Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

6/4/2014 12:00 PM
By Associated Press

June 3

San Francisco Chronicle: Result of the Muni sickout: Misery

The heat is building on a runaway transit union to halt an unauthorized walkout and return to work. The threat of legal action is pushing union leaders, who feigned ignorance of a sickout that crippled San Francisco, to urge drivers back to work.

Since Monday, Muni service was hit hard by the walkouts, prohibited for all city workers in agreements with the city. The effect was dramatic with Muni service cut to a third of normal and half on Tuesday.

Drivers, now paid $29.52 per hour, are weighing a raise to $32 per hour over the next two years. The increase will keep these drivers among the top two highest-paid districts in the nation. But the drivers don't like a plan to shift a pension payment of 7.25 percent from the city to them.

The union knew a strike was barred by labor agreements, but a walkout happened anyway after a lopsided vote rejected the overall pact. Several hundred drivers called in sick, effectively wrecking Muni schedules that serve 700,000 passengers a day. In a city that pitches transit use at every turn, the effect was sweeping with long waits, crowded bus stops and jam-packed vehicles.

The union action was high-handed and disruptive, but there's a chance it will be brief if employees return to work on Wednesday. (Cable cars remained idle, but light-rail trains and buses returned to their regular routes Wednesday).

A message from Eric Williams, head of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, on Tuesday warned members to return to work.

The city must take a stand against this arrogant action. Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin and Mayor Ed Lee are standing behind a request that drivers who called in sick prove it with a letter from their doctors. If not, they may face disciplinary action and loss of pay.

It's hard to understand the thinking behind the sickout. New talks could have changed objectionable parts of the contract, especially in a flush budget year. Instead, the drivers have marred the image of their union and other city labor groups, worsened Muni's reputation, and cast doubt on a plan for a $500 million transit bond due in November. There's more at stake in the phony sickout than a dispute over pension payments.

San Francisco relies on public transit. But the buses, streetcars and cable cars won't move an inch if drivers walk off the job. This week the city got a look at the harm this high-handed action can cause.


June 3

San Jose Mercury News: Zuckerbergs' gift should start a trend of local philanthropy

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife to donate $120 million to needy Bay Area schools

The $120 million commitment to struggling Bay Area schools by Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan is important on so many levels. Hope for a brighter future for kids in Ravenswood, Redwood City, and other disadvantaged districts is just the beginning.

The Zuckerbergs are setting the pace for a new generation of philanthropists. The Facebook founder reached the billionaire stratosphere in his early 20s and, with his pediatrician wife, is taking philanthropy seriously at age 30. And they're looking close to home to make Silicon Valley a better place to live. That is huge.

Cities with old money — Chicago, Boston, San Francisco —have a strong philanthropic base. In olden days, the biggest companies in a town took its civic well-being as a responsibility. But tech companies from their founding see themselves as global, and it's reflected in their corporate giving.

In a study of Silicon Valley giving in 2010, for example, Cisco gave away nearly $100 million — but only $3 million went to Silicon Valley causes. The analysis found that 90 percent of area foundation giving and 88 percent of corporate giving that year went outside the region.

Zuckerberg and Chan think globally, too. They gave $100 million to Newark, N.J., schools. But home is not an afterthought.

The hope for local philanthropy probably lies in personal gifts like the Zuckerbergs' rather than corporate, especially for causes not directly related to education. Companies have an interest in preparing a future workforce. We hope the young generation of leaders will look more broadly at community and education needs.

For example, creativity is as much a hallmark of entrepreneurialism as math, as Steve Jobs showed us. Yet music and art have fallen away in many underfunded school districts in favor of STEM priorities — science, technology, engineering and math. The attempt to add arts, turning STEM to STEAM, is a struggle.

San Jose is nurturing a grass roots culture of art and creativity. Check it out this Friday at the Subzero Festival, part of the South First Fridays open gallery night this month on South First Street. But the arts struggle in San Jose, despite being in the midst of enormous wealth.

There are other factors affecting education that would benefit from philanthropy. As a letter writer pointed out this week, even brilliant kids who go to school hungry will not reach their potential.

While many corporations — Adobe and Applied Materials being notable exceptions — don't fund local arts and community causes, there is a tradition here of families whose wealth came from tech looking more broadly at how to improve the quality of life in the valley.

