California unions’ dominance of Democratic Party may be fading
When Jerry Brown signed legislation giving California’s public employees collective bargaining rights during his first governorship, he – wittingly or otherwise – began a major political shift. The legislation re-energized organized labor, and in the ensuing years, unions – particularly public employee unions – became the state’s most influential interest group, providing resources for the Democrats’ rise to dominance. The party and the unions essentially became a single entity. For example, both Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg arose from union employment, the former as an organizer and the latter as an attorney. Unions remain California Democrats’ most important constituency, and will be indefinitely, but there are some indications that union hegemony within the party may be fraying.
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|Los Angeles Times
Hiding behind their lawyers
Killer cops get back on the street to kill again, and again
Gloria Molina is right, at least in part. She and her colleagues on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors need to know what county employees are up to, because when those workers make serious mistakes, it's the board that has to pay for them — to the tune of $89 million in legal judgments and settlements in 2012 alone. And that figure actually represents a plunge from prior years. The number is now expected to skyrocket as the county faces a growing number of excessive-force lawsuits brought against L.A. County sheriff's deputies in jail inmate abuse cases.
San Francisco Chronicle
Fracking exposes rift between Jerry Brown, Democrats
Neanderthals against fracking want Brown to take California back to the stone-age
Fracking has opened vast oil and natural gas deposits across the country, creating legions of fans and foes alike. Now the technology has exposed a rift between Gov. Jerry Brown and a very vocal part of his Democratic base. Brown has come under increasing fire from the state's powerful environmental lobby for his support of hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that has revolutionized America's oil and gas industry. The split erupted into public view when fracking opponents heckled Brown throughout his speech at the recent California Democratic Party convention. While some delegates shouted "Ban fracking!" others held aloft signs proclaiming "Another Democrat Against Fracking." The state party's platform now calls for a fracking moratorium - an idea Brown rejects. For months, opponents have hounded Brown at public appearances across the state, with some nicknaming the governor Big Oil Brown. Brown insists critics should give the state time to study whether fracking poses a threat to water supplies. And although the state is moving to reduce its dependence on oil, Brown says dropping fossil fuels entirely can't happen overnight.
Reformers want to divorce secretary of state from politics
French statesman Charles de Gaulle argued that “politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians,” which is a clever way of saying that politicians can be so adept at pursuing their self-interest that it’s hard to get them to do the important business of legislating. Nothing has defined California’s polity more than three Progressive-era inventions – the initiative, referendum and recall – that were designed to give the “people” direct power so that they aren’t beholden to politicians and the special-interest groups that help put them in office. The state’s long history of reforms – whether pushed by “conservatives” or “liberals” – always echoes that theme. Term limits kicked the bums out of office after their time expired. Campaign-finance reforms limited their ability to raise cash. However good or ill the result, good-government reformers always have a new slate of ideas. The latest one, introduced at a Thursday press conference at the Capitol, would turn the California secretary of state into a “nonpartisan” office, and transfer the task of writing titles and summaries for voter initiatives from the state attorney general to this newly depoliticized secretary of state office. If the Legislature approves it by a two-thirds vote, ACA 12 would head to voters in November.
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco workers earn $300,000-plus
More than 700 San Francisco city workers took home wages in excess of $200,000 last year. That included 20 who collected more than $300,000 apiece. The city's best-paid worker in 2013 was Fire Department Battalion Chief Samson Lai, who made a total of $347,102 - thanks to $131,000 in overtime and $29,000 in premium pay and other incentives. Lai, who works at Station 2 at Powell and Broadway, earned more than his own boss, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White ($336,922). He also came out ahead of the city's top-paid department leader, Police Chief Greg Suhr ($339,282). "I'm probably in the busiest battalion west of the Mississippi," said Lai, 51, who oversees a crew of 50 firefighters and says he earned every dime of his overtime and premium pay. In all, Fire Department brass and rank and file accounted for 62 of the city's 100 highest-paid workers last year. All of them made more than $250,000. Fire Department overtime rocketed to $43.8 million last fiscal year, up from $9.9 million a decade earlier. A city controller's audit attributed the increase to "deliberate department decisions" to use overtime to make up for being short 257 firefighters. Firefighters at the top pay grade cost the city about $78 an hour, including benefits. Overtime costs $68 an hour. The Fire Department isn't the only agency getting by on extra hours. The city's top overtime earner last year was in the Sheriff's Department, where $95,000-a-year Deputy Whitney Yee earned an eye-bulging $196,689 in OT. Add in nearly $17,000 in other pay, and it brought Yee's total pay for the year to $308,434.
In standoff with California over testing, US Education Department blinks
The U.S. Department of Education is allowing California to bypass federal requirements by giving standardized tests in math and reading to millions of public school students this spring without publicly reporting results or using them to hold schools or teachers accountable. The reprieve, good for only the testing season that begins in the state on March 18, ends a months-long standoff between California and the department over the state's testing plans. At one point, Education Secretary Arne Duncan had threatened to withhold at least $3.5 billion in annual federal funding - money that California uses to educate poor and disabled children. But in a letter sent to California officials Friday, Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle wrote that her department has approved its plan. "I hope you find this flexibility helpful," she wrote. She has issued similar approvals in recent months to Montana, Idaho and South Dakota. Like most of the country, California rolled out new K-12 standards in math and reading this school year, requiring new curricula, materials and teaching approaches. But tests based on those new Common Core standards will not be ready until 2015. That's a problem because federal law requires states to test students in math and reading every year in grades three through eight and once in high school. California and other states faced a quandary: Should they just dust off their old tests, which don't relate to the Common Core, and hope for the best? California lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to scrap the old tests and give field tests, with sample questions, of the Common Core exam that is still being put together.
Obamacare: Fifteen percent of Covered California enrollees haven't paid
Roughly 15 percent of the Californians who had enrolled by Jan. 31 still haven't sent in their first month's payment, according to four major health insurance companies participating in the Covered California exchange. So those lofty enrollment numbers could soon be dropping substantially. "In order to receive access to health care, they need to pay their premiums," said Brad Kieffer, a spokesman for Health Net. That's not to say that the insurance companies, which have an intense financial interest in making the controversial health care law work, haven't been extremely accommodating. In late December, with huge numbers of applications piling up, all of the exchange's 11 health plans agreed to extend premium payment deadlines through various dates in January. People who paid by the end of the grace periods saw their health insurance retroactively start the first of the year. In other words, if someone was injured in a serious car crash on Jan. 10, he or she could pay the first month's premium after the accident and still be insured for the cost of their care. That's usually not the way health insurance works. Normally, individuals or businesses applying for health coverage must enclose a check for their first month's payment with their application, said Neil Crosby of the California Association of Health Underwriters, a trade group that represents 2,500 of the state's health insurance agents and brokers. Federal officials say they've noticed the same trend nationwide. From Oct. 1 to Feb. 1, almost 3.3 million Americans enrolled in a health plan through 14 state-run exchanges or the federal government's once-balky-but-now-breezy health care exchange. But the Obama administration says it still doesn't know what percentage of the individuals have paid their January premiums, which represents hundreds of millions of dollars to health insurance companies. Covered California says it hopes the percentage of non-payers will drop substantially as the March 31 open-enrollment deadline approaches. But officials there say there's little they can do about it.
State oversight may tame California’s medical marijuana industry
A California lawmaker has introduced legislation to regulate the state’s free-wheeling medical marijuana industry — the farmers that grow the drug, the hundreds of storefront shops that sell it and especially the doctors who write recommendations allowing people to use it. The state in 1996 was the first to authorize marijuana use for health purposes — there are now 20. But to this day no one knows how many dispensaries and patients California has or what conditions pot is being used to treat because the loosely worded law did not give government agencies a role in tracking the information. The bill introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa marks a milestone not only because it would provide significant state oversight of the multi-billion dollar industry for the first time, but because it is likely to get serious consideration in Sacramento after years of inaction. SB1262 is the brainchild of the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities, two politically influential groups that have stood in the way of previous efforts to legitimize pot growers and dispensaries by subjecting them to state control and taxation. Medical marijuana advocates, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for a statewide regulatory scheme they hoped would make the industry less susceptible to federal raids and arrests, is taking a wait-and-see approach on Correa’s legislation. They prefer a bill held over from last year, co-sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Sens. Darryl Steinberg and Mark Leno, that calls for regulating and taxing medical marijuana like alcohol and places fewer restrictions on doctors than Correa’s measure does, but are prepared to hammer out a compromise, said Lynne Lyman, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
E-cigarettes face restrictions as cities update smoking ordinances
Electronic cigarettes, touted as a smokeless alternative to regular cigarettes, are coming under increased scrutiny as cities and counties consider applying the same restrictions to e-cigarettes as to their tobacco counterparts. Electronic cigarettes typically use battery-powered heat to vaporize a liquid solution held in the mouthpiece of the device. Under state law, it is illegal to sell or give e-cigarettes to minors, but the law does not extend other smoking prohibitions to the devices. Although some studies have indicated that e-cigarettes can be effective in helping people quit smoking or reduce their tobacco use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not declared them an effective cessation product, said Lindsey Freitas, policy manager for the American Lung Association in California. E-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA. The American Lung Association in California advocates treating e-cigarettes as tobacco products. “We’re really concerned that we just don’t know what is in them,” Freitas said. Because they don’t burn, e-cigarettes have been promoted as having fewer secondhand effects, but studies have shown that the vapor contains carcinogens and toxic chemicals, as well as nicotine, an element of tobacco that is highly addictive.
