May 1, 2015


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Political Briefs

Top stories

Jerry Brown’s revised water tunnels plan adds political problems – Brown’s announcement Thursday that he was dramatically reducing the habitat portion of the plan is expected to make permitting the project easier. But it also burdens the project with new political difficulties. Ecosystem restoration has long been part of efforts to bridge the fractured interests of farmers, environmentalists, Delta landowners and Southern California’s population centers, and reducing its emphasis has invigorated opponents of the effort.  Sacramento Bee article

Giant tunnels planned for delta ‘must move forward,’ Brown says – State officials said they are also dropping plans to spend $8 billion in federal and state money to restore more than 100,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat over the next five decades. Instead they are settling for a more modest — but, they said, more realistic — effort to improve 30,000 acres of habitat over the next four or five years at a cost of $300 million, funded with state bond money and other sources. “This is an imperative. It must move forward,” Brown said of the project. LA Times article; AP article; KQED report; San Jose Mercury News article; Stockton Record article; Sacramento Bee editorial

Senate Democrats prod Gov. Jerry Brown for more drought spending — Senate Democrats want Gov. Jerry Brown to take swifter action to battle California’s drought, such as spending relief funds faster and prodding farmers to use water more efficiently.  LA Times article; Capitol Alert

Gov. Brown

Brown appoints budget manager as next state parks director — Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday named a budget manager to continue reform efforts at California’s beleaguered parks department. Brown appointed Lisa Mangat to lead the Department of Parks and Recreation, where she has been serving as acting director since 2014. AP article

Valley politics

Stockton Record: We support district-only council voting but balk at more seats and an appointed mayor – A citizen’s committee studying Stockton’s charter has voted to recommend major changes in the way Stockton City Council members and the mayor are elected.  Stockton Record editorial

Merced’s committee on districts begins to meet, looks for public input — Members of the committee to draw up districts for local elections in Merced held a press conference at Tenaya Middle School Thursday to update residents on their progress and to ask for more participation from the public.  Merced Sun-Star article


Witnesses in ‘maternity tourism’ cases charged with fleeing U.S. — Federal prosecutors filed charges Thursday against 11 Chinese nationals in connection with “maternity tourism” businesses that help pregnant women fraudulently travel to the U.S. to give birth, authorities said.  LA Times article

Other areas

After last-minute wrangling, Assembly advances body camera bills –  An Assembly committee approved measures setting guidelines on the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement, as well as the data captured by those cameras, on Thursday, despite lingering concerns over privacy and police access to such footage. LA Times article; Sacramento Bee article

Dan Walters: California Capitol sees throwback to old days – Gambling and liquor used to dominate the Capitol. Eventually they faded away. But the statehouse got a taste of the old days this week.  Walters column in Sacramento Bee

Gay marriage foe’s argument seems to leave Supreme Court justices puzzled – As the Supreme Court justices listened this week, at times with noticeable puzzlement, the attorney defending Michigan’s ban on gay marriages said that although people may say “that marriage is all about love and commitment,” in truth “the state doesn’t have any interest in that.” LA Times article

Senators blast delays in seizing guns from criminals, mentally ill – Two years after receiving $24 million for the task, officials with the state Department of Justice said Thursday that the agency needs up to three more years to eliminate a backlog of people who improperly own firearms despite criminal convictions or mental illness.  LA Times article; San Francisco Chronicle article

Judge: Legislature must release lawmakers’ calendars — In the first ruling of its kind in California, a Sacramento County judge says the state Legislature should release the appointment books, meeting schedules and calendars of two lawmakers facing separate federal corruption prosecutions. AP article; Capitol Alert

Kevin de León defends Walt Disney Concert Hall swearing-in, Rod Wright – Has state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León been singled out for extra scrutiny because he is Latino? In an interview published this week with the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, the Los Angeles Democrat said there is a “double standard in the media.” Capitol Alert

Assembly passes bill to end organ transplant black list for pot users – Medical cannabis patients could not be denied organ transplants solely based on their marijuana use under a bill the California Assembly passed on Thursday. Capitol Alert

Santa Monica’s ban on park Nativity displays upheld – A federal appeals court Thursday unanimously upheld a Santa Monica law that ended the decades-long tradition of displaying Nativity scenes every December in Palisades Park. LA Times article; AP article

House leaders Ok deal to end NSA phone-records collection — House leaders have reached a bipartisan compromise on a bill that would end the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of American phone records, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate.  AP article

William Bezdek: Think you’re paying too much in taxes? Well, consider this – The retired Bakersfield cardiologist writes, “We shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether we should abolish the IRS. Rather, we should be asking whether our taxes are being used in a manner that best supports the mission statement of the Declaration of Independence: Do our taxes advance life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”  Bezdek op-ed in Bakersfield Californian

