Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

1/14/2015 2:45 PM
By Associated Press

Jan. 13

Oroville Mercury-Register: Little fish could be delta's savior

It took all of, oh, a couple of minutes for big water districts in the San Joaquin Valley to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday for choosing fish over people. If only the question were that easy.

Farmers and cities in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California like to dumb down the argument to just that — the delta smelt vs. the thirsty masses.

But it's not just about the 3-inch fish. The smelt don't get much support because they're not even a sport fish. You can't catch them with a rod and reel, or sell them in fish markets like the more celebrated salmon.

Delta smelt, though, are a marker species, the canary in the delta coal mine. When they start going away, it means the delta ecosystem is in bad shape and other species will follow. That's what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said back in 2008. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that biological opinion Monday, agreeing with an earlier ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that was challenged to the highest level.

After the Fish and Wildlife Service opinion, what followed were restrictions on pumping of water from the delta to farmers and cities down south.

The farmers and cities howled. Who ever heard of a delta smelt, and why are they more important than feeding the world?

Well, first, that argument ignores the question of whether anybody south of the delta should have any expectation whatsoever that they were entitled to that water more than the salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, striped bass, sea lions — and yes, the smelt — that rely on at least some fresh water flowing out of the rivers and into the Pacific Ocean.

Farms and cities were plopped down in arid deserts without much thought given to reliable water supplies, particularly in summer and drought years. They figured the delta faucet would always be turned on. Bad assumption.

Then San Joaquin farmers compounded the problem by taking row crops such as beans, alfalfa, tomatoes and cotton, and replanting the land with more profitable orchards, such as almonds and citrus. The difference between row crops and orchards is that in a drought — always an inevitability in California — farmers can choose not to plant row crops if they aren't going to get enough water that year. They cannot fallow the orchards. Water is needed year-round to keep the trees alive, and the trees are a significant investment.

The delta ecosystem — that includes the smelt — shouldn't have to pay for the poor decisions of San Joaquin farmers and cities.

Then there's the question of why fish matter.

Nobody should be surprised by environmental restrictions. The government and the courts have long recognized that you can't just take whatever the environment has. Most have learned from the mistakes of the past, but those with dollar signs for pupils conveniently forget at times.

Even where water is more abundant — here, for example — farmers have learned to co-exist with the habitat in times of crisis. Sometimes they are forced to do so by the government. San Joaquin Valley farmers who feel put off by Monday's Supreme Court ruling should know there is some precedent. When salmon stocks dwindled in the Sacramento River system, north state farmers made many expensive improvements — things like screening canals, or changing seasonal irrigation schedules, or leaving sensitive land fallow. It has helped immensely, particularly the work rice farmers did to aid the threatened spring-run salmon on Butte Creek.

The delta smelt have been listed as a threatened species since 1993. It's not like the people complaining about the decision couldn't see it coming. They just didn't want to admit that they had to do their part to help a failing ecosystem.

It's a lot easier to argue about water than it is to fix bad decisions, apparently.

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Jan. 10

Redding Record Searchlight: It's time for serious solutions

What a difference a half-cent makes.

In Anderson, that little blip in the city sales tax has made a million-dollar difference.

The money, though not yet doled out by the state, has been put to use quickly — and visibly. The police force there had been frozen at 16 sworn members, with little hope of growing to meet the 24-hour needs of residents and businesses seven days a week.

The new tax was approved by voters in June along with a separate advisory measure directing that at least half the money raised by the new tax be spent on public safety. Even without the advisory measure it was clear voters supported the tax because they wanted a way to expand police services.

The city didn't waste any time putting the tax to the use for which it was intended. Interviews and background checks on candidates for three new police positions began not long after the election.

Two of the new recruits, 26-year-old Christopher Chimenti and 22-year-old Robert Richardson were sworn in last month. A third, Gregg Gundersen, 25, took his oath of office Monday as his mother looked on.

It doesn't stop there. The money also is paying for at least two promotions and training a police K-9. There may be enough to hire a community services officer and kick-start a reserve police program.

It's enough to make Redding citizens jealous. Sure, Redding's police force is considerably larger than Anderson's. It has 98 sworn personnel. But the city is roughly nine times larger than Anderson, which means Anderson comes in way ahead on a per capita basis.

In November, Redding, which once boasted 129 sworn officers, had a chance to help remedy that shortage with its own quarter-cent sales tax proposal, Measure F. But even though Measure F pulled in 56 percent of the vote, it needed 66 percent to pass. That's because of the way the measure was written — the money it raised would have gone directly to public safety and no other cause.

In retrospect, Redding should have followed Anderson's example — a simple majority tax increase with an advisory measure letting the council know voters wanted the money spent primarily on public safety.