San Francisco Chronicle
Democrat-vs.-Democrat races intensify divide in California party
For the party that dominates blue state California, 2014 could be a year of the great divide - one that pits "business Democrats" against "labor Democrats" in key campaigns and at the polls. San Francisco Labor Council head Tim Paulson drew cheers this weekend at the state Democratic Party convention when he defined the two rival factions - and left no doubt where his troops would put their muscle. "We want labor Democrats, not business Democrats," he said. "We're talking about the fact that there's more wealth in this nation and state than there's ever been. ... I don't care if (Democrats) have a supermajority, if people aren't voting for the values of the American dream." With just three months until voters begin casting ballots in the June primary election, the increasingly intense debate in overwhelmingly Democratic California regarding which candidates are "real Democrats" has emerged from the new "top two" primary system that will be tested in statewide races for the first time. The system calls for the top two candidates - regardless of party affiliation - in June races to advance to the November election. It has pitted Democrat against Democrat in a handful of legislative races that the party's most vocal activists say will define the future of the party.
Los Angeles Times
State Democrats' meeting ends on fractious note
California Democrats broke with Gov. Jerry Brown by calling for the legalization of marijuana and a ban on "fracking" in the state party's official platform Sunday. The Democrats' support for decriminalizing and taxing recreational cannabis and putting a stop to fracking sparked no debate — only cheers — at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Delegates unanimously approved the moves by voice vote on the final day of the party's annual convention. Although neither issue is likely to make or break the biggest contests in this election year, the breach highlighted the recurrent tensions between the liberal impulses of party loyalists and the more moderate inclinations of a Democratic governor. Brown had warned last week of the perils of legalizing marijuana. "How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?" he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." And although he has approved restrictions on fracking, an oil and gas drilling technique that environmentalists say is dangerous, the governor has also suggested it might offer California some economic opportunities. Fracking opponents heckled Brown's otherwise well-received speech to several thousand Democrats at the convention Saturday. The clash fit a tradition of California governors disappointing party activists. At a state Republican convention in 1991, conservatives tarred and feathered an effigy of GOP Gov. Pete Wilson in protest against a tax hike he had signed.
Another inmate death raises questions about California prison practices
Brutal prison guards leave prisoner to die in his cell...refuse to allow doctors to treat dying man
At 6:10 a.m. on Oct. 15, a medical technician handling the morning “pill pass” at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County spotted inmate David Scott Gillian hanging inside cell No. 164 from a bedsheet tied to an air vent. “Gillian is hanging in his cell,” the tech called to a nearby guard, then rushed off to grab the “cut down scissors” and begin the process – mandatory under corrections department policy – of trying to revive the inmate through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to an internal department review of the incident. Guards and medical staff converged at the cell door, according to the internal report. A sergeant and the medical technician entered the cell where Gillian was housed alone and found no pulse or signs of breathing. “We need to cut him down, we need to do CPR,” the tech told the sergeant. Instead, the sergeant refused, according to the review team report; he ordered the cell door closed and locked, even after a doctor and another medical staffer demanded they be allowed to perform CPR. Gillian, 52, would remain hanging for nearly four hours before he was cut down. The confidential corrections department report, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, summarizes the findings of a suicide review team assigned to investigate Gillian’s death. All suicides in California state prisons are reviewed by a team of corrections officials. The report obtained by The Bee, based on the review team’s interviews with prison staff and inmates, chronicles events leading up to and following Gillian’s hanging. Gillian’s death has sparked a series of internal investigations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In the review team report, corrections officials investigating the suicide express “several concerns” about the circumstances. Among the concerns cited: that prison guards prevented medical staffers from trying to revive Gillian; and that guards may not have made their regularly scheduled rounds that day, possibly causing a delay in discovering his suicide. The incident is at least the second documented case in recent months of disputes between medical staffers and guards over when a cell door should be opened to provide emergency medical care and assistance to an inmate.
California's mental health policy on display as cops execute another mentally ill homeless man
Sacramento police shoot knife-wielding man on light rail
Sacramento police officers on Saturday shot a knife-wielding man aboard a light rail train. Police said the man was taken to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and was declared dead at the hospital. Although other passengers were on the train at the time of the shooting, no other injuries were reported. Police said their officers on patrol were called to the train on a report of a man with a knife and threatening suicide. The officers boarded the train and confronted the man. Police said the man was combative and initially was tazed by officers. Further confrontation, police said, prompted the officers to fire their weapons at the man.
San Francisco Chronicle
More proof firefighters killed Ye Meng Yuan, then tried to cover it up
Footage after Asiana crash brings San Francisco police-fire tensions
San Francisco police investigating the death of an Asiana Airlines crash survivor who was run over and killed by Fire Department rigs concluded that one of the firefighter drivers was lying to them and challenged a high-ranking fire official who didn't inform them about key camera footage of the incident, according to Police Department documents. Tensions between police and the Fire Department are evident in more than 200 pages of investigative documents compiled in connection with the death of 15-year-old Ye Meng Yuan, the Chinese girl who was run over by two fire rigs in the minutes after the July 6 crash at San Francisco International Airport. The Chronicle obtained some of the documents from police under a state Public Records Act request and others from sources close to the investigation. The Police Department ultimately submitted the case to San Mateo County prosecutors, who have jurisdiction over the airport. The officer in charge of the probe, Sgt. Kevin Edison, wrote in his log that no criminal negligence charges "appear evident" against any firefighter in Ye's death, and county District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe agreed. There were conflicts with the Fire Department throughout the police investigation, however, starting with the role of firefighter Elyse Duckett. She was at the wheel of the second rig to run over Ye as the girl lay on the ground near the burning airplane's left wing. Three days after the crash, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White supplied police with footage from the helmet camera of Battalion Chief Mark Johnson. It showed Duckett driving directly over the spot where Ye's foam-obscured body was found moments later. To police Officer Wesley Villaruel, a hit-and-run detail investigator who compiled the collision report, the video was clear evidence that Duckett's rig had run over the girl. Duckett, however, told police July 10 - the day after police investigators viewed the footage - that she couldn't have hit the girl, because she had seen the tarp-covered teenager on the ground. What's more, she said, Johnson had told her Ye was there, so she backed up and drove around the girl. But Johnson's camera footage showed no such thing. Instead, after speaking with Johnson, Duckett drove in an arc forward and over where Ye was found a short time later. The footage showed a firefighter placing a tarp on the girl after Duckett's rig had left.
Record second felony convictions undermine California prison goals
California counties are confounding the state’s court-ordered efforts to sharply reduce its inmate population by sending state prisons far more convicts than anticipated, including a record number of people with second felony convictions. The surge in offenders requiring state prison sentences is undermining a nearly 3-year-old law pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation restructured California’s criminal justice system to keep lower-level felons in county jails while reserving state prison cells for serious, violent and sexual offenders. The inmate population is rising again, led by a record increase in the number of second felony convictions for those who already had a prior conviction for a serious crime. Counties like San Bernardino, where prosecutors have discretion in filing such charges, sent nearly 5,500 people with second felony convictions to state prisons during the 2013-14 fiscal year, a 33 percent increase over the previous year and the most since California enacted the nation’s first three-strikes law in 1994, which required life sentences for offenders convicted of three felonies. The trend is complicating the state’s mandate to meet a prison population cap by February 2016. Last month, the federal judges reluctantly gave Brown’s administration two additional years to comply by taking steps that include earlier releases for some inmates sentenced on a second strike. Partly as a result of the increase in second-strike offenders, the prison population of 133,000 inmates in June is projected to grow to 143,000 by June 2019, despite all the steps the state is taking to comply with the federal court order and reduce the population to about 112,000 inmates.