California Government Today:

Senate Daily File

Assembly Daily File

News Briefs

Top Stories

Demand grows for UC Merced amid college admissions frenzy — The strikingly pristine rural setting, miles from downtown, is apt for what the 10-year-old campus is to so many: a second chance on the edge of California’s higher education frontier. The baby of the UCs has become an increasingly desired landing spot for thousands of the state’s brightest students, including many who have been shut out of the more established campuses in the hypercompetitive University of California system.  San Jose Mercury News article

A Fresno water-saving challenge: Save 1.2 billion gallons in July – The City Council on Thursday got a reminder of Fresno’s No. 1 policy challenge for at least the next six months — the drought. Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda gave council members a half-hour review of water-related options, possibilities and no-room-to-wiggle edicts born of four years of tepid rainfall. Survival depends less on City Hall and more on diligence by Fresno’s half-million residents, he said. Fresno Bee article

Jobs and the Economy

California’s low-wage workers earn less than in 1979, study shows – California’s low-wage workers are older and more educated than they were three decades ago — but they earn less, according to new research from UC Berkeley.  LA Times article

CRC posts $97 million loss, cuts 2015 capital investment plan 80 percent – California Resources Corp. posted a first-quarter loss of $97 million Thursday amid record oil production as the newly independent petroleum producer, heavily invested in Kern County, coped with drastically lower barrel prices. Los Angeles-based CRC, spun off in November from Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp., said it slashed its 2015 capital investment budget by 80 percent to $440 million, a reduction partly reflected in its current oil rig count of three statewide, down from 27 in November. Bakersfield Californian article

California gasoline prices jump because of refinery issues — California gasoline prices are surging — with the average up nearly 34 cents in a week. The swift rise, experts say, is because of problems at some state refineries.  Prices are up nationwide following a rebound in crude prices, but the jump is nowhere as severe as the Golden State.  LA Times article

U.S. wage growth shows signs of strength as hiring picks up – Paychecks for U.S. workers are rising at a faster pace as strong hiring in the past year has lowered the unemployment rate and increased competition for workers. AP article

Luis Alejo, Henry T. Perea, and Rudy Salas: We like what we saw on Cuban trade mission – Assemblymembers Alejo (D-Salinas), Perea (D-Fresno) and Salas (D-Bakersfield write, “As the seventh largest economy in the world, California has much to offer and gain from Cuba in the near future as new businesses, exports and educational opportunities emerge as a result of normalizing our relationship with Cuba.” Alejo/Perea/Salas op-ed in Fresno Bee

Residents voice concerns about northwest Bakersfield shopping center – About 30 residents of an upscale northwest Bakersfield neighborhood pleaded with city staff and a developer Thursday afternoon to reduce the impacts of a possibly Walmart-included retail center slated for the corner of Allen and Brimhall Roads.  Bakersfield Californian article

Healthcare supplier joins warehouse growth – Medline Industries Inc., the nation’s largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of healthcare supplies with more than $7 billion in sales in 2014, is building a 1 million-square-foot distribution center in Tracy, city officials announced this week.  Stockton Record article

Bay Area generates bumper crop of state income taxes – The seemingly boundless wealth produced by the Bay Area’s technology-driven economy, vis-a-vis the rest of the state, is starkly evident in a new analysis of personal income tax data. The Legislature’s budget analyst, Mac Taylor, disaggregated recently released 2013 income tax numbers from the Franchise Tax Board by geographic region. His staff discovered that on a per capita basis, the roughly six million residents of the immediate Bay Area paid an average of $3,119 in state taxes, well over twice the state average of $1,460.  Sacramento Bee article

2012 workers’ compensation reform cut medical costs – The 2012 overhaul of California’s multibillion-dollar system of compensating workers for job-related illnesses and injuries appears – as intended – to have reduced its medical costs, according to a new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.  Sacramento Bee article

Nursing home operator will give overtime back pay, damages to 34 Fresno workers – Bonavente Corporation has agreed to pay past-due wages and damages to 34 workers at three of its nursing homes in Fresno after failing to pay overtime for three years. Fresno Bee article

DPW trusts paid for steak dinners, trips to Hawaii, Las Vegas, audits find — Two nonprofit trusts, created by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and financed with more than $40 million from ratepayers, doled out millions to vendors without competitive bids, overpaid top managers and let them use trust-issued credit cards to buy gas for their personal vehicles and travel without filing expense reportsaccording to city audits released on Thursday. LA Times article