Jim and Becky Morgan, Charmaine and Dan Warmenhoven — they and others have enriched life here in myriad ways.

Zuckerberg and Chan are starting young. We hope it's a trend.


June 3

Chico Enterprise-Record: Give Nakamura credit for cleaning up Chico's mess

When the announcement of Brian Nakamura's resignation to take a job as Rancho Cordova's city manager came to light Friday, the reaction was swift and predictable.

Former Chico city employees did everything but sing "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead." On our website and in social media, many of those who have lost their jobs in two difficult years for the city organization rejoiced in the fact that Nakamura was leaving. Current city employees, probably fearing they were next, rejoiced as well.

They like referring to Nakamura as a "hatchet man" but ignore one simple fact: That's exactly what the city government needed.

The city was mired in debt after years of spending sprees and was hiding the true scope of the problem. Nakamura took over as city manager nearly two years ago, hired in a unanimous vote of the City Council, which was finally ready to take the most important step for an addict — admitting they had a problem.

Nobody had any idea of the magnitude of the problem, however.

The deficit was in the millions and jobs needed to be cut. That's why the council opted for somebody from the outside, a fix-it person to come in and do the dirty work. Nakamura, with no bias toward individuals or departments, cut as he saw fit. The council backed him. He got the city headed in the right direction financially. And now, he's leaving.

It's no surprise. His work history shows that he stays just long enough in a job to get a city on the right track financially, then he's gone. He upsets the government employees who were living high on the hog, leaving bad feelings in his wake among the ranks.

While he was in Chico, the grumbling started early — before he even arrived, actually. City employees saw his reputation as a fixer-upper and knew that didn't bode well for them.

Councilors told us Nakamura was occasionally confronted in public and had his car vandalized. We were copied on inflammatory emails with racist comments and vulgar language.

Last year, the city installed safety glass on the third floor of city hall — which houses the city manager's office — to separate the workers from the general public in the name of safety. Who knew that being fiscally responsible with taxpayer money and balancing the books could be so perilous?

But there are two distinct views of Nakamura — one from city employees and their families, and another from taxpayers.

Sure, Nakamura wasn't the best consensus builder. He knew what needed to be done, but had a tough time getting buy-in from all employees. That's probably the worst thing we can say about his tenure, and in the grand scheme of things, that's not too awful.

He was handed a tough job — get a nearly bankrupt city back on the right path financially — and performed that task like few could, or would. For that, taxpayers should be grateful.

Let's give him credit for cleaning up a mess that too many others were content to ignore.


June 3

Los Angeles Times: Now, about that solar farm next door

Last year, when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power kicked off a new program to buy electricity from local solar installations, city leaders along with environmentalists and business groups said it would be the nation's largest urban rooftop solar program and would allow hundreds of building owners to create sun-fueled power plants on their roofs or over parking lots.

Communities should have a voice in deciding where — and how large — ground-level solar projects operate in L.A.

But now it turns out that developers also want to use the Feed-in Tariff program to put panels on undeveloped agricultural and residential land, much to the surprise and concern of neighbors.

Residents in the semirural neighborhood of Lake View Terrace have been fighting a proposal to sandwich 3,500 solar cells between houses and horse stables, which would produce enough electricity to power 200 homes a year. Some 19 solar "farms" are proposed for open land in the northeast San Fernando Valley alone, and city officials have told residents that state law allows the panels to be installed anywhere, without land-use permits or conditions, as long as there is no risk to health or public safety. That means residents have no ability to challenge or seek conditions on solar farms in their communities.

City officials point to the 1978 Solar Rights Act, which was designed to encourage the use of solar power and prevent cities from enacting "unreasonable barriers" to installations. But the author of that law, then-Assemblyman Mel Levine, who now heads the DWP's Board of Water and Power Commissioners, said the act was intended to make it easier for homeowners to put solar panels on their houses, not necessarily to protect solar power plants in residential areas.

Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who represents the northeast Valley, has rightly questioned whether city officials really have to rubber-stamp these projects. He's asked the city attorney and the chief legislative analyst to take another look at the Solar Rights Act and recommend amendments that will give the city more authority over permitting solar farms. The premise of the Feed-in Tariff is still a good one: Los Angeles should generate more electricity from its abundant sunshine, and solar will play an increasingly important role as the DWP reduces its reliance on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. But this program was sold as an effort to put solar on rooftops, not on vacant lots in residential neighborhoods. Communities should have a voice in deciding where — and how large — ground-level solar projects operate in L.A.


