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Steven Greenhut
Fresno mayor wants your vote for state controller...great, so she can sue you next?
As Controller John Chiang leaves office, a competitive battle is heating up to replace him. Assembly Speaker John Perez is running. So is Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. A surprising Field Poll released last week puts Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin in the lead. It’s still early. As the main Republican in the race, Swearengin benefits from a split Democratic field in the open primary election. She also has slim financial resources. A plurality of voters in the race are undecided, but her emergence as a contender will bring closer scrutiny. While her focus on improving the state’s tax climate is the heart of her campaign, she has faced criticism for the way she handled a rate increase in Fresno. Citing a need to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure, Swearengin joined the council majority to pass a significant water-rate hike. When local activists tried to take the issue to the ballot under the provisions of Proposition 218, the city denied the measure a title and summary, thus keeping residents from circulating petitions. That was overturned by a court, but Swearengin and the council continue to support legal actions against activists who oppose the increase.
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Daily News
Pols and oil companies are the winners - you're the loser
Los Angeles gas prices soar above $4, only Hawaii pays more
The average price for a gallon of regular gas in Los Angeles County was $4.30 Wednesday, up 17 cents from a week ago and up 26 cents from a month ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. California’s average price for regular was $4.19 a gallon Wednesday, topped only by Hawaii’s average price of $4.32 a gallon. California has 20 refineries that collectively produce about 42 million gallons of gas per day. The state’s refineries produced more than 6.4 million barrels of gas for in-state use for the week that ended April 4, according to the California Energy Commission. That was down 4.1 percent from the previous week but up 2.3 percent from the same period a year ago. Production of non-California gas for export rose 35.8 percent for the week that ended April 4 to more than 1 million barrels, the commission reported. Year-over-year production of gas for export rose 19.5 percent.

Sacramento Bee
Hapless GOP in the spotlight again, by default...
Jerry Brown back to negotiating table with Republicans over rainy-day fund
Gov. Jerry Brown called Wednesday for a special session of the Legislature to take up his proposal to create a rainy-day fund, and for the first time since 2011 he will have to negotiate a major budget deal with Republicans. The special session, scheduled to begin next week, is a significant test for the Democratic governor, who tried – and failed – to reach a budget accord with GOP lawmakers in the first year of his second stint as governor. That was before Democrats achieved a supermajority in the Legislature, and Brown hasn’t needed Republicans for much since. But the suspension of three state lawmakers involved in separate criminal cases in recent months has dropped Democrats below their supermajority status in the Senate, forcing Brown to reach back across the aisle. Yet Brown and majority Democrats also have leverage on the issue, because a Republican-backed budget reserve measure already on the November ballot has been criticized by public employee unions that could campaign against it.

Sacramento Bee
Poll finds California voters open to tinkering with tax-limiting Proposition 13
Proposition 13 may be the third rail of California politics, but state voters appear to have some appetite for making changes to the tax-limiting measure, according to a new Field Poll. About half of California voters – 49 percent – generally support changing some parts of the law, while 69 percent of voters support indirectly increasing taxes on businesses by making it harder for commercial properties to avoid reassessments, according to the poll. The poll also found that 54 percent of voters prefer lower taxes and fewer public services, while just 35 percent support the alternative – higher taxes and more services. Majorities of voters support more spending on schools and mental health care, while pluralities believe spending is about right for law enforcement, public assistance and environmental protection.

Los Angeles Times
At least 15 hurt when firetrucks collide in Monterey Park
At least 15 people, including six firefighters, were injured Wednesday afternoon when two firetrucks collided in Monterey Park, causing one to smash into a small restaurant. Monterey Park Fire Chief Jim Birrell said no fatalities were reported. The injuries ranged from minor to at least one critical. The injured firefighters are equally split between Birrell's department and the Alhambra Fire Department. He said both agencies were responding to a house fire in Monterey Park when the collision occurred shortly after 3 p.m. at the intersection of Garfield and Emerson avenues. Both trucks had their lights and sirens on. Officials said the crash sent the Monterey Park Fire truck into the restaurant, Lu's Dumpling House. At least 11 employees — one of whom was hospitalized — and four customers were inside when the truck broke into the building, according to the restaurant's owner.

