February 16, 2015


Political Briefs

Top stories

George Skelton: On train, tunnel, Newsom would change course from Brown —  In a Gavin Newsom governorship, California’s current bullet train project probably would be derailed. The delta twin tunnels, as presently envisioned, also likely would be buried. Those are Gov. Jerry Brown’s two big legacy-builders. But Brown will be termed out after 2018, and Lt. Gov. Newsom’s goal is to succeed him. The two Democrats see eye-to-eye on many things, but not on the train or the tunnels.  Skelton column in LA Times

Boehner raises possibility of Homeland Security shutdown — House Speaker John Boehner is raising the possibility that the Department of Homeland Security may shut down at month’s end because of a budget impasse, and blaming Senate Democrats if that happens. Democrats responded by saying responsibility would fall on the Ohio Republican and the country would suffer from the needless closing of vital part of government.  AP article; New York Times article


Valley politics 

How our lawmakers voted:  Keystone XL Pipeline, charitable deductions, new defense secretary — Here’s how area members of Congress voted on major issues in the week ending Feb. 13.  Bakersfield Californian article


Statewide politics/Ballot Measures 

Drama from Boxer’s retirement plays behind the scenes, for now — The absence of visible drama does not mean, however, that nothing at all is happening. California’s political industrial complex was still moving inexorably last week, a little less dramatically but no less potently, as it always does.  LA Times article



Jose Gaspar: Politics is putting undocumented people in harm’s way — National Crime Victims’ Rights week is coming up. Law enforcement groups will be giving speeches and marching in solidarity with families of crime victims. What will likely not be mentioned is their record on complying with a simple request attesting that an undocumented immigrant was the victim of a crime. Simple politics.  Gaspar column in Bakersfield Californian


Other areas

Republican majorities struggle to get Congress working – After six weeks in session and 139 roll call votes in a House and Senate that feature some of the largest Republican majorities in generations, one of the most telling statistics from the new Congress is this: President Obama’s veto threats outnumber the bills Congress has been able to send him.  LA Times article 

Special interests are at center of LA election date debate – Supporters say the change in election dates, which are backed by council President Herb Wesson and would go into effect in 2020, will diminish the power of special interests by getting more voters to the polls. But records show that, so far, many of those lining up behind the measures — public employee unions, business groups and a handful of private companies — have past or present stakes in City Hall decisions.  LA Times article

Dan Walters Daily:  Los Angeles utility battle is strange politics — There are fewer stranger things in politics than a battle over a missing $40 million trust fund at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Dan says.  Dan Walters Daily in Sacramento Bee


News Briefs

Top Stories

Trash-burning plant protected in California climate fights – Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León proposed legislation last week to increase the amount of electricity California derives from renewable sources, continuing the Capitol’s longstanding tradition of excluding from what counts as “renewable” any power generated from burning household trash. But de León, like lawmakers before him, acknowledged one exception: Any garbage-burning facility “located in Stanislaus County that was operational prior to September 26, 1996.”  Sacramento Bee article 

Dan Walters: Test scoring of schools dismantled in California – Slowly, quietly – but unmistakably – California’s education establishment is dismantling or softening state and federal testing-based “accountability” systems that were imposed on public schools more than a decade ago.  Walters column in Sacramento Bee

Philip Levine, former U.S. poet laureate and Fresno State professor, dead at 87 — He wrote poetry that celebrated working people, and his words both resonated with and uplifted them. In a career that saw him shoot to international fame, he steadfastly maintained that the success of his Fresno State students — many of whom he knew had worked as hard as him — was one of his biggest rewards. The Pulitzer-Prize winner died in Fresno on Saturday, Feb. 14, Fresno State officials confirmed. The cause was pancreatic and liver cancer.  Fresno Bee article; NPR report


Jobs and the Economy

Taxpayer activists criticize California’s purchase of new cars – The state purchased $540,000 worth of new Ford Fusion Hybrids and other cars for legislators over the last 18 months, prompting criticism from taxpayer activists who call the vehicles unnecessary political perks given at a time when many Californians continue to struggle financially.  LA Times article

FAA proposes guidelines allowing a number of uses for drones — Federal officials unveiled new proposed rules Sunday for the operation of small commercial drones, opening the skies to greater use of unmanned aircraft to perform tasks including inspecting bridges, assisting in search-and-rescue operations, taking aerial photos of real estate and shooting scenes for movies and television.  LA Times article; AP article