San Francisco Chronicle
Court lets retired Oakland officers keep overpaid benefits
More than 600 retired Oakland police officers and their families won't have to repay the city thousands of dollars in disputed pension benefits, including some overpayments that the city had misled them into believing they could keep, a state appeals court has ruled. The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco overturned most of an Alameda County judge's September 2012 decision that would have required the retirees, whose average age is 73, to return a portion of the benefits they have received since retirement. Their losses would have ranged from $5,000 to $20,000 apiece, David Holsberry, a lawyer for the retirees and their union, said Friday. "It would have been devastating," he said. The ruling was mixed, as the court allowed the city to seek repayment of some past benefits, and may have opened the door to reductions in the retirees' future pensions. But Holsberry said they would be able to keep most of the disputed funds. The ruling was applauded by the Retired Oakland Police Officers Association and its members. A lawyer for the city was unavailable for comment. Oakland could ask the state Supreme Court to review the ruling.
California's Crazy Train has competition....from Republicans
As doubts cloud California high-speed rail, plans in other states gain support
When California Gov. Jerry Brown last week announced his bid for re-election, he renewed his push to build “the nation’s only high speed rail system.” But California has some competition in unlikely places. Both Texas and Florida have plans for systems that would connect their major population centers with fast trains. But unlike California’s plan, which relies heavily on government funding to start rolling, their efforts will be funded by the private sector. While the $68 billion California project has earned nearly universal opposition from Republicans, GOP elected officials are lining up behind the Florida and Texas proposals. Brown and President Barack Obama had both held up the California project as a model of the country’s infrastructure future. But with legal and political uncertainties clouding the effort, Florida and Texas could have their trains running years sooner.
In California, middle class feels health insurance squeeze
Dawn and Nick LaPolla of Fair Oaks are solidly middle class, and they aren’t uninsured. Yet their required switch to a new health insurance plan under federal changes puts them at a financial crossroads. If they earn less than $94,200 a year, the family of four’s preferred plan through the California health exchange would cost about $750 a month. But if they make even slightly more, they’ll pay about $1,040. That’s because they would exceed the threshold to qualify for federal subsidies. Their current high-deductible plan, which expires in two months, costs $573 a month. Unlike wealthier state residents who more easily can afford the new, often more comprehensive plans, or lower-income people aided by government subsidies, the LaPollas are part of a sizable segment of Californians slowly coming to grips with dedicating a greater percentage of their income to new policies. “It’s completely unfair,” said Dawn LaPolla, 40. “Wouldn’t you consider us still part of that struggling group? We’re not buying yachts. We’re not going on trips every year. We’re not putting our kids in private schools. We’re not buying Fendi bags. We’re still unsure whether we will be able to pay our mortgage.”
'Rights' agenda muddies orcas' waters
Assemblyman wants to ban SeaWorld whale shows
If I were a killer whale, I’d probably enjoy performing tricks in Shamu Stadium and basking in applause rather than just floating around a concrete tank all day. Then again, it’s hard to know what an orca is thinking because, however smart it might be, it’s not clever enough to have a chat with a newspaper columnist. This is the bottom-line problem that confronts many modern animal-protection efforts, including Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s highly publicized new bill that would ban SeaWorld whale shows. As much as most humans understandably love our fellow creatures, we get into troubled waters as we detail what protections to provide and determine what animals to protect (oysters, plankton, rats?). Whatever one thinks about the wisdom or seriousness of Bloom’s bill, there’s a reasonable discussion to be had about whether these magnificent creatures — accustomed to swimming 100 miles a day in the wild — are being humanely treated in their present tank-sized circumstance. But the first step toward a sensible debate would be to dispense with notions about animals having “rights.”
Conservatives want limited government, except when it means cutting pork in their districts
Proposed spy plane cuts have area around Beale Air Force base worried
Leanna Whiteley took a telephone order for a plate of chicken enchiladas, then listed her ties to Beale Air Force Base. Her grandparents work and shop there. Casa Carlos, the downtown Marysville restaurant where she waitresses, has long catered to Beale families. She has a friend on Beale’s flight line who works on its fleet of U-2 spy planes. In rural Yuba and Sutter counties, about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento, Beale Air Force Base is as much a part of the area’s identity as the Sutter Buttes. For the economically struggling region, Beale is a lifeline. So when the Defense Department last month announced plans to retire the Beale-based fleet of U-2 spy planes starting in 2016 in favor of drones to save money, people began to worry. As many as 1,070 people attached to the Marysville-area base and its U-2 mission – maintainers, pilots, contractors and medical personnel – could be affected if the spy plane is mothballed, according to federal and state officials. “A lot of businesses here are struggling as it is,” said Nicole Elizalde of Yuba City, behind the counter at the Rent-a-Center in downtown Marysville.
University of California updates sexual violence policy
UC finally admits its tolerance of sexual violence needs to end
The University of California announced Friday a new sexual violence and harassment policy that will expand protections for victims, increase reporting requirements for campuses and introduce new training and education across the system. The changes bring the university into compliance with the 2013 reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which requires schools receiving federal financial aid to compile statistics on incidents of sexual violence on campus and maintain specific policies for addressing them. “We have no tolerance for sexual violence or harassment of any kind,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “The university must, and will, hold itself to the highest standards, and I expect all of our locations to do everything possible to make everyone aware of these standards.” Last month, 31 current and former students at UC Berkeley filed a federal complaint charging the university had mishandled sexual assault cases, creating a hostile environment for female students. Aryle Butler, one of the students involved with the Berkeley complaint, said the new UC policy doesn’t go far enough to address a reporting process that many victims say favors perpetrators of sexual violence.
Republican Art Moore to take on veteran Rep. Tom McClintock
Lazy consrvatives will have to defend carpetbagger camped in safe seat
Republican Art Moore filed paperwork Friday to challenge veteran GOP Rep. Tom McClintock, casting himself as a pragmatic supporter of limited government with roots in the foothill-based 4th Congressional District. Moore said it’s clear that the federal government is not working for the district, which he believes should be represented by someone with a completely different perspective on public service. “One of the dynamics of this campaign is a career politician vs. somebody that has a business career and a military officer career who wants to just go and make Washington work,” said Moore, 35, an Auburn native who moved to Roseville from the Washington, D.C., area in December. A graduate of Placer High School and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Moore brings to the campaign a combined 14 years of active duty and National Guard service. He spent 30 months deployed overseas and currently is a major in the Army National Guard, he said. Moore also said he has worked as an executive in the building products industry and as a management consultant serving government clients in the U.S. intelligence community.
Movie makers saying "adios" to California
Film industry still suffering, FilmL.A. report says
California’s visual effects industry is in a state of collapse and the film industry is suffering, with only a small number of live-action blockbusters being produced locally, according to a report released Thursday by FilmL.A. The study examined major movies produced over the past 15 years, including 108 live-action and animated movies released in 2013. It focused on the six major studios in Southern California — Disney, Warner Bros., NBCUniversal, Paramount, Sony and 20th Century Fox. It also looked at movies from well-known “independent” studios Dreamworks, Lionsgate, Weinstein Co., Film District and Relativity. “Viewed strictly as business ventures, these are the films that matter most, not only to the studios behind them, but also to the local economies where they are produced,” the report said. California’s share of the top 25 live-action films was down significantly from 64 percent 15 years ago to just 8 percent in 2013, according to FilmL.A. When animated films are added to the mix, California’s share of the top 25 movies showed a decline from 68 percent in 1997 to 24 percent in 2013, the report found. Meanwhile, the state’s visual effects industry also suffered major losses over the past 15 years, according to the report. California was once home to a majority of top visual effects companies, but in 2013, Industrial Light & Magic, which has more than 1,000 effects artists on staff, was the only major visual effects house left in the state, according to the report. And that company just announced a new visual effects studio in London that is employing 200 artists to work on the upcoming “Star Wars” films.