San Francisco Examiner
Police, officials warn of 4/20 crackdown
Stoned pot-heads ruining the party for everyone
The unofficial marijuana smoking party that converges on Golden Gate Park on April 20 every year is on notice from San Francisco police and elected officials: it’s time to behave or face consequences. Supervisor London Breed and residents of the Haight-Ashbury, which borders Golden Gate Park, are trying to avoid a repeat of last year’s scene, when 4/20 fell on a sunny and warm weekend. A crowd of 15,000 revelers left five tons of trash behind on Sharon Meadow and Hippie Hill, Rec and Park general manager Phil Ginsburg said. It took Recreation and Park Department cleanup crews 12 hours and $15,000 worth of overtime to clean up the mess. This year – with 4/20 again on a weekend and with a bright, balmy day expected – extra uniformed and plainclothes police will be roaming the area where cannabis consumers congregate, police Chief Greg Suhr said at a press conference Wednesday. Cops will be on the lookout for open containers of alcohol, for vending without permits – and for marijuana sales, which is a felony crime in San Francisco, Suhr said. Buzzkill? “That’s what we do,” said the chief, who added that the unofficial, unpermitted and unsanctioned 4/20 holiday is at a “tipping point.” Other unofficial parties in San Francisco, like Halloween in the Castro, have been shut down following spates of violence and unruly behavior.

Orange County Register
GPS failed to stop serial killings
Police face backlog of data from devices worn by parolees accused of sex worker slayings
While GPS devices used to monitor sex offenders played an integral role in the capture of two suspected serial killers last week, early details from the case raise questions about how well the tracking data are routinely monitored. Police say the devices enabled them to trace the movements of Steven Dean Gordon, 45, and Franc Cano, 26, and link the two men to the slayings of at least five women. But the investigation has also painted an unsettling picture of sex offender oversight: According to the police account, the pair was meeting and killing women for months before state and local authorities make a connection. Detectives placed the suspects in the same vicinity as the women by comparing GPS data from the sex offenders’ tracking devices with signals from the victims’ cellphones, Anaheim Lt. Bob Dunn said Tuesday. Both men were being tracked by state parole agents in October last year when two Santa Ana women mysteriously disappeared. Authorities say the women were killed, though their bodies haven’t been found. On Nov. 9, the state released Gordon from parole and he began to be monitored by federal probation officials. A third Santa Ana woman disappeared three days later. She also was killed, authorities say, and her body hasn’t been found either. Police began reviewing the sex offenders’ tracking data after a fourth woman was found dead at an Anaheim recycling facility in March. Like the three missing women, she had ties to prostitution. The tracking data, police say, showed that the devices were intact and worn while the men raped and murdered each woman. Discussing the case at a press conference Monday, police said the men also killed a fifth woman and possibly others. As with past cases involving sex offenders wearing GPS devices, the Orange County case has focused attention on registration requirements, the consequences of violating parole conditions and parole agents’ caseload. A federal study last year said agents in California were so busy reviewing GPS data from parolees that only 12 percent of their time was spent in the field.

Orange County Register
State resolution urges Obama to suspend deportations
State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, introduced a resolution Monday urging President Barack Obama to suspend any further deportations of unauthorized immigrants, asking for “a more humanitarian immigration policy that keeps families together.” Correa’s resolution proposed in the California Legislature is part of a broader campaign pushed by immigration-rights activists as they turn to elected leaders nationwide to deliver their message against deportations. It is estimated that more than 11 million people live in the country illegally. In California, the number is estimated at 2.5 million to 3 million-plus. The Obama administration has averaged about 400,000 deportations annually – a number that includes people who are stopped crossing the border illegally. Immigration rights activists complain that Obama has the highest number of deportations of any administration.  The New York Times reported last week that two-thirds of the nearly 2 million deportation cases during the Obama administration involve people who had committed minor infractions or who had no criminal record at all. Twenty percent of the cases involve people convicted of serious crimes, according to the Times’ analysis.