CalPERS paid lawyers $7 million in bankruptcies – CalPERS has paid two law firms more than $7 million in the Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino bankruptcies, even though a federal judge doubts that it has the legal standing to object to city pension cuts.  Calpensions article

Jay McKeeman: Rushing into lower gasoline use will hurt California businesses – The vice president of government relations and communications for the California Independent Oil Marketers Association writes, “State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s proposal to slash gasoline and diesel use in California by 50 percent is a bad idea that couldn’t come at a worse time.”  McKeeman op-ed in Sacramento Bee

Stadium developer has donated $100,000 to Inglewood officials’ campaigns – The development company that is on a fast track to building a professional football stadium in Inglewood has poured more than $100,000 in campaign contributions to elected city officials, according to campaign finance reports.  LA Times article 

Stadium committee to meet with Chargers representative for ‘robust’ talk — When San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer named a committee of business and civic leaders to find a way to build a new NFL stadium and keep the Chargers from moving to Los Angeles, he did not include anyone from the team’s ownership. On Monday, the nine-member committee hopes to close any breach with the team by meeting with Mark Fabiani, the Chargers’ point-man on stadium issues.  LA Times article 

An urban shift toward West Sacramento — There could be a time very soon when the border between downtown Sacramento and the city on the other side of the river is blurred. The urban movement is already beginning, with modern townhouses and hundreds of apartments under construction near the West Sac side of the Tower Bridge.  Sacramento Bee article

Investors snap up luxury hotels amid rising occupancy and room rates — Fueled by rising occupancy and room rates, investors bought 399 California hotels for a total of $5.1 billion in 2014, a nearly threefold increase from 2009, when 92 hotels sold for a combined value of nearly $1.8 billion, according to research by Atlas Hospitality, an Irvine hotel industry consulting firm.  LA Times article



Recycled water project add to Fresno water-rate debate — Fresno is turning its sewer farm into a drought-buster. City Hall has started building the first phase of an advanced treatment plant that will deliver millions of gallons of water every day for non-drinking uses, such as irrigation of green space. This initial step at the wastewater treatment facility west of town will cost an estimated $100 million and could be ready to go in two years.  Fresno Bee article

Improving conditions for Mexican farmworkers:  The how is the trick — The question now confronting the Mexican industry, and its American retail partners, is how these changes will actually work, what it will take to move from the broad strokes announced in press releases into actual life-changing improvements for peasant workers at loosely regulated farm labor camps. One thing is clear: Wal-Mart and other U.S. retailers will probably have to take on a bigger role in enforcing worker standards, a potentially costly prospect.  LA Times article

Oakdale Irrigation District considers water exports, filling board vacancy — The irrigation board on Tuesday could begin approving deals with farmers willing to idle their land and sell the water that would have been used there.  Modesto Bee article


Criminal Justice/Prisons

California man’s murder case prompts new state law – William Richards’ wife, Pamela, was strangled and her skull smashed in the summer of 1993. A California jury convicted Richards of the slaying after hearing now-recanted bite-mark testimony. But California judges have disagreed about whether that change in testimony was grounds for tossing Richards’ conviction. Now, almost two decades after Richards was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, his attorneys are hopeful a new state law inspired by his case will set him free. The law, which took effect in January, makes it easier for a defendant to get a conviction overturned when experts recant their testimony.  AP article



Patterson building college expectations for students – A push to get kids thinking about high school graduation as a first step instead of a final one is going citywide in Patterson. Dubbed United Patterson, or UP, the grass-roots campaign will kick off March 11, aiming to boost the city’s fortunes through a focus on children’s futures.  Modesto Bee article

Retired teacher wants to see action to prevent campus violence — Arlene Jones of Oakdale says change has been her mantra for many years. She made learning come alive for students in Oakdale schools, where she taught for 28 years. Jones is an energetic member of the American Association of University Women’s Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon chapter. She is organizing a Modesto forum next month on ending violence on school and college campuses.  Modesto Bee article

Schools cracking down on e-cigarettes — Some schools are getting tougher on e-cigarettes, even punishing possession of the devices more harshly than regular cigarettes.  AP article

PG&E emails may prove pivotal in building case against regulator — A Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executive exploited former state Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey’s intense interest in a Kern County alternative-energy project in making a backroom deal to win favorable treatment for the company, newly released e-mails show.  San Francisco Chronicle article

Jose Gonzales:  As California growers, parks must keep pace – The founder of Latino Outdoors writes, “As California and its communities face critical milestones in the future of our parks, we need to fight for equal and equitable access to green space. We need Latino communities to be invested in the stewardship of our natural resources. And we need to make sure our park leaders listen to how Latino communities want to connect with our parks.” Gonzales op-ed in Fresno Bee