Los Angeles Times
Cost and politics are the two biggest reasons Tesla is looking elsewhere
California positively gets a negative from Tesla on battery factory
Tesla has already ruled out California for the plant costing as much as $5 billion and employing 6,500 workers
The Palo Alto electric car maker's Model S sedan is the state's new eco-luxury status symbol. Californians bought more than a third of Teslas sold globally last year. Residents of the state pack the order list for Tesla's next offering, a sport utility vehicle. California pollution-control policies enable Tesla to rake in tens of millions of dollars each year from selling environmental credits to other automakers — a key source of Tesla's revenue. But is this a case of unrequited love? When it comes to building a $4-billion to $5-billion battery factory that will employ 6,500 workers, Tesla is shunning the Golden State. The automaker is looking at 500- to 1,000-acre sites in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. Although the location hasn't been determined, Tesla has crossed California off the list. The company declined to comment on the reasons. State officials aren't saying much either. A spokesman in Gov. Jerry Brown's administration said the state presented a proposal to the automaker with several possible sites, but that the automaker didn't bite. Brown's office provided no other details. When Tesla's "gigafactory" opens in about three years, it will be large enough to manufacture more lithium-ion batteries than the entire industry produces now. The automaker said it expects the advanced technology plant will slash the cost of the battery packs for its cars by almost a third, enabling Tesla to introduce a car that will sell for roughly half of its $70,000 to $100,000 Model S sedan. Cost and politics are the two biggest reasons Tesla is looking elsewhere.
(Yawn) Kashkari calls Jerry Brown’s legacy ‘destruction of the middle class’
Leveling his most partisan attack yet in California’s gubernatorial race, Republican Neel Kashkari on Thursday accused Democrats around the nation of “actively fighting against poor, black and brown kids” while in California, he said, Gov. Jerry Brown has destroyed the middle class. In a speech to the Sacramento Press Club, the former U.S. Treasury Department official faulted Brown for the state’s high unemployment, low educational attainment rankings and nation-high poverty rate. “Jerry Brown’s legacy is the destruction of the middle class of California,” Kashkari said.
New gift rules: Senate Democrats propose sweeping reforms
Pols defended the value of free trips lawmakers have taken around the world to countries like China, Norway and Poland
The three-bill package aims to tighten the rules for lawmakers and lobbyists, shrinking the annual cap on non-travel-related gifts to state officials from $440 to $200, blocking lobbyists from holding fundraisers in their homes and banning some gifts -- such as concert and sporting event tickets -- outright. If the legislation is evetually signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would represent the most significant reforms to state ethics laws in 20 years, said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's political watchdog. All three of the Democrats who promoted the package of bills at Thursday's Capitol news conference were mentioned during the Calderon investigation, even though none has been accused of wrongdoing.
California Senate Democrats propose new limits on gifts, fundraising
Following a spate of ethical problems at the Capitol, a group of California lawmakers Thursday proposed a set of bills they say will change the way they do business. In recent months, two senators have taken leaves of absence to fight criminal charges, and two Sacramento lobbying firms paid record-setting fines for violating lobbying laws. Senate Democrats, saying the events had prompted their action, unveiled proposals to ban campaign fundraising parties at the homes of registered lobbyists, cap gifts for legislators at $200 apiece and specifically prevent them from getting free tickets to concerts, sporting events and amusement parks.
Google's mysterious tech barge greeted by Stockton residents weary of hard times
This San Joaquin Delta city has known hard times in recent years, with soaring home foreclosures, high unemployment, terrifying gang violence and a municipal bankruptcy. So when Google's mysterious tech barge arrived in port on Thursday, local residents greeted it like their ship had come in. Google was forced to relocate the barge after state authorities said San Francisco's Treasure Island lacked the necessary permits to finish building what the company has described as a floating exhibition center to showcase cutting-edge technology. Stockton officials gathered on a quiet pier Thursday morning to welcome the 250-foot vessel and its two escorting tugboats, which took nearly eight hours to travel roughly 70 miles from Treasure Island to their city on the San Joaquin River.
San Francisco Chronicle
Left to die..
Lynne Spalding's family moves toward lawsuit
The family of a woman who was found dead in a San Francisco General Hospital stairwell more than two weeks after she disappeared from her hospital bed filed a legal claim Tuesday against the city seeking unspecified monetary damages. Filing such claims is a required precursor to a lawsuit against a government entity, and it appears the case will end up in court. "There will be a lawsuit," said Haig Harris, the attorney for the family of Lynne Spalding, 57, who had been admitted to the hospital Sept. 19 for treatment of a bladder infection and for being disoriented. The complaint against the city-run hospital and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, which provides security there, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $25,000. It outlines alleged failures in four main areas in Spalding's death: medical malpractice; violation of the state's elder abuse and adult dependency law; negligence by sheriff's deputies as the contracted security force; and maintenance of dangerous conditions on public property, Harris said. After Spalding was admitted to the hospital, nurses described her as being weak, disoriented and prone to getting out of bed and trying to leave, according to a report on her death completed earlier this year by state health inspectors on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that decides whether hospitals meet minimum standards to be eligible for Medicare payments. Nurses failed to carry out a doctor's written orders from two days before her Sept. 21 disappearance that read: "NEVER leave patient unattended," according to the report.
California lawmakers enjoyed $550,000 worth of paid travel in 2013
They toured renewable energy projects in Scandinavia, attended panels on public safety in Maui and learned about how dentists are trained in New York City. California lawmakers were treated to more than $550,000 in travel-related expenses in 2013. Much of the travel was funded by foreign governments, foundations fueled by corporate and labor money and nonprofits tied to specific industries. That far exceeds the total sum in 2012, when outside organizations bestowed about $329,000 worth of travel expenses on lawmakers. The most costly Assembly travelers in 2013 included Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles ($30,354) and Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach ($23,116). Topping the Senate list were Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens ($30,373), and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles ($20,157). Domestically, lawmakers soaked up sunshine at policy conferences in Hawaii, toured the hydraulic fracturing industry in North Dakota and flew to New York for an “oral health education forum,” courtesy of a dental industry nonprofit. One lawmaker was compensated for a pair of trips to Washington, D.C., for symposiums put on by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that has attracted attention for drafting blueprints for conservative state legislation. Others attended a two-day golf tournament and policy seminar put on by the formidable California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Passports also came out for trips abroad, with lawmakers embarking on tours of Switzerland, Poland, Norway, Taiwan, Israel, China, Armenia, Sweden, Canada and South Korea.
Report: California’s cost for state workers’ pay to increase $500 million next year
In a far-ranging assessment of how much California pays its help, a nonpartisan report on Tuesday said the state government will spend a half-billion dollars more on employee compensation next year, but most workers’ take-home wages will continue to lag behind inflation. Meanwhile, the size of the state workforce will remain essentially flat as some departments add staff while others cut positions, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office assessment of Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 state budget plan.. Most state workers will be in line for modest raises this year, assuming Finance Director Michael Cohen says the state can afford it, but even then employees’ take-home pay will only return to the buying power it had six or seven years ago, the new report says.
Clean-car subsidies go into high gear
Is this really the best way to help poor drivers?
Did you know that low-income Californians tend to drive older, less-efficient cars that pollute more than newer cars, and that these folks “struggle to cover the costs of their basic transportation needs”? Did you know that poorer people’s budgets (and the air) could improve if they were provided help to buy newer, efficient cars? Those are conclusions from a report, “No Californian Left Behind,” published last week by a think tank called Next Generation. This might be the type of thing one expects from a San Francisco-based group that focuses on climate change, but its research provides fodder for an idea already floated by California air-quality officials.
Staff post could provide an edge in Senate race
Former Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, who is running for the state Senate, recently got a jump on getting a Senate paycheck. With no public announcement, Garcia, R-Cathedral City, joined the staff of then-state Sen. Bill Emmerson in October. Garcia is the field representative in the Palm Desert office of the 23rd Senate District, which Emmerson represented until he resigned Dec. 1. Garcia represented much of the Coachella Valley in the Assembly from 2002 through 2008, and before that was a field representative for former state Sen. Jim Battin. That background, she said, is why Emmerson picked her for the $1,006-a-month part-time job, which Garcia called “an honor and a privilege.” She dismissed any suggestion that the job helps her bid for the new 28th Senate District, which includes Palm Desert, the rest of the Coachella Valley and other parts of Riverside County. Emmerson has endorsed Garcia, as have most state lawmakers. “I seriously doubt that such a minimal amount of time gives anyone an advantage,” Garcia said. Garcia is one of three well-funded Republicans running for the GOP-leaning 28th.