Los Angeles Times
Beck apologizes to commission for not alerting it to tampering
Then he lets all the cops who violated the rules, and the public's rights, off the hook
Top Los Angeles police officials Tuesday publicly apologized to their civilian bosses for not promptly alerting them that officers had tampered with recording equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and several top aides promised to monitor the problem more closely and vowed to be better about notifying the five-member police commission about such issues in the future. Beck was joined by an assistant chief and two deputy chiefs, all of whom assured commissioners the department was committed to keeping tabs on its officers' conduct. They said they had not intentionally kept the oversight board in the dark. The hearing culminated weeks of growing discontent among commissioners since they learned of officers' attempts to avoid being recorded in the field. In July, an inspection by LAPD investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing small antennas that are part of video cameras and help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed. Since 2010, when the video technology was first put into use, LAPD officials have touted it as a cornerstone in their efforts to guard against racial profiling and other abuses by officers. The camera program helped persuade federal authorities the department was capable of monitoring itself after years of close oversight by the Justice Department. At the hearing, Beck and the others stood by their decision not to investigate which officers were responsible for the tampering.

Bay Guardian
Cops covering up evidence...family of gunned down man fights back
Claim filed over SFPD shooting of Alejandro Nieto
The family of Alejandro Nieto, the 28-year-old City College student and community activist who was gunned down by the San Francisco Police Department March 21, has filed a claim against the city in preparation for a lawsuit responding to what they allege was an unjustified shooting. Friends, family and supporters of Nieto gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall April 14 with attorney John Burris, who is representing Nieto’s family. Burris is a prominent civil rights lawyer known for representing families whose sons have died as a result of officer involved shootings, including the family of Oscar Grant. An initial examination of the body suggests Nieto died from wounds inflicted by at least 10 bullets, fired by multiple officers, Burris said. Police initially encountered Nieto in Bernal Heights Park in response to a 911 call reporting a man with a gun. Nieto, who was employed full-time as a security guard, actually possessed a Taser and not a firearm. Police said officers opened fire because he pointed the Taser at them, and they confused it with a gun when they saw a red dot emitted from the device after it was drawn, tracking officers. Burris isn’t buying the police department's account, but said he faces obstacles obtaining key information that would shed light on the incident.


Mercury News
Victim's immigration status used against her in rape case
Officer pleads not guilty to on-duty rape of woman
A San Jose police officer pleaded not guilty Monday to a charge that he raped a woman he was entrusted to protect while on duty last fall. Geoffrey Graves, 38, of Gilroy, appeared in a San Jose courtroom and entered his plea, then soon after left the Hall of Justice without speaking to reporters. He was accompanied by San Francisco-based attorney Darlene Bagley and a few family members. His next court appearance is set for May 14. Graves is on paid administrative leave after a five-month Internal Affairs investigation culminated in his arrest March 10, after which he was freed on $100,000 bail. According to investigators and the District Attorney's Office, Graves was part of a four-officer detail that responded to a Sept. 22 domestic disturbance call at a San Jose home where a woman was in a drunken argument with her husband. No crime occurred, but the woman asked to be taken to a hotel for the night. That's when investigators say Graves waited for a second officer to leave the hotel, then went to her room and raped the woman. DNA later found on his bulletproof vest appeared to corroborate sexual contact. The case has stirred up controversy on multiple fronts. The accuser is an undocumented immigrant with a limited command of English, straining tenuous trust between police and the city's immigrant communities.

San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco's third-world police force
Family of man killed by San Francisco police prepares to sue
The family of the man who was fatally shot by officers March 21 took the first steps Monday to filing a lawsuit, as some are calling the Police Department’s handling of the case ineffective and opaque. On the steps of City Hall on Monday, about 30 people held a banner asking for justice as a lawyer for the family announced the claim filing with the City Attorney’s Office and called on outside agencies to investigate the incident. “The version of the story that the police have trotted out, we have concerns and frankly skepticism,” said Adante Pointer, one of the family’s attorneys. However, well-known civil-rights attorney John Burris, whose firm is representing the Nietos, said any questions about the incident will never be answered under the current system, therefore the family must sue to find out what really happened. That system of police oversight, from the Office of Citizen Complaints to the District Attorney’s Office, rarely finds police in the wrong, Burris said. Yet at least three recent incidents — a federal indictment of six officers for allegedly violating constitutional rights, a police-involved shooting that ended with a wounded officer and Nieto’s death — show they do in fact mess up and even break the laws, he said. Some of the questions that remain unanswered include how many times Nieto was shot, the names of the officers involved, and why police questioned the Nieto family and searched their home before informing them of Alejandro Nieto’s death.

