December 19, 2014


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Political Briefs

Top stories

Oversight office was costly, California Senate officials say — Several days after The Sacramento Bee reported that the California Senate has dropped an office devoted to government oversight – prompting a spate of negative publicity for new Senate leader Kevin de León – Senate officials attributed the decision to cost-cutting and a desire to be efficient with taxpayer resources.  Sacramento Bee article

LA-area officials plan crackdown on immigration scams — City Atty. Mike Feuer and Los Angeles County officials on Thursday unveiled an effort to prosecute con artists who dupe immigrants into paying exorbitant sums for help with their legal cases.  LA Times article

State budget

California prepares for complicated ‘politics of plenty’ — Even though the economy is improving, California won’t necessarily have more money to spend next year, Dan says.  Dan Walters Daily in Sacramento Bee

Gov. Brown

Bill Whalen: Jerry Brown sets example for presidential hopefuls — What can Brown teach? That, sometimes, the best way to get noticed in the game of politics is by escaping notice.  Whalen column in Sacramento Bee

Other areas

Sen. De Leon removes panel staffers who questioned his legislation –  In yet another shakeup in the state Senate, new President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) has removed the top staff from a Senate committee that last session blocked one of his priority bills.  LA Times article

Sen. Hueso gets fine, probation for ‘wet reckless’ charge — A California state senator originally charged with drunken driving agreed to a fine and probation under a lesser charge on Thursday. Sacramento County prosecutors had offered Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, a plea deal after he was caught driving the wrong way on a one-way Sacramento street in August.  Sacramento Bee article; LA Times article

Foes of unions try their luck in county laws –  Conservative groups are opening a new front in their effort to reshape American law, arguing that local governments have the power to write their own rules on a key labor issue that has, up to now, been the prerogative of states.  New York Times article

Public defenders hold ‘Black Lives Matter’ rallies for police accountability — Bay Area public defenders held demonstrations outside county courthouses Thursday decrying police brutality and lack of prosecutions for racially charged police killings around the country.  KQED report

2 states challenge Colorado marijuana legalization – Nebraska and Oklahoma on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Colorado’s legalization of marijuana unconstitutional, saying the drug is being brought from Colorado into the neighboring states.  AP article

Community mourns with parents of Pakastani students slain by Taliban — Dozens gathered Thursday evening on the steps of University of the Pacific’s Burns Tower to honor the lives lost Tuesday when the Taliban launched a ruthless assault on a Pakistani school.  Stockton Record article

News Briefs

Top Stories

California drought weakens, forecasters have ‘cautious optimism’ for future – For the first time in five months, a majority of California is no longer considered to be in an exceptional drought, the most severe level possible under federal guidelines, the U.S. Drought Monitor announced Thursday.  LA Times article; San Francisco Chronicle article; San Jose Mercury News article

Pumps dropped from Delta water tunnel plan — The massive water diversion tunnels proposed in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have undergone another major design change aimed at appeasing local residents: The three intakes planned on the Sacramento River will no longer require pumps.  Sacramento Bee article

Fresno council votes 5-2 to approve general plan — The Fresno City Council took what some called an “historic” step Thursday night to curb a decades-old pattern of urban sprawl by approving the 2035 General Plan, a 20-year policy blueprint for the city’s future growth.  Fresno Bee article; KVPR report

Jobs and the Economy

San Joaquin County sees middling job, wage gains – San Joaquin County stands near the middle of the pack in employment gains and wage increases among the 340 largest U.S counties, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday. In the three months ended June 30, San Joaquin County employment rose 1.9 percent, to 219,500, from the second quarter of 2013. For that gain, it ranked 141st in the nation.  Stockton Record article

Bakersfield’s Tandy highest pay among Valley city employees – Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy was the highest-paid municipal employee in 48 Central Valley cities in 2013, according to new data from website Transparent, which tracks salaries and compensation packages. Tandy, Bakersfield’s top-appointed official, earned slightly more than $339,185 in salary and benefits — of which slightly more than $233,263 is salary, the website found.  Bakersfield Californian article