Los Angeles Times
Death penalty upheld for defendant forced to wear stun belt
Jonathan Keith Jackson, who was convicted of murder, said the possibility of being shocked with 50,000 volts affected his demeanor before jurors
The California Supreme Court upheld a death sentence Monday for a man who was forced to wear a stun belt during his trial, rejecting arguments that the prospect of being electrically shocked adversely affected his demeanor before jurors. In a 6-1 decision, the majority noted that the prosecution had conceded the court erred in requiring the stun belt, but the justices concluded that it did not affect the outcome of the trial. The ruling came in an appeal by Jonathan Keith Jackson, who was convicted of murdering Monique Cleveland during an attempted drug-related robbery in Riverside County in 1996 and attempting to murder her husband, Robert. Jackson argued that he had been improperly forced to wear the stun belt during his trial. Stun belts, designed to control troublesome defendants with an eight-second, 50,000-volt electric shock, are operated remotely by a law enforcement officer. The shock knocks the wearer to the ground, causes intense writhing and shaking, and may result in uncontrolled defecation and urination as well as serious medical injury, the court said in a 2002 ruling that severely restricted their use. There was no evidence that jurors knew Jackson was wearing a stun belt. It was underneath his clothing. But Justice Goodwin Liu said the fear of being shocked may affect a defendant's demeanor, which can be critical to jurors considering whether to recommend life without parole or the death penalty. The belt can activate accidentally, and Jackson had feared setting it off, according to the court.
Los Angeles City Council considers restrictions on e-cigarettes
E-cigarette use -- often called “vaping” -- would be banned at bars, nightclubs, restaurants and some other public areas under an ordinance to be taken up by the Los Angeles City Council today. E-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that enable users to inhale a nicotine-laced vapor, have been marketed as smoking-cessation aids, but some city and public health officials say not enough is known about the effects of chemicals contained in the liquids. The City Council will vote on whether to prohibit e-cigarette smoking at farmers markets, parks, recreational areas, beaches, indoor workplaces such as bars and nightclubs, outdoor dining areas and other places where tobacco smoking is restricted. Vaping lounges and stores would be exempted from the ban, similar to exceptions made for cigar and hookah lounges under tobacco smoking regulations. E-cigarettes used for “theatrical purposes” would also be allowed under the proposed ordinance. Supporters of the regulation point to studies indicating that chemicals considered harmful by the Food and Drug Administration -- such as nickel, lead and chromium -- have been detected in e-cigarettes.
Nursing home investigations in Los Angeles cut short, documents show
Facing a backlog of hundreds of health and safety complaints about nursing homes, Los Angeles County public health officials told inspectors to close cases without fully investigating them, according to internal documents and interviews. The effort — known as the “Complaint Workload Clean Up Project” — has been going on since at least the summer of 2012, according to internal memorandums sent to managers and inspectors by county Department of Public Health supervisors. State and federal officials, who contract with Los Angeles County to inspect nursing homes on their behalf, said they are now investigating the matter. Contacted by a reporter, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement Sunday saying it did not approve the practice and has ordered Los Angeles County officials to “immediately discontinue” it. The county’s approach conflicts with the policies and protocols of the California Department of Public Health, spokesman Anita Gore said in the statement. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is conducting a separate inquiry. “CMS recently was made aware of allegations concerning the quality and integrity of nursing-home inspections in Los Angeles County, and we are looking into those allegations,” spokesman Jack Cheevers said last week. Nearly one-third of California’s 1,286 nursing homes are in L.A. County.
Karlton rules two state laws unconstitutional
Voter approved initiatives designed to “retrospectively increased punishments" tossed
A federal court judge has found two California laws that resulted from ballot initiatives – including the so-called “Victims’ Bill of Rights” – to be unconstitutional. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of Sacramento said the state’s implementation of the laws improperly changed the punishment for crimes committed before the laws were enacted. Proposition 9, a ballot initiative passed by the voters in 2008, and Proposition 89, passed by the voters in 1988, “retrospectively increased punishments, in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Karlton declared Friday in a 58-page order. Karlton said that, for purposes of the case before him, “an ‘ex post facto’ law is one ‘that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime when committed.’ ” Proposition 9, the so-called “Victims’ Bill of Rights” or “Marsy’s Law,” mandated longer periods of time between parole hearings, which Karlton said results in a risk of longer sentences for prisoners than they faced when their crimes were committed. Proposition 89 granted the governor the right to review and reverse paroles already approved by the Board of Parole Hearings in murder cases. Karlton said every governor since passage of the measure has abused that power by blocking a large majority of the paroles they reviewed. The judge issued an injunction blocking state enforcement of the two laws.
San Francisco Chronicle
Unlikely witnesses crucial to case against San Francisco police officers
Officers stole marijuana they had seized as evidence and used two informants to sell it on the street
A recovering heroin addict - caught trying to sell more than a pound of marijuana in Golden Gate Park - accused San Francisco narcotics officers of enlisting her to sell drugs they had seized as evidence. No one believed Daisy Bram's claims back in 2010. But they are now at the heart of a federal indictment of two current officers and a former officer on charges including drug conspiracy, theft from a government program and civil rights violations. Bram's accusations are spelled out in the federal indictment, which was unsealed Thursday. The officers, who worked out of the department's Mission Station on Valencia Street, stole marijuana they had seized as evidence and used two informants to sell it on the street, the indictment says. Bram and her partner say they were the informants.
Common sense at the LAFD gone in 60 seconds
With excellent candidates dismissed along with awful candidates, this insane “process” tosses out the concept of merit
Chico Marx of Marx Brothers fame liked to place the occasional wager. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good at it. As a result, large gentlemen with bad attitudes would periodically offer to rearrange or remove critical parts of Marx’s body. After one particularly unlucky game of chance, Marx paid his debt with a check that bounced like Kate Upton in a half-marathon. Cornered, Chico wrote another check and counseled his creditor, “Don’t cash this until noon tomorrow. Not 11:59 — noon.” It bounced. When confronted, Marx asked, “Did you wait until noon?” “I waited till 12:05!” said the frustrated bone-bender. “Too late,” said Chico. And “too late” was the message thousands of job applicants got from the Los Angeles Fire Department after turning in their paperwork. Every application submitted as little as 60 seconds after the deadline was automatically rejected. The fire academy’s Class of 2013 would be an exclusive club, with only 70 slots available for the thousands of firefighter wannabes attracted by the excellent pay, world-class benefits and near-universal respect that comes with wearing the uniform of the Los Angeles Fire Department. After filling out an application and passing the department’s physical-fitness test, hopefuls were told to submit their paperwork on April 22, 2013, beginning at 8 a.m. This could be done online, via fax or in person. What they weren’t told was every application received after 8:01 a.m. would be automatically rejected. The dreams of thousands of potential firefighters were gone in 60 seconds. Up in smoke, if you will. The Fire Department apparently couldn’t be bothered to even glance at the applications submitted by men and women who had diligently filed after passing the rigorous fitness test.
Drones now doing business in the skies above you
FAA officials say, they’re sometimes issuing verbal warnings when they learn of drones being used for profit
Drones, once known as weapons of war, are undergoing a dramatic makeover as a hot new business tool in the sky. But, as with unmanned military craft, domestic drones are prompting concerns over safety and privacy. No agency tracks how many drones are now buzzing overhead. But it’s likely hundreds a day hit the skies nationally on commercial missions, equipped with video cameras and launched by entrepreneurs looking for faster, cheaper and easier ways to provide services. In Northern California, lightweight drones, some hardly bigger than a Frisbee, shoot dramatic bird’s-eye videos of ski races in Tahoe and outdoor weddings in the foothills. They provide aerial footage for car commercials in Roseville and real estate promotions in West Sacramento. The new breed of small domestic drones – known more formally as “unmanned aviation systems” or “remotely piloted aircraft” – can sell for $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on size and sophistication. Users say operating the remote-controlled, spider-like craft costs far less than hiring a helicopter or plane, and allows users to fly into tight spaces, including indoors. “Drones are the future of aviation,” said Patrick Egan, a Sacramento-based consultant and an advocate for unmanned commercial craft. “It is already here. They are around you. And they are flying and doing jobs, you just weren’t aware of them.” There is a hitch, though: Federal policy prohibits the commercial use of drones. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that commercial flights use certified aircraft and licensed pilots. Low altitude use of drones by hobbyists is allowed, as are some research projects that use the technology. That commercial ban appears to be only temporary. Congress has given the FAA until September 2015 to write an initial set of rules on how to safely allow unmanned, commercial aircraft into U.S. airspace.