Sacramento Bee
Voters deeply skeptical of Congress
California voters remain intensely disapproving of the work conducted on their behalf on Capitol Hill, but they continue to offer a more upbeat assessment of the efforts of their own representatives, according to the latest Field Poll. About six weeks ahead of the primary election, nearly 80 percent said they disapproved of the job being done by Congress and only 13 percent approve. Republican voters – especially those who identify with the tea party – are the most critical of the work and the least willing to return their own representative to Washington for another two-year term. The results are consistent with recent national measures showing federal lawmakers held in low esteem following political setbacks for both parties. Republicans are blamed for the partial government shutdown, and Democrats have taken prolonged fire for the botched rollout of the health care overhaul.

Los Angeles Times
Federal investigation targets L.A.-based Herbalife
Allegations it is running an illegal pyramid scheme...how many pols will be sucked up into this?
The Justice Department and FBI have opened an investigation of Los Angeles nutritional products company Herbalife Ltd., which has been fighting critics who say it's operating an illegal pyramid scheme. Law enforcement sources confirmed the investigation. The FBI started looking into the company "more than several months ago," said a person who has been briefed on the investigation. Shares of Herbalife Ltd. suffered their biggest loss in more than a year Friday after reports of the investigation surfaced. The stock plummeted $8.36, or 14%, to close Friday at $51.48; trading volume was heavy. Herbalife said in a statement that it was unaware of the FBI probe, first reported by the Financial Times. At the FBI, Christos Sinos, a supervisory special agent, did not deny that an inquiry was underway. Rather, he said simply, "We are not commenting." Should the case lead to criminal charges, "the impact on stock price and the company's ability to sign up new distributors would be completely, completely crippled," Ifrah said. Herbalife, founded in 1980 by a charismatic pitch man named Mark Hughes, sells nutritional and weight-loss products in more than 80 countries. Its products — the most popular of which is a meal-replacement shake mix — are not available in stores. Rather, the company relies on a team of more than 3 million independent sales people, also called distributors, to sell the products and coach clients about nutrition. The distributors are paid by commissions from sales and bonuses for recruiting new distributors. The Federal Trade Commission confirmed last month that it was conducting a civil inquiry of Herbalife. The California attorney general's office also confirmed it was meeting with Herbalife critics, including some former distributors. Herbalife has previously disclosed that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the company.

Union-Tribune
California's feckless Indian tribes...don't kid yourself, it's ALL about the money
Tribe's enrollment dispute sparks protest
More than 100 people who say they’ve unfairly been denied membership in the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians are planning a protest Sunday on the Valley Center reservation, challenging the tribe’s enrollment policies. The group will be joined by some San Pasqual members who support their claim and are pushing back against the tribe’s chairman, Allen Lawson, claiming he’s not a true San Pasqual descendant. Membership holds deep significance in Native American communities and, in some tribes, comes with huge financial perks. Members of the San Pasqual band receive nearly $10,000 a month in stipends from the tribe’s gaming revenues. San Pasqual — which has roughly 280 members — owns and operates the Valley View Casino & Hotel, one of the largest gaming centers in San Diego County. Many of the protestors are working people, barely making enough money to get by, said Alexandra McIntosh, an attorney hired by the group two years ago. Having access to tribal benefits would make a big difference in their lives, she said. Many in the group plan to gather about 9:30 a.m. Sunday at the intersection of Canal Road and North Lake Wohlford Road for a short march to the tribal hall, where they will protest outside during the tribal council’s quarterly meeting.

Union-Tribune
Opera tapped public funds amid troubles
Taxpayers bilked out of millions - will any pol pay for this?
San Diego Opera officials seeking millions in government grants painted a picture of financial health over the past few years — a time during which financial troubles were well known inside the organization. In a 2012 application to the city of San Diego the opera noted — as it did in each year the company sought funding — that the organization had a balanced budget for 25 years and that the opera was in “remarkably excellent fiscal health.” Now preparing for shutdown with funds near complete depletion, the group's leaders say they knew of financial troubles internally for years. Minutes of a fateful March 19 meeting at which directors voted 33-1 to cease operations record General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell telling the board that “these financial matters have been brought to the board for years, and that the staff had been going to major donors to explain the situation with no results.” At that meeting the opera’s board of directors decided to close down following its run of “Don Quixote,” ending this coming Sunday. Since then, the shutdown has been extended two weeks while a faction of board members seeks an alternative to closure. Board members met again for three hours on Friday and emerged with no change to the planned closure date of April 29. A committee of board members will meet with experts from Opera America, an industry group, to explore options in ongoing efforts to save the company or re-establish it after closure. Among those at Friday’s meeting was former county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, a fan who shepherded almost a million dollars of county funds to the organization over her term in office. In all, the opera has received $2.9 million in government support over the past five years, records show.