Inside San Francisco’s bid for 2024 Olympic Summer Games – A decaying bayfront pier that has resisted development plans for decades would become a beach volleyball venue and then a new over-water park if San Francisco is awarded the 2024 Olympic Summer Games.  San Francisco Chronicle article

LA city policy rewards workers who take long injury leaves – Because injury-leave pay is tax-free under federal and state law, employees can take home substantially more money while recovering than they would if they had gone to work. The cost to taxpayers of civilian leaves has increased 50% in the five years that ended in January, to $18 million, a Times investigation found.  LA Times article

Warehouse workers sue for unpaid wages at Port of LA – A group of warehouse workers at the Port of Los Angeles has filed suit against a major distribution company, claiming that they have been underpaid and subjected to harsh working conditions.  LA Times article

Keep Your Home California expands unemployment program – Keep Your Home California has made a change to one of its four foreclosure relief programs to help homeowners struggling to find a job.  Fresno Bee article

Sony shake-up possible after hack, analysts say — Continued fallout over the Nov. 24 cyberattack that released derogatory missives not meant for public consumption, combined with the decision to cancel the Christmas release of “The Interview,” have analysts wondering how long Chairman Michael Lynton and co-Chairman Amy Pascal can survive.  LA Times article; Sacramento Bee editorial

Fresno Film Commission leader Ray Arthur to retire — Ray Arthur has rubbed elbows with the stars for much of his life, the last eight years through promoting Fresno to the movie, TV and advertising industries as Fresno film commissioner. That will end Dec. 31 as Arthur’s retiring from the position that he’s done both as a paid city employee and on a volunteer basis.  Fresno Bee article; The Business Journal article

Bakersfield could become AHL affiliate — It takes 19 hours to drive from Oklahoma City to Bakersfield, or about three hours to fly, but news travels much faster than that. And when word came Thursday morning that the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League plan to cease operations at the end of this season, one of the places most affected could very well be … Bakersfield, which could see itself bumped up a level on the minor-league hockey ladder.  Bakersfield Californian article

Diamond ring boosts Salvation Army’s fundraising efforts — The Salvation Army’s Modesto Citadel Corps has received a big donation: a 2-carat diamond ring that could be worth thousands of dollars and go a long way in aiding the charity in its work of helping the needy.  Modesto Bee article

Kaiser buying downtown Sacramento building for $40 million — Kaiser Permanente is spending $40 million on a mostly vacant office building near the new Kings arena in downtown Sacramento, a further sign of the rejuvenation of the central city real estate market.  Sacramento Bee article

Responses to building and safety complaints vary widely across LA – When Angelenos phone the city to complain about illegal construction, trash piling up next door or other building nuisances, some parts of town have gotten a faster reaction from building inspectors than have others, a Times analysis of city data shows.  LA Times article

New Sacramento economic group hires CEO from Phoenix — Sacramento’s new economic development organization named its first chief executive officer Thursday, hiring a Phoenix executive who helped tutor the fledgling organization on how to set up shop.  Sacramento Bee article


US agriculture has big appetite for China trade — U.S. agriculture has a big appetite for freer trade with Cuba. From wheat to rice to beans, the industry stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of President Barack Obama’s plan to ease economic and travel restrictions imposed against the communist-ruled island.  AP article

Criminal Justice/Prisons

Death sentences in state drop to 14 this year, and only one in Northern California — The nationwide decline in death sentences this year is strikingly reflected in California, whose counties have handed down 14 death sentences in 2014 compared with 25 in 2013, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center. San Francisco Chronicle article

Fresno County Probation Department to monitor high-risk DUI offenders — The Fresno County Probation Department announced a new program Thursday geared toward harsher monitoring for drivers on probation for a felony driving while under the influence or multiple misdemeanor DUI convictions.  Fresno Bee article

Sacramento Bee: Using cameras to give cop’s-eye view of confrontations could help police and public — There is no device or technology that can substitute for good old community policing when it comes to building trust between law enforcement and the public. But using body cameras can help keep that trust from being broken in the first place, and local and state police agencies that haven’t embraced them yet should.  Sacramento Bee editorial