The hypocrisy of the Rod Wright case
Residency questions dog many California legislators
Hours before officials announced Tuesday that state Sen. Rod Wright would take a leave of absence while he fights a jury’s verdict that he lied about where he lives, a 79-year-old retired contractor from Red Bluff stood outside the Capitol in a baseball cap and yellow T-shirt, making the case that Wright isn’t the only lawmaker who lives outside the district he represents. The sign-waving protester, Don Bird, has been arguing for four years that state Sen. Jim Nielsen does not really live in the Tehama County community of Gerber that he claims as his official domicile, but in Woodland – outside the Senate district he represents. Bird has taken his complaints to the state attorney general’s office, the secretary of state’s office and a Tehama County grand jury, none of which has found any wrongdoing on Nielsen’s part. “It’s the typical good old boy thing,” Bird said. “Nobody but me and a few other people up there are the only ones growling about it. That’s the way it is.” California’s requirement that legislative candidates live in the districts they seek to represent has been thrust into the spotlight as the Capitol grapples with how to respond to Wright’s conviction. A Los Angeles jury in January found Wright guilty of eight felonies, including perjury and voter fraud, for signing candidacy papers during his 2008 election swearing that he lived in a home he owns in Inglewood, while he actually lived a few miles away in the tonier community of Baldwin Hills. Neighbors testified that they routinely saw Wright at the Baldwin Hills house, while Wright's tenant at the Inglewood home testified she had never seen him spend the night or fix a meal in Inglewood. He is scheduled to be sentenced in May. But the case against Wright marks a rare prosecution for a practice many say is common in the state Capitol: Candidates frequently hop around as they spot open races or change addresses when new district lines are drawn every decade. And while legal challenges are not uncommon, they typically come from opposing candidates – not from criminal prosecutors.
Los Angeles Times
Kashkari, challenging Brown, seeks silver lining in TARP program
Republican gave billions of your dollars to big banks, now he wants to be your governor
A Republican who wants to be California's governor is staking his bid on having run the $700-billion federal bank bailout — even as GOP candidates across the nation distance themselves from the highly unpopular program. As he courts voters, former U. S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari rarely mentions the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) by name. But he says that it staved off another Great Depression, and he cites his work on the program as proof of what he could do in Sacramento. "You know what we did, and it almost never happens? We got Republicans and Democrats to work together," Kashkari told a Republican women's luncheon at the Palos Verdes Golf Club this week. His work spanned two administrations, those of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, he noted, and congressional leaders in both parties supported the bailout in 2008. Similar bipartisan efforts — with elected officials putting the public good first — could reduce unemployment and poverty in California and improve the beleaguered public schools, he told the group. He is in an awkward spot. In the 2010 elections, GOP politicians who supported the bailout were pilloried. And this year, the issue has been raised against GOP candidates in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana. As a result, Republicans are "running as fast as their legs can carry them in the other direction," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. But because Kashkari helped draft the framework for the bailout and then ran the program — work that the first-time candidate cites against criticism that he is a political neophyte — he has no choice except to embrace it, Sabato said.
Pension reform: Settlement talks brewing in landmark San Jose case
City leaders are facing pressure to settle the case to appease police officers
After years of intense fighting, the city and its employee unions are discussing a settlement of at least parts of a pension battle that has divided San Jose over key issues ranging from taxpayer costs to police staffing. The settlement talks over Measure B pension reforms, disclosed Friday, have an outside shot of ending a landmark court clash that leaders across the country are watching as similar pension feuds bubble up from coast to coast. And the results of the negotiations could have major implications in this year's crowded race to replace outgoing Mayor Chuck Reed. A handful of leaders and attorneys from the city and public safety unions have quietly been meeting for the past several weeks, the first sign of cooperation between the two sides. An agreement might require another ballot measure as soon as this November. But both sides say a deal to resolve the entire case is still a long way off. Reed, Measure B's chief sponsor, would rather seek a higher court's blessing to change statewide pension laws than settle with unions. But other city leaders -- including four mayoral candidates -- are facing pressure to settle the case to appease police officers who argue city pension cuts have spawned a police exodus as the city's crime rate continues to climb. Union officials said the talks could lead to a settlement of the entire case, but that they were not optimistic. City Attorney Rick Doyle confirmed the city has had preliminary discussions but declined to comment further.
Sex-assault case dropped against San Jose firefighter accused of dealing meth
A San Jose firefighter jailed on suspicion of dealing meth will not face additional criminal charges for an alleged sexual relationship with an underage teen that surfaced during the drug investigation, authorities said. Mario Enrique Cuestas, 53, faces three felony counts in Santa Clara County involving the sale and possession of methamphetamine after he reportedly sold it to an undercover police officer. But when he was arrested Feb. 13 at San Jose Fire Department headquarters, the state Department of Justice -- which oversees the local task force behind the drug sting -- also alleged he engaged in sexual acts with a 17-year-old boy to whom he also gave meth. Those allegations were presented to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office; Cuestas lives in San Lorenzo. Prosecutors reviewed the case and declined to file charges, spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said. The office declined further comment on the decision. Cuestas is on unpaid administrative leave from the fire department, where he has worked for two decades and had recently become its director of public outreach. In January, an informant's tip to the Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team sparked the investigation into Cuestas. An undercover agent met with him at an undisclosed restaurant in San Jose, and Cuestas, while wearing his city-issued work ID, reportedly sold the agent an eighth of an ounce of meth for $150. That was followed a week later by another offer, authorities said.
Los Angeles Times
L.A. fire commanders who oversaw hiring and training, have sons who advanced in the recruiting process
Despite the obvious nepotism, LAFD says "hey, no problem"|
Two top commanders who oversaw hiring and training at the Los Angeles Fire Department have been reassigned after officials learned their sons advanced during a recruitment process that has come under scrutiny at City Hall. Interim Fire Chief James G. Featherstone learned about the situation after being appointed last November and concluded that it posed a potential conflict of interest, his spokesman said Friday. "He immediately recognized this was not appropriate," spokesman Peter Sanders said. Sanders said there is no indication that the commanders sought to influence the process on behalf of the relatives. Last year, thousands of people applied for 70 coveted LAFD firefighting jobs, which pay an average of $143,000 a year in salary and overtime. The Times reported Thursday that more than 20% of the recruits in the new training class are sons or nephews of current members of the force. One reassigned commander, a battalion chief who was an acting assistant bureau commander in the LAFD training division while applicants were being screened last year, has a son in the recruit class now underway. Another battalion chief who headed recruiting has a son who passed an interview and could be hired in a future class. Both were moved out of those roles and now work in other sections of the department. A third commander, Asst. Chief Patrick Butler, recently named to oversee the LAFD training division, also is expected to be transferred because he has a brother-in-law in the new class, Sanders said. The agency became of aware of Butler's family connection Friday after an inquiry from The Times, Sanders said. When contacted Friday, Butler reserved comment, saying he had not been officially told that he would be transferred. News of the reassignments came as some City Hall lawmakers called for immediate reforms of the LAFD hiring process, in part citing the proportion of new hires with connections to the Fire Department. The department said Friday that another relative of a current firefighter was identified in the training class, bringing the total to 17, or 24%. "I'm shocked, quite frankly," said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, the only female elected official in city government. "I believe there's an unfair advantage to folks who are related to current firefighters. They obviously know the process a lot better than your average person who's just applying."
American flag case: Court sides with Morgan Hill school in flap over students' T-shirts
A South Bay high school worried about campus safety was within its legal rights to order a group of students wearing American-flag adorned shirts to turn them inside out during a 2010 Cinco de Mayo celebration, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. In a unanimous, three-judge decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Morgan Hill Unified School District, which had argued that a history of problems on the Mexican holiday justified the Live Oak High School administrators' decision to act against the flag-wearing students. Live Oak officials ordered the students to either cover up the U.S. flag shirts or go home, citing a history of threats and campus strife between Latino and Anglo students that raised fears of violence on the day the school was highlighting Cinco de Mayo. The school's actions were reasonable given the safety concerns, which outweighed the students' First Amendment claims, the court concluded. "Our role is not to second-guess the decision to have a Cinco de Mayo celebration or the precautions put in place to avoid violence," 9th Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the panel. "(The past events) made it reasonable for school officials to proceed as though the threat of a potentially violent disturbance was real." William Becker, a lawyer for parents who sued the district, said they would ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the case with an 11-judge panel. The parents have vowed to push the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary and expressed disappointment with Thursday's ruling. "This is the United States of America," said Kendall Jones, whose son, Daniel Galli, was one of the Live Oak students sent home. "The idea that it's offensive to wear patriotic clothing ... regardless of what day it is, is unconscionable to me."