Los Angeles Times
Trigger happy cops gun down hostages...
L.A. County deputies fatally shoot man by mistake

Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies mistakenly shot two hostages, killing one, earlier this week as the men fled a knife-wielding captor in West Hollywood, officials said Thursday. John Winkler, a 30-year-old TV production assistant who had recently arrived from Washington state to pursue a career in entertainment, was hit once in the chest when three deputies opened fire on him Monday night at an apartment complex, officials said in a statement. He died at a local hospital. A second hostage was shot in the leg, officials said.  Winkler's friend Devin Richardson said Winkler, who lived in the complex, was a friend of the two other men held hostage and rushed to the apartment when he heard them screaming. The violence left residents in the apartment building and beyond stunned.

Los Angeles Times
Karlton calls out prison guards on brutality...again
Judge calls use of pepper spray on mentally ill inmates 'horrific'
A federal judge Thursday called California's use of large amounts of pepper spray to subdue mentally ill prisoners a "horrific" violation of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton's order requires California to continue revising policies that govern how mentally ill inmates in the state's prisons are disciplined, including the use of solitary confinement. He found that such isoaltion of mentally ill inmates "can and does cause serious psychological harm" and must be limited. The judge's order requires the state to have prior approval from a doctor or clinician before mentally ill prisoners may be put into segregated housing. The order also bars the state from returning inmates to solitary confinement if their psychiatric conditions require higher levels of care. Michael Bien, lead attorney for prisoners, said he was heartened not just by the order, but by changes the state has made to its disciplinary programs in the last six months. "It is certainly a victory," he said. Karlton wrote the original 1995 federal court decision finding that mentally ill prisoners in California were subjected to cruel punishment -- at the time, this included the use of batons and guns that fired rubber bullets and wood blocks. The judge said six videotapes shown in court during hearings last fall demonstrated that the same issues remain, though they now involve pepper spray. "Most of the videos were horrific," Karlton wrote in his order. He expressed concern that, as troubling as the amounts of spray used were, the incidents did not violate state prison policies in effect at the time.

R. Scott Moxley
Cash-and-Carry Cop
According to an FBI complaint, Garden Grove businessman Kevin Khanh Tuan Do employed his housemate, Westminster Police Department officer Anthony Duong Donner, to get Santa Ana coffee-lounge owner Hanh Hong Le to pay 60 percent annual interest on $170,000 in loans. Defense lawyers are hoping to explain away Donner's regular presence at the now-defunct Café Miss Cutie on Harbor Boulevard by arguing the cop and other officers liked to frequent the business while in uniform and on duty merely "because it employed young, scantily clad women as servers."



Perv cops and loan-sharks team up to shake town coffee shop.

Mercury News
Drunken-driving arrest spurred woman's rape report against San Jose cop
The woman who prosecutors contend was raped by an on-duty San Jose police officer reported the sexual assault only after being arrested three weeks later on suspicion of drunken driving, this newspaper has learned. Prosecutors don't dispute that the arrest by the CHP may have been the catalyst that drove the woman to report the alleged rape by an officer from a different agency. But they note that the case against the cop is supported by DNA and other evidence. Even so, the timing of the woman's accusation against Officer Geoffrey Graves is likely to become a central issue in the case, experts say. The defense may seek to discredit the woman, suggesting she tried to barter her way out of her own legal predicament by implicating the officer. Her arrest also may bolster a possible defense claim that she has a drinking problem and is therefore unreliable. But prosecutors are well prepared to make their case. In addition to DNA evidence bolstering the sexual assault charge, prosecutors say, the woman never requested leniency in exchange for reporting the San Jose officer. And court records show she pleaded no contest and received a typical sentence for a first conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol. "Any notion that this report was made to avoid a DUI conviction is absurd," said Carlos Vega, the prosecutor in charge of the rape case. He noted that the misdemeanor DUI case was handled independently by a different prosecutor. Regardless of how the DUI arrest figures in the cop case, it helps resolve a lingering question: What occurred to prompt the woman, who is in the country illegally, to risk deportation and level the explosive accusations?
Steven Greenhut
Milk debate touches raw nerve in Capitol
The debate’s politics are fascinating, given that some Democrats who are more apt to favor government regulation backed the bill as a means to help the small, niche farming industry that is sprouting up. Meanwhile, some Republicans, who usually decry government meddling, blasted the bill.