After seeing what happened — and witnessing the huge push for more public safety dollars, that culminated in the recent Safe City project recommendations — the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce is talking of reviving the sales tax initiative push — raising the ante to a half-cent — and emulating Anderson's advisory measure approach. And talks are underway to take the vote countywide, which would make it easier to use some of the money raised for jail enhancements— an idea that's gained favor from Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, who gave only lukewarm support to Measure F.

The major concern is that politicians, once a general sales tax measure is approved, will find too many other ways to spend the money they're not obligated to spend only in one place. That's one reason former Redding mayor Rick Bosetti chose the dedicated sales tax route.

But given the huge public outcry over public safety issues in recent months, any elected official with only half a brain can see it would be political suicide to ignore or somehow circumvent the public will on this one.

It's time for the Redding to plump up its police force. It's time to restore the jail annex to alleviate the revolving door at that facility. It's time to find a way to pay for all these needs.

County and city officials are meeting this month to discuss how they can work together toward solving their needs. If nothing else, the public interest in public safety should spur them into coming up with workable solutions to these crucial problems.

Congratulations to Anderson for taking positive steps toward remedying its own understaffing dilemma.

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Jan. 13

Stockton Record: Hey, potential Senators! The Central Valley exists, so make our needs a priority

Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have been California's senators for so long — and basically have received no real competition in elections — that there almost was a sense it would continue forever.

That won't be the case. Boxer announced next week she will not seek a fifth term as senator in 2016.

And there's a very good chance that Feinstein will not run again in 2018, the same year there will be another governor's race with a successor to Jerry Brown to be selected.

Maybe this is myopic, maybe it's a pipe dream, but maybe this vast potential changeover at the top of California governance can make people elected to these powerful positions realize that the Central Valley actually exists.

Oh, they've all seen it on the map. And the senators show up here during campaign stops, fundraisers, photo ops or presidential visits (when those presidents were named Clinton and Obama).

But we are so far from being the focal point of California politics — and suffer because of it.

The votes, power and money are in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, the Silicon Valley and San Diego.

We're thrown in there with "all those other parts" of the state, and that often means Valley issues — water, crime, poverty, etc. — don't receive high priority.

It's disconcerting looking forward and realizing that the likely successor to Boxer will not have much background in dealing with Central Valley issues. Attorney General and front-runner Kamala Harris has not done a great deal in her tenure to make us feel reassured that she knows the difference between Thornton and Firebaugh. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom now says he's not interested in seeking the post.

The Central Valley has had a run of elected officials in the House of Representatives and in both branches in Sacramento who have pushed hard to get the federal government and the governor's office to make our area a priority. Even projects such as high-speed rail and the Bay Delta Conservation plan, with their obvious Valley ties, have end games that favor the state's metropolitan regions.

There is no one, however, in either party with a realistic chance of giving the Central Valley a candidate for the U.S. senator or governor with a legitimate shot at victory. Just isn't going to happen.

There are several groups with diverse interests — business, agriculture, education, etc. — who have had success in pushing Central Valley issues in Washington and Sacramento. Their work must continue.

We're just hopeful that, in the years to come, top elected leaders will swing for the fences and hit a few home runs for the Central Valley.

A region cannot live on bunt singles alone.

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Jan. 13

Porterville Recorder: Governor on right course to pay down debt

We support Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to pay down the state's debt before allowing a slew more of spending by the state.

On Friday, the governor released his $113 billion budget, a budget that improves money for schools, but also proposes to increase the state's rainy day fund should the economy falter, and also pay down the billions of dollars in debt the state is still in despite a balanced general fund.

In his budget, the governor proposes making a $1.2 billion deposit into the rainy day fund, bringing the cushion against future recessions to $2.8 billion. It also includes a $1.2 billion debt payment. Debt repayments include retiring the last of a $15 billion deficit-reduction bond incurred under then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and repaying local governments $533 million for their costs of following state mandates.

The governor also wants to reduce the state's unfunded liability for retiree health-care benefits, tagged at $72 billion, or about three-fourths of next year's state spending plan. That debt is cutting into the general fund and is projected to grow to $300 billion in the next 30 years.

There are those in the governor's own party who want to spend now, without worrying about existing or future debts. There are also Democrats who want to extend the "temporary" tax increase voters approved to help the state get out of debt, so they can spend that money.

We hope the governor has luck getting those in his own party to be fiscally prudent and get rid of the debt while they have the chance. Economies ebb and flow and there will be a day when cash is not as flush as it is right now.

Capturing cash in the rainy day fund is just the first step to long-term fiscal health. It is also imperative to reduce all debt now, while the state has the chance, before committing to more long-term spending.

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Jan. 13

San Bernardino County Sun: Local officials bend rules with the best of them

Sacramento wasn't the only place where political crookedness flourished in 2014, even though the state Senate gained most of the headlines about corruption.

Across cities, small government agencies and school boards there is case after case of officials and those who try to influence them not following the rules.