San Francisco Chronicle
More shameless acts by the police
6 San Francisco officers indicted over residential hotel searches
Five veteran San Francisco police officers and a former officer faced federal corruption charges Thursday after a three-year investigation that began when the city's public defender released surveillance videos appearing to show officers abusing and stealing from residential hotel dwellers. The grand jury indictments allege that after the FBI and San Francisco police launched a probe in March 2011, they learned three of the officers had stolen a batch of seized marijuana two years earlier. One of those officers, Reynaldo Vargas, delivered the pot to a couple of street informants, told them to sell it and then took a split of the proceeds, federal prosecutors said. The indictments were unsealed Thursday. They represent one of the biggest scandals to hit the police force since the Fajitagate case, which stemmed from a 2002 fight between three off-duty officers and two men over a bag of fajitas and led to allegations of a cover-up - but no criminal convictions.
California court OKs using cellphone map while driving
Cops say they'll give you a ticket anyway
Talking on a cellphone while driving, get a ticket. Text while driving, get a ticket. Glance at that all-powerful map on your iPhone while driving? No problem. That was the conclusion Thursday of a state appeals court in Fresno, which for the first time in a California case found that drivers can use maps on their smartphones without risking a hands-free cellphone ticket. The court's ruling is almost certain to be welcomed by drivers who've come to depend on maps programs and GPS functions to get where they're going, but it is unlikely to end the confusion over what's legal -- and what's not -- under California's hands-free law. Since the law took effect in 2008, the Legislature has repeatedly changed it, instituting a texting ban and making its provisions tougher on teenage drivers. And it leaves drivers wondering: If a paper map is OK, why not an electronic one? If I can fiddle with my radio, why not Pandora on my phone? For its part, the California Highway Patrol said Thursday that any of those distractions can still lead to a ticket. The CHP said that a driver paying too much attention to a little screen and not the road can be cited for distracted driving -- which carries fines similar to that of the hands-free law.
Jerry Brown to seek unprecedented fourth term as California governor
In a tweet and in a letter on his campaign website, Brown offered no sweeping agenda for a historic fourth term. Instead, the Democratic governor cheered California’s improving budget outlook and cast himself as its steward. The tenor of the announcement reflects the ease with which Brown is expected to retain office in this Democratic-leaning state. But it also suggests the circumspection of a governor who faces resistance, including from members of his own party, to major infrastructure projects he has struggled to push forward since taking office. In his announcement, Brown pledged his “full commitment to bringing all the disparate parties together and working to achieve sensible, scientific and sustainable water policies,” but he side-stepped his controversial plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta. He only briefly mentioned California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project. The rail program is beset by legal challenges, and public opinion has turned against it. The most significant accomplishments of Brown’s third term relate to budget oversight and the passage of a ballot initiative to raise taxes, and he suggested Thursday that his campaign – if not the next four years – will emphasize a continuation of that fiscal agenda.
Testy Senate quashes expulsion vote
'Guilty' senator takes paid leave, but spared removal
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is known for his collegial demeanor, but was visibly angry on Thursday morning during a floor session after a small group of Republicans led by Sen. Joel Anderson of El Cajon called for a vote to expel a fellow member from that legislative body. As my Thursday column explained, Steinberg had announced this week that Rod Wright, the Inglewood Democrat who was found guilty on eight felonies in January, would get a paid leave of absence while he awaits sentencing. The case, which stemmed from charges that Wright did not live in the district that he represents, has been an ongoing embarrassment for the Senate. Instead of holding an expulsion vote, Steinberg offered – and the Senate passed, on a mostly party line 21-13 vote – a substitute measure that moved the matter to the Senate Rules Committee, where it will die a quiet death. Steinberg depicted the vote effort as “political theater,” and argued that it was taking senators away from dealing with the drought package and other “work of the people.” Steinberg bristled at suggestions that he was keeping Wright at bay in case he’s needed to shore up the Democratic supermajority for a crucial vote on, say, tax issues. “That is insulting,” Steinberg said. “I give you my word on this floor ... . This will not happen.” Of course, the Senate leader engaged in some political theater of his own. “When the rules committee examines these issues, it will also examine the residency issues of those similarly situated in this house,” he said, taking jabs at Republicans who have faced similar questions about where they live. Then he told the biblical story of Jesus confronting the Pharisee: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. “Don’t hide behind substitute motions,” Anderson retorted. “Be clear. Say, ‘Look, I believe Rod Wright should stay until the end.’ Just say it. But don’t hide behind substitute motions and don’t bring up water. I’m sorry. You guys have the supermajority and you can do anything you want any time that you want.” Anderson wanted to force senators to go on record with a clear “should he stay or should he go” vote. And that, of course, is what the Democratic majority wanted to avoid. They don’t want Wright gone -- not until the trial judge upholds the verdict and sentences the senator – but they don’t want to give their foes ammunition, either.
UC Berkeley students file complaint on campus sex assaults
Thirty-one current and former UC Berkeley students filed a federal complaint Wednesday alleging the university has mishandled sexual assault cases on campus, creating a hostile environment for female students. In a petition to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights seeking a formal investigation, the students charged that UC Berkeley procedures discourage victims from reporting sexual assaults, favor assailants in the adjudication process and revictimize survivors. “They are deliberately indifferent to this and they know what they’re doing and they’ve been doing this for years,” Sofie Karasek, a Berkeley junior who helped organize the complaint, said in an interview. “It’s jeopardizing the safety of students on campus.” The Berkeley grievance is the latest in a wave of filings at universities nationwide alleging violations of Title IX, the landmark 1972 anti-sex discrimination law. Under Title IX, institutions receiving federal financial assistance must conduct impartial investigations of sexual assault. Students at dozens of schools have filed Title IX complaints since the Department of Education issued a letter of clarification about the law three years ago, including groups at the University of Southern California as well as Occidental College. Both schools are being investigated by the Office for Civil Rights. Claire Holmes, a spokeswoman for UC Berkeley, said the university couldn’t comment on the complaint because they had not seen it yet, but had been taking “meaningful steps that really address these issues.”
Go after doctors who overprescribe painkillers
The biggest drug problem in the United States is not the one we think we have: illegal drugs. It is drugs prescribed by doctors. As it happens, more people die of prescription drug overdoses now than from traffic accidents. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that doctors are key contributors to the crisis of addiction and overdose. Some of it is irresponsible doctors, “problem prescribers.” But part of it is doctors simply resorting to drug prescriptions when alternatives may be better.
San Francisco Chronicle
Damage control on Sacramento ethics
First came two state senators pressured to take paid leaves after legal scandals. Now follows a hurry-up package of ethics reforms to limit lobbyist influence and gifts to lawmakers, formulated by top Democrats on a damage-control mission. The reforms come at the direction of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and his leadership team, driven to act by a pair of scandals involving chamber colleagues. The party's organized response clearly aims at changing the channel, especially after Democrats have now lost their supermajority with the two senators on leave and unable to vote. An election year looms, and Democrats up and down the ticket should be nervous about their battered reputation. The fixes aren't exactly earthshaking.
Once again, workers’ compensation tinged with scandal
When the FBI conducted a years-long undercover investigation of influence-peddling in the state Capitol during the 1980s, agents posed as businessmen seeking special state treatment for a fictional shrimp-processing plant. That sting operation snared the first batch of politicians and staffers, and in time-honored fashion, some who found themselves on the hook were offered deals if they would implicate others in wrongdoing. A state senator took the offer, and in return for a relatively lenient sentence, wore a wire as a lobbyist for insurance companies, seeking a bill changing workers’ compensation law, offered him a bribe. No one in the Capitol was surprised that the multibillion-dollar system for compensating workers for job-related illnesses and injuries had become the centerpiece of scandal.
McClintock’s ‘safe’ GOP seat has a credible threat
Rep. Tom McClintock, a career politician who is a master of anti-government rhetoric, occupies one of the safest Republican congressional districts in America. But this year, the seat that stretches from Roseville and Lincoln east to Lake Tahoe and south past Yosemite could become a battleground in the struggle for control of the Grand Old Party. Business-oriented Republican organizations have made clear they will back candidates who offer alternatives to hard-right politicians.