Robert Brown
California consumers deserve to choose who can access information collected from their car
Recent news has cast a light on government wiretaps and the importance of personal privacy. But it's not just Washington that knows all about you. Your car knows about you; and so does your carmaker.

Mercury News
Homelessness isn't just a city responsibility
Mercury News editors say it's your fault the homeless are trashing their community
The pressure is on San Jose to deal with the epidemic of homelessness that's turning pockets of the city into Third World encampments, polluting waterways and unsettling nearby neighborhoods. The squalid 75-acre camp known as The Jungle near Story Road is said to be the largest of its kind on the continental United States. But San Jose is not causing or ignoring this problem. Nor is Santa Clara County, whose work with the city on homelessness is one of the best collaborations ever for the two governments. All cities in Silicon Valley should accept regional responsibility for the poverty growing in our midst. But if there is a single villain to call out, it's the state of California.

Steven Greenhut
New bills a mystery even to their authors
The nuts-and-bolts of the legislative process are rarely interesting to people outside the halls of the state Capitol, but oftentimes small, process-oriented bills speak volumes about the way our state is governed — especially on the issue of transparency.

Dan Walters
Scandal and conflict sour legislative session
When the Legislature’s 2014 session began about three months ago, the Capitol’s dominant Democrats and their allies had high hopes that it would bear legislative fruit – with good reason. However, as the Legislature wound up a couple of weeks of intensive committee hearings Thursday and left town for an 11-day spring break, the atmosphere had soured.

Sacramento Bee
Faced with an initiative, teachers union blinks on discipline bill
The threat of a ballot initiative did the trick, persuading the California Teachers Association to negotiate a new process for teacher dismissal. The Senate Education Committee is expected to hear the bill on April 23. After two years of failing to resolve this issue, the Legislature should get AB 215 to the governor’s desk. California needs a workable process for firing teachers in the rare cases of extreme misconduct, while still protecting teachers from wrongful termination.

Dan Walters
Anti-poverty advocates ramp up pressure for more spending
Crime victims and their advocates staged the biggest rally, an annual event seeking validation and sympathy, and politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, were there to utter the requisite bromides. What, after all, could be safer than empathizing with crime victims? Brown didn’t venture, however, a couple of hundred feet away to a much smaller rally of anti-poverty groups and a few friendly politicians, supporting a wide array of bills and budget appropriations attacking “income inequality.” All would cost money, either from the state budget to boost spending on “safety net” services such as welfare grants and health care, or from employers for higher minimum wages and mandatory paid sick leave. Collectively, they represent Brown’s biggest challenge this year as he seeks a fourth lease on the Capitol’s corner office.

Steven Greenhut
Is this how California treats innovators?
Tax board continues long quest against ex-resident
It’s hard not to conclude that California’s tax agency is out of line as it continues to run up administrative and legal fees — not to mention risking potential multimillion-dollar liabilities — to pursue a decades-old dispute over where a taxpayer lived for six months. There’s a troubling lesson here for wannabe entrepreneurs, who might want to think carefully about their residency before they hit the big time.

Dan Walters
FPPC gains more power, but lacks a chairperson
Whether it’s football, tiddlywinks, poker or politics, the rules of the game can play a big role in determining who wins. Every election produces examples of that adage – of elections won or lost because of the rules governing voting procedures, setting the boundaries of legislative or congressional districts, limiting campaign contributions and/or expenditures, or prescribing how votes are to be tallied.

Dan Walters
New bill seeks to expand state’s voting rights act
The U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, struck down a portion of the federal Voting Rights Act last year, saying its 1960s-era provisions were no longer applicable to 21st-century conditions. The invalidated section required voting changes in nine Southern states to receive pre-clearance from the federal courts or the U.S. Justice Department, including the redrawing of legislative, congressional and local government districts. But its rigid voting history formula also was applied elsewhere, including four counties in California. The practical effect was that any changes of election procedures in those counties, as well as any statewide redistricting plan, had to be pre-cleared – which became a political factor in the Capitol’s decennial redistricting wrangle. Those four rural counties – Kings, Merced, Monterey and Yuba – have large Latino populations. The highly controversial Supreme Court decision ends that oversight and so far, efforts to restore the invalidated provision in Congress have failed.

