astronomically high prices.
A government grant-funded study, conducted at the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, indicates that from 1987 through 2008, an estimated $3.9 billion in water water-transfer sales/profits were made. The profiteers included some of the state’s richest billionaires. As the saying goes, in California water runs uphill and toward money.
These GO bonds fund a myriad of state programs and finance massive public works projects that directly aid the landed gentry. These include billionaires like Orange County real estate king Donald Bren, who reportedly owns 110,000 acres, and has a “Master Plan” to develop significant portions of land (
Bren is a close friend of former Gov. Pete Wilson, who was an employee of Bren’s before and after serving as governor.
There is also Beverly Hills resident Stewart Resnick (now the biggest “farmer” in California with 200,000 acres in Kern and Kings counties) and there are the heirs of cotton king J.G. Boswell. The Boswell family owns 200,000 acres of farmland in the Tulare Basin and want to build a city of 30,000 on land they own in the Tulare County foothills. They profit directly when California’s voters fund multi-billion bond projects to export Northern California water south to industrial farm fields in the western San Joaquin Valley or to the never-ending desert subdivisions in the Southland. Furthermore, the majority of them are also involved in profiting from water sales and marketing.
Tejon Ranch, now owned by Cattellus (another billionaire outfit which morphed from the railroads), owns 270,000 acres straddling the “Grapevine” Interstate 5 route over the Tehachapis. It is the largest block of private land in California. The combined acreage for just these four companies (Bren, Resnick, Boswell, Catellus) exceeds 780,000 acres.
And all four of these Big Money players already are engaged in filling their unquenchable thirst for a more “reliable” source of water from the north. And, of course, next year, voters will be asked to fund yet another $11 billion water bond measure (which will take $22 billion to pay off) to move yet more water south.
You can count on Team Billionaire - which includes the billionaires, major landholders, chambers of commerce, local water districts (most of which are members of the Association of California Water Agencies), banks, investment firms, and all manner of Southern California real estate and development interests - to spend huge amounts of money to convince voters to approve water-related GO bond measures.
According to the state’s Department of Finance’s (DOF) website, there are currently a total of $150 billion in GO bonds which have been approved by the voters in the past few decades, of which a total of $79.6 billion has been issued and is being repaid from the General Fund.
To put the $79.6 billion debt in perspective, in Governor Jerry Brown’s recently approved 2011-2012 state budget totaled $129 billion, Approximately $86 billion came from General Fund revenues, the remaining amount come from special funds and other bonds. The principle and interest payments on the outstanding G.O. bond debt is in excess of $136 billion; includes fixed and variable rate estimates on bonds.
Of the $79.6 billion of GO bond debt (principle), an estimated $19.4 billion was authorized primarily for water programs, including buying water for fish; mitigation, wildlife conservation easements, studies, drought relief, local irrigation, flood protection, and municipal water district infrastructure projects. Add at least another $13 billion in interest to pay off the $19.4 billion in water bonds and you have a total water-related public debt of at least $32.4 billion; comparatively speaking, it represents about 40 percent of the cost to run the state General Fund programs.
It is estimated that it takes close to $1 billion annually from the state’s deficit-ridden General Fund to service just the GO water- and water-related bonds that have been issued. This amount represents about 15 percent of the annual repayment obligation of all existing GO bond debt; the figure is expected to go higher.
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer says payment of the interest and principal on all GO bonds is a crushing $10 billion a year –amounting to nearly a tenth of the state’s General Fund – and is expected to keep rising each year. This addiction to bonds is a principal reason for the draconian state budget cuts in education, police and fire services, and programs for the elderly and disabled that occurred in recent years. Indeed, to meet those bond obligations, California has cut $115.7 billion from the state budget in the last three fiscal years.
During the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state’s bond debt doubled as the “no more taxes” crowd simply turned to bonds to get the public to foot the bill for water projects, programs and other infrastructure financing to sustain and expand their publicly subsidized business ventures, most for agribusiness and new Southern California subdivisions on the desert.
What the billionaires know, of course, is that GO bonds are still being used to pay off the $1.75 billion State Water Project (SWP) which former Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown sold to the public back in 1960 as a project that would “pay for itself.” It has never come close to paying for itself and it could take an additional $63 billion, according to the California Department of Water Resources, to make real the water which Brown, Sr. promised a half century ago.
In fact, SWP contractors, many of who supported the original GO bond debt, have vehemently refused to take responsibility for bearing the burden of the $32.4 billion in water-related bond debt; as SWP beneficiaries, by law, they are required to pay certain costs. Instead, they have passed it on to the unsuspecting public with the help of their campaign-supported elected officials.
In addition, water bonds promoted under the fear tactic of “safe, clean, reliable” water have been issued for water projects that directly benefit SWP urban and agribusiness contractors. Such bonds are much easier to sell to unwitting voters than raising taxes first to pay for things society needs, which is always a tough sell for politicians. A bond, it turns out, is a tax but a hidden one. The water-guzzling land billionaires are hoping they can float one more bond by the voters next year.

Monday, August 1, 2011

2011-08-01 "Progressive Caucus of California Democratic Party Encourages Democratic Party Primary Challenge to President Obama"
On Saturday, July 30th, 2011, an estimated 75 members of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party (CDP) passed a resolution in support of a Democratic Party Presidential Primary challenge to President Barack Obama. Gathering in Anaheim during an Executive Board meeting of the CDP, the group overwhelmingly endorsed the resolution following a discussion on the importance of not only challenging the far-right agenda of unmitigated corporate greed but also the current administration’s willingness to slash 650-billion dollars from Social Security and Medicare. Below is the resolution:

Whereas, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, recognizes the challenge presented by President Obama’s negotiating away Democratic Party principles to extremist Republicans by:
· His unilateral closed-door budget offer to slash Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, thus endangering The New Deal and War on Poverty safety nets.
· His determination to escalate U.S. militarism through illegal secret CIA drone attacks and unauthorized wars.
· His willingness to extend the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and bail out big banks without ending the foreclosure crisis that displaces American working families.
· His insistence on pushing a health insurance bill which enriches private insurance companies while ignoring growing support for single-payer health care or robust public options.
· His continuance of President Bush’s assault on civil liberties with an extension of the repressive Patriot Act, along with violations of international human rights.
· His failure to restore due process and Habeas Corpus, while continuing the practice of nationwide FBI raids of anti-war progressive protesters.
· His decision to increase the arrests and deportations of undocumented workers.
· His facilitation of the privatization of the public sphere, which includes education and housing, among others.
· His disregard of his promises to the Labor movement and environmentalists.

Whereas the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party recognizes the historical significance of the great late Robert F. Kennedy’s anti-war challenge to former President Lyndon Johnson, following President Johnson’s decision to escalate U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, betraying his campaign promise to end a war that polarized America, we similarly recognize the danger and betrayal the “Grand Bargain” represents to the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature gift to all Americans: Social Security and the New Deal, a point of pride for all Democrats.

Whereas the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party is committed to the understanding that an interest in a 2012 Democratic Presidential Primary challenge will not interfere with President Obama’s ability to govern, nor limit his ability to do so in ways that include invoking Constitutional options, we recognize that a Primary challenge will, in fact raise debate on important issues without risking the ability to mobilize and energize the base of the Democratic Party to elect a triumphant leader to counter the far-right agenda.

Therefore, be it resolved, to make our views heard, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party will begin the process of contacting other Democratic organizations, Democratic Party members and public organizations that share our views and which seek to change the course of history by exploring other steps necessary to effect a necessary change, including a possible primary challenge against President Obama.