There's no clearer reminder than taking a look at the Fair Political Practices Commission's enforcement actions in 2014, when the agency logged a record number of violations — 1,005 proven ones. And those are just the decision makers and influence peddlers who happened to be caught, in part due to stepped-up enforcement by the state watchdog agency.

Yes, the list includes Sacramento folks like Kevin Sloat, an influential lobbyist who in February was slapped with a record $133,500 fine — the largest yet for violation of state lobbying laws. Sloat's habit of holding fancy fundraisers at his home where he invited lawmakers and gave out lavish gifts to gain favors inspired a law, SB 1441, banning the practice.

Unreported contributions, skirting lobbying rules and campaign money laundering were among some of the highlights of the FPPC's annual report.

Nor does the questionable behavior look to be slowing down in 2015.

Just as this editorial board was reviewing the FPPC's 2014 cases, out came another whammy.

Arthur Aguilar, the former general manager of the Central Basin Water District from 2005-2012, was appropriately hit with a $30,000 fine for regularly dining at tony restaurants and golfing on the tab of a consultant service company and not reporting it.

At the same time Pacific Services Inc., was footing the bill for Aguilar's rich tastes, he was awarding them lucrative contracts with the wholesale water district. Aguilar has ties with the now indicted Calderon brothers whose San Gabriel Valley political dynasty crashed last year after they were indicted on public corruption charges.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing patterns that can be seen in the violations the FPPC doled out last year is a litany of officials fined for not reporting pricey dinners and gifts from bond underwriter Stone & Youngberg.

The violations were mostly small but taken collectively are significant. Prompted by a series of stories in the San Diego Union Tribune, the FPPC found that 282 officials had received gifts exceeding $50, the limit for disclosure, from the company. Of those, only 22 had reported the gift on a required annual economic interest statement.

Officials should have taken note from 2013 when a similar investigation into two municipal bond underwriting companies, EJ De La Rosa & Co. and Shea Properties, found 221 officials had received gifts and only 16 had reported them.

Many of those were single violations, but the breath of what can only be seen as attempts to curry political favor from dozens of politicians was troubling because these are often the companies behind school and municipal bonds that fuel voter-approved construction measures.

Bonds, which are used year after year by schools and cities to pay for aging infrastructure, can have interest rates many times higher than a car loan. Taxpayers foot the bill for bankers and construction companies that benefit wildly while too many politicos quietly enjoy those companies' favors.

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Jan. 13

U-T San Diego: Needed — A serious debate on poverty in California

In late 2012, the Census Bureau began issuing a much more accurate measure of poverty in America that factored in the cost of living. Ever since, the numbers have shown that California has by far the highest U.S. poverty rate, with nearly one in four residents struggling to make ends meet.

But it has only been in the past week that the state's political and media establishments have begun to fully accept the validity of this poverty measure and its massive implications for elected officials. In remarks to reporters last week after a budget briefing, Gov. Jerry Brown seemed to depict high levels of poverty as almost inevitable.

"This is an issue that is part of America, it's part of the structure of modern individualism, capitalism, stratification," said Brown, sounding declinist.

This led to push-back from two San Diego Democrats in the Assembly. Both Speaker Toni Atkins and Budget Committee Chairwoman Shirley Weber said Brown should add funds to state anti-poverty programs. Many local Democrats also want big increases in the minimum wage.

Is that all they've got? If California's dominant political party really cared about helping the poor, its leaders would target two of the biggest causes of the Golden State's mass poverty.

The first cause is the cost of housing. California has not always been extremely expensive. Dartmouth economist William Fischel's research has shown that housing in the Golden State was only slightly higher than the national average until the 1970s, when state lawmakers and bureaucrats began decades of adding new environmental regulations without worrying about their real-world impact on land use and residential construction.

It is not a given that median home prices in California have to be more than double the national median of about $190,000. If Democrats truly wanted to reduce poverty, here's a basic housing agenda: launching a concerted effort to make more land available for housing; finally heeding the last three governors and reforming the California Environmental Quality Act; and copying the relatively successful affordable-housing strategies of Massachusetts and New Jersey.

The second cause is the lack of job skills of many people seeking employment. In California, the global capital of high technology, it is beyond incredible that high school graduates aren't required to take at least a year of computer science. Why is the education status quo stuck in 1960? Why aren't job skills far more of a K-12 focus?

The obvious reason is the lack of bold state leadership on education. The less obvious reason is that the state's education establishment is shockingly content with a school system that is as devoted to the interests of employees as students.

So if Brown, Atkins and Weber want to lessen poverty, they'd take on environmentalists and trial lawyers on housing, and teachers unions on education. If helping the poor requires taking on core Democratic constituencies, it's just what people who believe in social justice would do.

That's the theory, at least.

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1/30/2015 | Last Updated: 1:30 PM