Dan Walters
Bullet train faces withering series of hurdles
The California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to begin construction this year on a bullet train system that is supposed to eventually stretch 500 miles from Sacramento to San Diego. It will be, at most, a modest beginning. The agency only has enough money – maybe – for 130 miles of non-electrified track from Madera to somewhere north of Bakersfield, dubbed “the train to nowhere” by critics. Even if that stretch is built, laying track farther south depends on overcoming a withering array of financial, legal and political hurdles within the state and the overt hostility of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Debra J. Saunders
Get thee behind me, Satan - but first, write a check
"Californians were recently reminded what happens when sensible limits on political spending are cast aside," was the reaction of Leila Pedersen, policy coordinator at Common Cause California. Funny. San Francisco's $500 contribution limit per mayoral candidate didn't keep Leland Yee, now a state senator on paid leave, from ending up on an FBI criminal complaint. An undercover agent somehow donated $5,000 to Yee's mayoral campaign. Money always finds a way. State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), denounced the Supreme Court ruling as "a victory for the 1 percent. It makes it legal for a wealthy donor to donate the maximum to every member of Congress." You would think they're all ethics in the Senate Democratic caucus, except: A jury found Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood (Los Angeles County), guilty of perjury. Sens. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Ron Calderon, D-Montebello (Los Angeles County), face federal corruption charges. All three are on paid leave. To demonstrate that his caucus understands that "public perception is important," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg canceled this weekend's Torrey Pines golf fundraiser.  Not to worry, Democrats. The Chronicle's Melody Gutierrez reported, "Steinberg said the money raised through the event will not be returned since it would have been raised anyway."

Daily News
Drill sanely for water to keep California sustainable
Those of us who aren’t farmers or ranchers need to understand that our state is one of the few in our nation that doesn’t regulate what can be pumped from the water that is stored underground. It’s a wasting resource, and we need to protect it rather than spend it if we hope to protect California for future generations. It doesn’t take an environmental engineer to understand that the pumping that has been going on for decades in our state, which can lower a field by up to a foot a year, is not a sustainable way of doing business here. The agricultural interests that are drilling so far down that we may be only a couple of decades from hitting rock bottom are doing California no favors. If even our rivals in Texas are starting to regulate just how much can be pumped to prop up yet another unsustainable crop, California too needs to get its act together and plan as one state for a future that is quite different from our past. To do anything less is to deny both the realities of climate change and our collective creativity as a California that can roll with the punches.

Mercury News
Lawmakers get raises while most Californians still struggle
Never let it be said that the Legislature does nothing to raise Californians' incomes as we struggle to recover from the Great Recession. Not regular Californians', of course. Median household income has been stagnant or worse since 2007, according to the latest available evidence. The unemployment rate here, though improving, is the nation's fourth-worst. But our lawmakers have raised the salaries of one important demographic: their staff members.

Dan Walters
Keating’s death recalls California’s big savings and loan debacle
Charles Keating, the high-flying savings and loan tycoon at the center of a financial and political scandal in the 1980s, died Monday in Phoenix. The scandal was rooted in California’s 1982 deregulation of state-chartered savings and loans – banks then limited to home loans – freeing them to make virtually any speculative investment.

Steven Greenhut
Case undermines public access to records
Officials can hide public work on private emails
To evade open-meetings rules, council members in a Midwestern town in the 1990s hopped in a van and held their meeting outside public view while driving around. As I recall, they said it was OK because they weren’t at City Hall. That offered this writer some early insight into the lengths some officials will go to operate in secret. It would be nice to chalk up that little farce to the antics of small-town officials. But a recent California appeals court ruling upholds a situation that’s the rough equivalent of the action above – at least when dealing with public records and correspondence. Unless the appeals court is overturned or the California Legislature acts quickly – secrecy will be the new norm in city halls.

Steven Greenhut
Uber faces backlash from new Luddites
Cab companies want government to quash competition
Basically, these “ride-sharing” services do an end-run around the taxicab cartel and their arrays of rules and limits, but American Luddites haven’t attacked cars. They have lobbied governments to limit the competition, which is designed to achieve the same result.






 
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