June 2

The Orange County Register: Who's really in the driver's seat?

Google, in a remarkable feat of engineering, has unveiled a prototype for a driverless car. While we should celebrate and encourage such technological innovation, we must also be mindful of the potential abuses and unintended consequences of the technology.

In a post on Google's official blog, the company hailed its self-driving car project and revealed a plan to build about 100 copies of the prototype and test them over the summer. A video showed passengers, including an apparently blind man, riding in a small car with no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals.

"If all goes well," the post noted, "we'd like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years."

The Google post states that the prototypes "have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions." Considering that human error accounts for some 80 percent to 90 percent of traffic accidents, the more driverless cars there are on the roads, the more accidents may be reduced.

But, as with other new technologies, there is also great potential for abuse. How secure will be the data and wireless transmissions, for example? Could someone track your every movement, or even remotely take control of your car? Would police (or hackers/robbers with ill intent) be able to force your car to a standstill? Could governments prevent you from going above a certain speed?

There also are social implications. Google wonders at the possibilities of driverless cars: "(D)runk and distracted driving? History."

However, there are unintended consequences whenever individuals give up responsibility. It would be great if driverless cars could keep someone who had had a bit too much to drink from getting behind the wheel, but it also might encourage excessive drinking since people would no longer have to worry about driving home.

These concerns are no reason to restrain developing the technology, however. It is only when people are free to create, unhindered by governmental mandate and regulation, that the greatest inventions and improvements to the quality of life of society at large will occur. There also are the circumstances that will best allow others to solve the problems created by the unintended consequences or abuses of new technologies.


June 3

The Riverside Press-Enterprise: School at center of 'parent trigger' celebrates 1st year

The academic year ended on Friday for Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto. Why is that a big deal? The independently operated charter just happens to be the first school in California to be transformed under the state's landmark 2010 Parent Empowerment Act — better known as the "parent trigger" — one of the most consequential experiments in school reform of the past decade.

And how did the experiment fare? By almost every indication, remarkably well.

A year ago, Desert Trails Prep was still called Desert Trails Elementary School and was one of the lowest performing schools in San Bernardino County. The school, which today serves about 550 K-5 students and has a lengthy waiting list for next year, had an Academic Performance Index ranking in 2012 of 699. The state's official target is 800 or better.

Today, parents are happy. They're no longer afraid to send their kids to the school, which was rife with discipline problems. Volunteerism is up. Communication is wide open. Moms and dads who once ran into a wall of bureaucratic inertia suddenly found themselves welcomed with open arms by school director Debra Tarver, who also runs the high-performing LaVerne Preparatory Academy in Hesperia.

One thing we won't know, however, is how new Desert Trails Prep students performed academically compared to Desert Trails Elementary students a year ago. Students took new proficiency tests offered by the Northwest Evaluation Association.

But don't blame the parent trigger or the school for the lack of apples-to-apples data. The California Department of Education dropped the old state standards test this year as it began to phase in a new test — called "Smarter Balanced" — that is supposed to be aligned with the controversial Common Core.

Nevertheless, the school reports students turned in "phenomenal results" in their first year of testing. That's good, because Desert Trails Prep will need to show consistently high performance if it hopes to have its charter renewed in two years.

Desert Trails Prep's first-year success is a vindication for the parent trigger law. Authored by former State Sen. Gloria Romero, the law provides that if at least half of eligible parents at a persistently failing school sign a petition, the local district must undertake one of several possible reforms. Options include replacing the principal and staff; extending school hours; revising curriculum; or, more radically, closing the school or converting it to an independently operated public charter.

The Adelanto petition drive wasn't perfect. In fact, it was downright messy. Parents fought with other parents; parents fought with school officials. It took two separate San Bernardino County Superior Court rulings to compel Adelanto district officials to accept the parents' petition. Then late last year, two parents who opposed the conversion were charged on suspicion of vandalizing a classroom at the school — a felony. That case has yet to be resolved.

But despite those bumps, Desert Trails Prep's successful inaugural year is a real cause for celebration. Of course, real parent empowerment doesn't end with a successful petition drive or signing ceremony. As the Adelanto effort shows, given time, grit and determination, the parent trigger law really can change kids' education for the better.

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10/20/2014 | Last Updated: 7:00 PM