UCSF’s big-money backers call foul on Warriors arena foes — Two of UCSF’s most prominent financial backers have sent a clear message to opponents of the proposed Golden State Warriors arena at Mission Bay: Buzz off.  San Francisco Chronicle article


Fresno on pace to hit water conservation mark – The head of Fresno’s public utilities thinks the city can hit its water conservation goals if more people simply follow lawn watering rules. City council members are warning that more drastic steps could need to be taken. KVPR report

State eases Hanford water cuts – As the state prepares to address the drought with a plan to cut urban water use by 25 percent, Hanford finally seems to have gotten some relief. Hanford Sentinel article

Swimming pools splash on — If you think most people dreaming of an 18,000-gallon backyard cooling strategy are getting cold feet because of drought, you’re off the mark, according to Gary Booth, owner of Hanford-based Altra Pools. Booth said new construction has actually increased during the past four years. Hanford Sentinel article

Making sense of water in the Tulare basin – California’s water story is a complicated one, and the Tulare Lake watershed introduces its own twists and turns to the plot. As consumers of this limited yet vital resource, we can’t afford to overlook the details of the story. This article will touch on some of those details.  Visalia Times-Delta article

Peter Gleick: Don’t let special interests dictate state water policy – The president of the Pacific Institute writes, “California water policy has always been contentious, but the good idea that collaboration on effective solutions is better than perpetual water conflicts and gridlock has taken root.” Gleick op-ed in Sacramento Bee

Discovery of citrus pest in Westchester prompts survey, quarantine expansion — Federal, state and county agriculture officials are combing a 9-square-mile area around Bakersfield’s Westchester neighborhood after the discovery last week of an insect capable of carrying a disease that could devastate Kern County’s $642 million-a-year citrus industry.  Bakersfield Californian article

Hmong farmers join forces with Latinos, share small farming tips – Hmong farmers from all over the country met in Fresno today to discuss current challenges, seek services and share farming tips. Valley Public Radio’s Diana Aguilera reports how the group is now reaching other minority communities hoping to transcend cultural boundaries. KVPR report

Teens make case for ag at Food for America Day — Parents and students in the Frontier High agricultural program, however, made the case Thursday that the farming industry deserves support, and they directed their enthusiasm toward some of the area’s youngest learners.  Bakersfield Californian article

How Santa Barbara became a water-saving success story – As cities across California look for ways to save water, they might want to study Santa Barbara. The coastal town of about 90,000 people already cut water use by 22 percent in two years, and it’s gearing up to save even more.  KQED report

Rip up lawns? Nevada has been there, done that — When Gov. Jerry Brown ordered that California rip up 50 million square feet of lawns to conserve water amid the West’s deadening drought, the Golden State gasped. Meanwhile, the Silver State yawned. Desert denizens have already been there and done that — since 1999, in fact.  LA Times article

Criminal Justice/Prisons

ACLU of California launches cellphone app to preserve videos of police — Californians who use their cellphones to record police encounters with the public on video will be able to automatically transmit them directly to their local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union using a smartphone application launched Thursday.  LA Times article; San Francisco Chronicle article

Offers made to resolve Chukchansi office raid criminal case – Tex McDonald, the former chairman of Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, is expected to take a plea deal Friday in Madera County Superior Court that allows him to avoid a possible third strike for his involvement in the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino office raid in October. Fresno Bee article

Local law enforcement receives more than $1 million for work in federal investigation — The U.S. Attorney’s Office has distributed more than $1 million to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Bakersfield Police Department for their assistance in the investigation of an international cocaine-distribution ring. Bakersfield Californian article

USP Atwater staff fires shot during prison brawl — Altercations Wednesday at United States Penitentiary Atwater involving several inmates ended after prison staff fired “a warning shot,” authorities said.  Merced Sun-Star article

San Francisco sheriff wants support for deputy-worn cameras — As the mayor touted his office’s committment to transparency in San Francisco law enforcement Thursday by announcing a $6.6 million plan to outfit police with body-worn cameras, county Sheriff Ross Mirkarimiheld court across town to discuss a much smaller program — with noticeably less support from the city.San Francisco Chronicle article

San Francisco officials propose police body cameras, other reform measures – Flanked by the police chief and members of the Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee on Thursday proposed a package of police reforms that include accelerated hiring, increased training, more civilian oversight and deployment of body cameras.  LA Times article

Embracing life outside prison – There was a time Raymesha Bilbo was homeless and “running the streets,” she said. Drugs were at the center of her life and she didn’t know how to be a mother to her two young daughters.Bilbo has been clean for nearly eight months and she has a new lease on life. Bilbo’s story embodied the meaning of a graduation ceremony on Thursday at the Hilton Stockton, where 29 individuals received certificates for completing a parole re-entry program.  Stockton Record article