Health/Human Services

California’s Medi-Cal program for poor grows to 12 million — Since California embraced the federal health care overhaul, the state’s Medicaid program for the poor has added more than 2.7 million people, a surprisingly high number that has left the state to grapple with making sure there are enough doctors to care for all of them.  AP article

Eye-opener: U.S. teens getting less and less sleep, study shows – U.S. teens are getting sleepier: Many lack even seven hours of shut-eye each night and the problem has worsened over two decades, a study found.  AP article


Land Use/Housing

Land use, park on Merced council’s agenda — The Merced City Council will begin its regular meeting this week with a study session on land use near Bellevue Road, but the board will also touch on crime and plans for a south Merced park.  Merced Sun-Star article



Fresno Bee:  Nanny State is circling irresponsible bike riders — If you’re going to keep riding bicycles with the attitude of a spoiled 5-year-old — I’m special, traffic laws don’t apply to me — then lawmakers have no choice but to go Nanny State and require helmets.  Fresno Bee editorial

Some bicyclists are hardheaded about mandatory helmet law – Getting a helmet onto a grown-up bicyclist’s head isn’t a no-brainer, even though the saving of brains is the idea. A proposed state law that would require adult cyclists to wear helmets — as the law requires minors to do — is facing a bumpier reception than a mountain bike tire on a Mount Tam single track.  San Francisco Chronicle article

Denver and JFK beat out LAX as least accessible airports — Here’s surprising news for local travelers: Los Angeles International Airport is not the least accessible airport in the world. That dubious distinction falls on Denver International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, according to a ranking of the world’s 30 busiest airports by the Global Gateway Alliance, a nonprofit New York advocacy group promoting improved public access.  LA Times article 

Turlock council will review road needs — Nearly half of the city’s street pavement is poor or at risk of reaching that state, according to a staff report for a City Council workshop Tuesday night. The council will discuss streets and roads in the second of the workshops that new Mayor Gary Soiseth scheduled for the start of his term.  Modesto Bee article


Other Areas

Mark Powell: Bakersfield’s Hollywood moment – The seeds of “McFarland, USA” were sown long ago, along dimly lit, pre-dawn roadsides and dusty, humble stretches of farmland. What McFarland has reaped in return is anything but obscurity. That much was obvious Sunday evening at the film’s local premiere at Maya Cinemas in Bakersfield, where moviegoers and media members inundated a red carpet to catch a glimpse of Jim White and, well, “Jim White.”  Powell in Bakersfield Californian

Modesto mayor to give State of the City address — Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh will deliver his annual State of the City address Thursday at the DoubleTree Hotel. Marsh said late last week he still was deciding what topics he would include but expected to talk about the transitions the city is undergoing. He said they include a change in leadership and better relationships between the city and its partners in business, local government and other areas. Modesto Bee article 

New Merced NAACP president has big ideas for group — A longtime member of local law enforcement has been selected to serve as the new president of the Merced branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Darryl Davis, 50, was sworn in as the group’s president during a brief ceremony at the Merced Civic Center last week.  Merced Sun-Star article

Sacramento overhauling vintage train station — Sacramento’s downtown train depot has earned a spot on every historic register – federal, state and local – but city officials say this is one building they can’t afford to let get stuck in the past. The vintage 1926 station is the latest civic site to undergo major reconstructive surgery. The $30 million, two-year upgrade underway at Fourth and I streets is one of the city’s most aggressive historic preservation efforts in decades.  Sacramento Bee article

Unsung hero — If you wished for a visual symbol of a community’s collective amnesia toward one of its civil rights icons, you would have found it with ease Sunday afternoon at the downtown Stockton monument to Rev. Jeremiah Burke Sanderson. The turnout roughly equaled the few pieces of trash on the ground. But on the 30th anniversary of the installation of the monument honoring Sanderson, a 19th-century abolitionist who taught children at downtown’s Elk Street Colored School, it was evident Sunday that there are still some who remember.  Stockton Record article


Valley Editorial Roundup

Fresno Bee – If you’re going to keep riding bicycles with the attitude of a spoiled 5-year-old — I’m special, traffic laws don’t apply to me — then lawmakers have no choice but to go Nanny State and require helmets.

Sacramento Bee – Mandating helmets for bicyclists may be the only answer. But there’s room on the road for other approaches first.