Peace Walk participants call for a stand against gang violence — Standing near the spot where a Bakersfield gang member was fatally shot Dec. 6, participants in Thursday’s Peace Walk agreed on one thing: The death was senseless and unnecessary — and it endangered innocent residents.  Bakersfield Californian article


College ratings system may rank loan repayments, graduation statistics – The Obama administration on Friday is releasing the rough outlines of a much-anticipated college ratings system that may grade schools on such factors as graduation rates, loan repayments and post-graduation income. Many details remain to be decided over the next few months, with some wary colleges and universities sure to protest any measurements that might hurt their reputations.  LA Times article; New York Times article

Dan Walters: Community colleges’ good move – Occasionally – albeit, too rarely – common sense seeps into the state Capitol, defying the strenuous efforts of self-serving interests to banish it. One of those occasions was last August, when both legislative houses, without a single dissenting vote, passed Senate Bill 850, which – on a limited, pilot basis – grants some community college districts the authority to offer four-year bachelor’s degree programs.  Walters column in Sacramento Bee

UC hike sparks student concerns – Hanford West High School senior Yadira Flores wants to go to University of California Berkeley or Los Angeles next year, but those plans could be put on hold. With the UC Board of Regents recently approving a tuition hike of up to 5 percent each year over the next five years starting next fall, Flores and several other Kings County students are reconsidering their options.  Hanford Sentinel article

Teaching English learners language of math – As teacher David Ramirez strode around his 7th-grade classroom at Oakland’s Urban Promise Academy, he was taking on a central challenge of the new Common Core standards: how to ensure that students who lack proficiency in English are able to benefit from a more language-based approach to learning complex math concepts.  EdSource article

Modesto high schools losing campus cops – The Police Department is moving 10 officers from specialty units – including those who work at Modesto’s high schools – and putting them into patrol to meet a staffing shortage.  Modesto Bee article

Visalia schools consider language options – Visalia school district board members earlier this month were given a chance to adopt a new foreign language at its high schools starting in 2015. All world languages were on the table for discussion, including Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and others.  Visalia Times-Delta article

Jenny Brietigam: After-school programs tighten achievement gap – The project specialist in the Department of Safe and Healthy Kids at the Fresno County Office of Education writes, “Our local research shows that the most marginalized young people in our community are making vast strides in closing this gap when given the same learning opportunities that middle- and higher-income children take for granted. After-school programs are opportunities for our children that are creating educational parity among our kids.”  Brietigam op-ed in Fresno Bee

California schools chief stars in country music video — In California, we do things “different” – like put our top schools official in a country music video to kick off an education conference. Over the summer, the state Department of Education shot “California: We Do Things Different,” a musical welcome for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ annual policy forum, starring Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.  Capitol Alert

McSwain assistant principal gets top honors — Laurie Havel, assistant principal at McSwain Elementary School in Merced, has been named Elementary Co-Administrator of the Year for Region 9 of the Association of California School Administrators.  Merced Sun-Star article

Robin Abcarian: Berkeley effigies’ powerful racial message was hurt by unclear intent — Early last Saturday, as students prepared for finals, two effigies were discovered hanging from UC Berkeley’s famous Sather Gate. They were cardboard cutouts of blown-up photos: a black man and a black woman with the words “I can’t breathe” stenciled across them. A similar figure was found hanging from a campus tree a block away. Word spread like wildfire.  Abcarian column in LA Times


UC Davis study finds next Napa earthquake could imperil Delta levees – UC Davis scientists say the fault that caused a Napa Valley earthquake earlier this year could produce a temblor strong enough to cause levee failures in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  Sacramento Bee article

Michael Peevey ‘surrenders’ from California Public Utilities Commission — Michael Peevey ended his tumultuous final term as president of the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday with a lengthy, laudatory and at times feisty farewell session.  Sacramento Bee article; LA Times article