San Francisco deputy accused of staging fights may lose job — Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is seeking to fire a deputy accused of forcing jail inmates to fight for food. The San Francisco sheriff’s office says he started termination proceedings this week against the deputy sheriff accused of forcing two inmates to hit each other so he and others could bet on the outcomes. AP article


Toni Atkins: Too many California students are being shut out of UC – The Assembly Speaker (D-San Diego) writes, “California’s landmark Master Plan for Higher Education, passed in 1960, called for the University of California to admit the top 12.5 percent of the state’s high school graduates. Fifty-five years later, the UC is meeting that broad goal. However, a closer look at admissions and enrollment data during the past eight years reveals some troubling trends that, along with tuition increases, threaten to undermine California’s guiding higher education blueprint.Atkins op-ed in Sacramento Bee

Jury finds Cal State acted reasonably in 2009 tuition hikes – A jury Thursday found that California State University did not act unfairly when trustees voted to impose fee increases on students twice within a few months. The San Francisco Superior Court trial stemmed from actions taken in 2009, when trustees approved a 10% tuition hike in May, then an additional 20% hike in July. LA Times article

Pensions of former school superintendents revealed – Former Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, whose chaotic two-year tenure at Stockton Unified remains one of the most contentious in recent history, topped the list of the biggest pension payouts in the Valley and Sacramento region, taking home $266,899 from CalSTRS in 2014, Transparent California reported Thursday.Stockton Record article

Kings County sees graduation rates rise — Kings County continued to improve its high school graduation and dropout rates last school year, according to new data from the state Department of Education. The county saw 80.3 percent of students graduate in 2014, a jump from 76.1 percent in 2013. Hanford Sentinel article

New bill would help Corinthian students – Students enrolled at the abruptly shuttered Corinthian Colleges could get some help from California lawmakers after a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill that, if passed, would provide some relief to those left out in the cold.  San Francisco Chronicle article

Fresno vice principal who made controversial remarks returns to work – but not to Scandinavian – The Fresno middle school vice principal who attracted national attention after being recorded on a student’s cell phone saying “I just don’t like the black kids” has returned to work at Fresno Unified School District after more than a month on paid administrative leave. Fresno Bee article

Board Oks $1.8 million synthetic track for Riverbank High – A contractor will start work in two weeks on an all-weather track for Riverbank High School, which has a history of championship track and field teams. The Riverbank Unified School District also has a history of serious financial trouble, and not everyone agrees the $1.8 million price for the synthetic track is a wise expenditure. Modesto Bee article

Latino-themed images at Sac State, UC Davis draw criticism – A Cinco de Mayo-themed flier promoting a Sacramento State baseball game and an online picture of the UC Davis women’s lacrosse team have drawn criticism in recent days for being racially offensive.  Sacramento Bee article

San Diego Community College program puts elite universities within reach – With the cost of college tuition soaring, many students are looking for less expensive options for higher education. A growing number are finding the answer in the honors program offered by the San Diego Community College DistrictKPBS report

Campus monitor arrested on suspicion of bringing gun onto Oakdale campus — A campus monitor for the Stanislaus County Office of Education was arrested Wednesday for allegedly bringing a gun to its school in Oakdale.  Modesto Bee article

Head Start awaits news of grantee — San Joaquin County’s Head Start program has yet to find out who its grantee for the upcoming fiscal year might be. Executive Director Linda Butterfield told the Head Start Child Development Council Board of Directors at its Thursday meeting that she was hoping to learn by Thursday who will be the group that receives money from the federal government and sends it to the local agency that oversees preschool for children from homes of diminished means.  Stockton Record article


Fresno Bee: Valley air is better, but it’s still not healthy — We have the country’s dirtiest air, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, where the drought is hurting our air quality, and the Los Angeles basin. But we are also a national leader in efforts to improve the air. And we’ve made more progress on that front than most other parts of the country.  Fresno Bee editorial

Visalia air quality among worst in state – Visalia and other communities in Tulare County have some of the most unhealthy air in California, according to a report released this week by the American Lung Association.  Visalia Times-Delta article

Fresno pipeline suit seeks $48 million from PG&E – A Fresno lawyer who compares the April 17 Fresno pipeline explosion to the San Bruno pipeline blast that killed eight people almost five years ago says Pacific Gas & Electric Co. should pay $48 million in punitive damages to his three clients.  Fresno Bee article

Mendota solar project changes hands — A controlling interest in the 626-acre North Star solar power project under construction near Mendota has been acquired by Southern Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company. Fresno Bee article

Edison denies misconduct in San Onofre settlement process – Southern California Edison Co. denied that a private meeting between one of its past executives and the state’s former top utilities regulator influenced the company’s nearly $5-billion settlement of costs covering the closed San Onofre nuclear power plant. LA Times article

Tesla’s battery technology to power homes, businesses — Tesla CEO Elon Musk is trying to steer his electric car company’s battery technology into homes and businesses as part of an elaborate plan to reshape the power grid with millions of small power plants made of solar panels on roofs and batteries in garages. AP article; LA Times article; New York Times article; San Francisco Chronicle article

Health/Human Services

McNerney, Denham demand VA funding – San Joaquin County’s two representatives to Congress issued a joint appeal this week to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to fund the proposed veterans medical facility in French Camp. Stockton Record article

Sacramento Bee: A novel Rx for rising health care costs — California’s health care system suffers from many problems, but two in particular conspire to drive up costs and reduce access to care, especially in low-income communities.  Sacramento Bee editorial

Merced, Modesto hospitals get ‘A’ grade in patient safety – Mercy Medical Center in Merced received an A grade in patient safety for the fourth consecutive time in a new report released Wednesday. In the San Joaquin Valley, most hospitals either obtained the top grade or fell to the bottom of the list. Memorial Medical Center and Doctors Medical Center in Modesto also earned As. Memorial Medical Center took a leap forward after having received a B last fall.  Merced Sun-Star article

Health advocates frustrated as soda warning bill dies — Health advocates are expressing frustration after a bill that would have required warning labels on sugary drinks died in Sacramento. KQED report

House rejects bid to let VA docs give advice on medical pot – The GOP-controlled House Thursday barely rejected a bid by supporters of medical marijuana to permit veterans to receive information about the drug from their government doctors. AP article

Local nursing home closing its doors — Corinthian Gardens Health Care Center, a local nursing home that has racked up dozens of complaints in recent years, is closing.  Bakersfield Californian article

Land Use/Housing

Divided Fresno City Council passes law on vacant houses — Fresno City Hall on Thursday took the first step toward reforming a code-enforcement system viewed by some as an enabler of inner-city blight. Just about everything suggests future steps will be as hard-fought as this one. The City Council by a 5-2 vote approved the introduction of an ordinance designed to rid Fresno of blighted vacant houses. Fresno Bee article; KVPR report


Sacramento considering new set of ‘road diets’ – For years, Sacramento officials have been reducing lanes on major central city streets to slow traffic and give pedestrians and people on bikes more elbow room. Now, the city has its eyes on a few new streets for possible road diets.  Sacramento Bee article

Merced highway dedicated to ‘outstanding lawman’ — Rick Oules once fled down Highway 140 after a teenage prank at a Planada fire station. Years later, Oules chased criminals down the same road as a Merced County sheriff’s deputy. Now, that stretch of highway bears his name.  Merced Sun-Star article

Other areas

Modesto aims to wipe out graffiti – City officials are taking on one of Modesto’s scourges – graffiti. The city is getting close to rolling out a comprehensive campaign that includes stiffer fines for taggers, surveillance cameras, a smartphone app for the public to report graffiti, and more workers to paint over and remove graffiti. Modesto Bee article

Firefighters pouring thousands of gallons on Fresno utility pole storage yard blaze – Firefighters who battled a large blaze that engulfed hundreds of power poles in a storage yard in northwest Fresno on Thursday were struggling to squelch searing flames — and were forced to lay 2,000 feet of hose because fire hydrants on the property weren’t working. Fresno Bee article;KVPR report

Equipment operator caught in Fresno gas pipe explosion still in critical condition — The man driving a front-end loader when a gas pipeline exploded remained in critical condition Thursday, nearly two weeks after a fire and explosion at the Fresno County law enforcement gun range. Fresno Bee article

Bike path near Lake McClure finalist in $100,000 grant contest — A proposed bicycle path near Lake McClure has been chosen as a finalist in a nationwide contest for grant funding after winning a regional online voting contest in April.  Merced Sun-Star article

Valley Editorial Roundup

Fresno Bee – We have the country’s dirtiest air, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, where the drought is hurting our air quality, and the Los Angeles basin. But we are also a national leader in efforts to improve the air. And we’ve made more progress on that front than most other parts of the country; Questions linger 40 years after the last helicopter left Saigon.

Sacramento Bee – Jerry Brown limits Delta restoration goals, while promising more; California’s health care system suffers from many problems, but two in particular conspire to drive up costsand reduce access to care, especially in low-income communities.

Stockton Record – We support district-only Stockton council voting but balk at more seats and an appointed mayor.