Health/Human Services

Aetna charging small businesses too much, California commissioner says – With the bruising battle over Proposition 45 behind him, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday that another health insurer is preparing to charge small businesses “excessive and unreasonable” rates.  Sacramento Bee article

Adventist Health investing $13.2 million in Selma hospital expansion — Adventist Health announced this week it is investing $13.3 million to expand services at its hospital in Selma.  Fresno Bee article

When a marketplace offers only one health insurer – As the Covered California open enrollment period continues, many people in Northern California find there is only one insurer available in the exchange.  Capital Public Radio report

Land Use/Housing

Fresno Bee: Brandau swallows the developers’ Kool-Aid – Steve Brandau obviously misunderstands the role of an elected official. It’s easy to stick up for a powerful person like developer Darius Assemi. It takes someone with backbone to stick up for the folks in Fresno’s older neighborhoods who just want a fair shake and a chance to be heard.  Fresno Bee editorial

Fresno council president Steve Brandau catches heat for op-ed column on Fresno growth plan – Steve Brandau, president of the Fresno City Council, is being criticized for parts of an opinion column he wrote for The Bee about Fresno’s 2035 general plan, the city’s blueprint for development and growth.  Fresno Bee article

Would you build a park next to a freeway? Fresno may build two – With the final vote for the Fresno General Plan Update and Environmental Impact Report just around the corner, activists are appealing for changes to the plan that could potentially alter the health of children in the region.  KVPR report

Merced to rehab home; councilman seeks audit of Housing Department – The rehabilitation of a house delayed by the Merced City Council earlier this month will proceed after a vote taken earlier this week, but the project has also triggered a request for an audit of the city’s Housing Department.   Merced Sun-Star article

Livingston commission gives OK to smoke shops – Livingston residents might soon have a place to buy a tobacco pipe or take a puff at a hookah lounge, despite hesitation from local politicians and law enforcement officials.  Merced Sun-Star article

What made this Bay Area housing agency one of the worst in the country — The federal government recently removed Richmond, California, from its worst-of-the-worst list, and we’re wrapping up our coverage. The two events aren’t related, but they make it a good time to take a look, by the numbers, at the troubles that plagued – and continue to plague – public housing in the city best known for its oil refineries and rancorous politics.  Center for Investigative Reporting article


Modesto aims to land commercial flights in 2015 — The city could know within six months whether commercial flights will return to Modesto Airport next year. The city and its airport consultant – Sixel Consulting Group – say they are talking with Utah-based SkyWest Airlines about resuming passenger air service. Modesto is aiming for twice-daily flights between Modesto and Los Angeles in 50-seat jets.  Modesto Bee article

Firm hired to get state approvals for Patterson interchange expansion — An engineering firm will handle the work of getting government approvals for upgrading the Sperry Avenue and Interstate 5 interchange.  Modesto Bee article

Other Areas

Chowchilla chooses new mayor – With a fair amount of shuffling going on at City Hall in Chowchilla, the City Council voted to make another change – this time for the mayoral seat. With a 3-2 vote, the council picked John Chavez to be mayor for the next two years. In Chowchilla, the mayor is not selected by a citywide vote; rather, the council appoints its leader.  Merced Sun-Star article

Auditor’s report highlights California’s data lapses — Nearly two-thirds of California state government data systems checked by auditors over two years contained unreliable information or were impossible to scrutinize for accuracy, according to a report released Tuesday.  Sacramento Bee article

Valley Editorial Roundup

Fresno Bee – Steve Brandau obviously misunderstands the role of an elected official. It’s easy to stick up for a powerful person like developer Darius Assemi. It takes someone with backbone to stick up for the folks in Fresno’s older neighborhoods who just want a fair shake and a chance to be heard.

Sacramento Bee – Dictators, it turns out, will kill free expression all the time if people let them. And it’s no laughing matter when they’re dictating to Americans; There is no device or technology that can substitute for good old community policing when it comes to building trust between law enforcement and the public. But using body cameras can help keep that trust from being broken in the first place, and local and state police agencies that haven’t embraced them yet should.