Treating businesses as enemies hurts filming, too
As part of last week’s Oscar telecast the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences showed slick architectural drawings of the long-awaited Movie Museum scheduled to open in L.A. in 2017. By then it may be redundant. Hollywood is rapidly becoming one enormous movie museum rather than the active center of the industry.
Can Brown hold the line on California ‘safety net’ spending?
Three years ago, as he began his third term as governor and faced a severe budget crisis, Jerry Brown prescribed fiscal medicine that his fellow Democrats had a difficult time swallowing. One of the most contentious issues was cutting welfare and other “safety net” services for the disabled, the aged and the poor – millions of adults and children. Brown insisted that the cuts were “necessary because we just don’t have the money” and made it clear he intended that they not be temporary. That poses a problem for Brown – how to maintain a tight lid on spending, especially on safety net services. Recipients and their advocates, including unions, are besieging Democrats in budget hearings, calling it a life-and-death issue.
Predictably, Senate Democrats react to scandals
Lawmakers have a tough time making laws curbing their practices, as became apparent once more the other day. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, heir apparent Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles and Sen. Ricardo Lara, who is chairman of the Latino Caucus, hoped to score points by offering three bills to overhaul troubling aspects of policymaking and politics in Sacramento. The trio of bills hardly warrant the term reform. Reactive, understandable and predictable are more apt.
California Supreme Court heading for right decision on naming officers involved in shootings
The California Supreme Court appears poised to make the correct decision, favoring the public’s right to know the names of police officers involved in shootings over the officers’ desire for privacy. The case under consideration is from Long Beach, where police officers fatally shot a man holding a garden hose nozzle, which they mistook for a gun. Police, of course, are due some privacy in their jobs. Their addresses must not be made public, nor information about their families, for example. But when they put on the badge, they become employees of the public. And when they employ the ultimate means against a member of the public — shooting someone, especially to death — their privacy desires are not to be overvalued against the employer public’s right to know who they are.
San Francisco Examiner
Ed Jew needs to serve his time for his crimes
It has been years since former District 4 Supervisor Ed Jew has been in the news, but he returned to the spotlight this week for two reasons: One is the news that he had been released from federal prison, and the other is that he is fighting a second stint behind bars at the county level. And since memories may fade over the years, it would be good to remember that Jew broke several laws — even while he was an elected official. And for those crimes, he needs to serve his time.
Santa Clara County Board of Education owes public an explanation
We expected more from De La Torre, who arrived to rave reviews and was paid nearly $300,000 a year -- making him one of the state's highest-paid officials -- plus a low-interest mortgage. But there's no point in analyzing his failures now. He's just one more blip in the troubled political history of the county office.
Neel Kashkari represents a new image for California GOP
Neel Kashkari is young, smart, accomplished, articulate and relatively moderate, and embodies California’s incredible cultural diversity. He is, in other words, exactly the sort of candidate that the California Republican Party must offer voters if it is ever to become relevant again. And it’s too bad, therefore, that he’s wasting his energy on a campaign for governor he cannot win.
Should governor be empowered to fill legislative vacancies?
The past couple of years have seen a steady stream of resignations from the state Legislature, for one reason or another. There’s already been one resignation this year and two state senators are in trouble with the law and could depart. When a vacancy occurs, the governor calls two special elections to fill it. When a Senate seat is vacated, it’s often filled by a member of the Assembly, and the new senator must resign from that house, triggering another special election cycle. Special elections are expensive, and during the months-long interim, seats remain vacant, sometimes affecting legislative businesses. With two Democratic senators on leave because of criminal changes and his supermajority now in suspense, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg wants to amend the state constitution to allow the governor to fill legislative vacancies, as long as appointees are from the same party as the departed legislator and are not rejected by the house to which they are appointed. Superficially, that sounds reasonable. However, as in sports, changes in a game’s rules also can affect the outcome – which explains why politicians inside and outside the Capitol are always tinkering with election laws.
Brown must show the money for two big projects
Brown needs enforceable pledges from big water agencies to pay for tunnel construction, plus federal funds and a multibillion-dollar state bond for habitat restoration and other aspects. The bond issue is entangled in Capitol politics because all stakeholders in the controversial project understand its pivotal role, federal money is uncertain, and there’s no take-it-to-the-bank commitment from water agencies yet, because the tunnels would cost $14 billion, but produce little additional water.
Oscars shine spotlight on region’s loss of film, TV production
When Southern Californians watch the Academy Awards show on Sunday, we’ll see both a celebration of the best of Hollywood and a reflection of the most damaging trend in the movie industry. The industry has been drifting away from its traditional home region for years now, setting up filming locations in other states and countries that offer hard-to-refuse economic inducements, causing inconvenience or worse for tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on local movie and TV production.
Schwarzenegger’s claim of legislative moderation still unproven
Arnold Schwarzenegger became California’s governor in 2003 under, to put it mildly, unusual circumstances. Voters recalled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis for obvious failings and opted for Republican Schwarzenegger. He arrived with unique advantages – celebrity, moderation, independence and a tough-guy image – and promised to improve the Capitol’s dysfunction. However, he quickly squandered his momentum, tried to recoup with ballot measures that failed abjectly, and more or less acceded to the Democratic Legislature thereafter. Schwarzenegger’s governorship ended with the state budget hemorrhaging red ink and voters in a sour mood, capped by an outrageous commutation of a prison term for a political pal’s son and a post-gubernatorial revelation that he had fathered a son with his family’s maid.
Calderons’ actions hurt all of us
Years before the feds roiled the Capitol by indicting the Calderon brothers on charges of accepting bribes, Bill Reynolds was onto the scheme. Reynolds had battled killers and cartels during 20 years as an Oakland cop and federal drug enforcement agent. He saw more than his share of fraud while working as a private insurance company investigator for 20 years after that. But he is particularly appalled by the political corruption that opened the way for crooked surgery centers to perform needless back operations on thousands of laborers and bilk hundreds of millions from the workers’ compensation system. “I’m floored it went as far as it did,” Reynolds said. “It shakes your confidence that politicians can be paid for and bought.” Reynolds, 63, who flies the American flag outside his home in suburban Contra Costa County, is a plaintiff in a private whistle-blower lawsuit filed in May 2012 against surgery centers and others. It presaged the indictment of Sen. Ron Calderon and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon. As Reynolds discovered – and detailed in debriefings with the FBI – Michael Drobot was at the center of it all, employing Ron Calderon’s son and retaining Tom Calderon.
Coastal bill would erode due process
Will commission get new powers to fine property owners?
The title of the Coastal Society’s 1998 conference, which featured a speech by the father of the California Coastal Commission, Peter Douglas, is relevant to a debate that may soon come back to the Capitol. At the “Minding the Coast: It’s Everyone’s Business” event, Douglas detailed his vision for coastal protection. Douglas talked about sitting at the beach on moonlit nights and being “humbled and overwhelmed by the vastness and beauty of place and moment.” That led him to help draft a 1972 voter initiative (and the subsequent 1976 Coastal Act) and to serve as the executive director of the commission that was formed by those efforts. The commission is loved by environmentalists and loathed by many property owners as Californians still wrestle with the same question: What does it mean for everyone to mind the coast? Legislators will weigh in this year if they revisit a bill by San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins that would give the commission vastly expanded powers – namely, the right to impose fines without first taking property owners to court.
Jerry Brown may be poised for historic landslide
All of this history is background for a proposition that Brown may be poised this year to pass Deukmejian’s 1986 mark and win re-election by the biggest margin since Warren’s never-to-be-repeated 90 percent 68 years ago.
California trying again to create a rainy-day fund
Revenue volatility, an old issue, is getting new attention this year as Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders pledge not to do what their predecessors often did – overspend windfall revenue. “Boom and bust is our lot,” Brown told legislators in his State of the State address in January, urging them to follow the biblical injunction to save for leaner times. Brown and legislators say they want a mandatory rainy-day fund that would absorb some windfall revenue and save it for periods of lower income. However, while the notion has floated around the Capitol for decades and the state already has a weak system in place, it’s still not clear what, if anything, new and effective will be written into the state constitution.
Six states ballot measure underscores California’s diversity
It’s not going to happen, of course – if for no other reason than other states wouldn’t stomach California’s having 12 U.S. senators, thus dooming any plan in Congress. But the proposal, and the LAO analysis, once again remind us that California’s cultural and economic diversity makes it very difficult to effectively govern the state without some residents feeling alienated and even victimized.
Ruling shows little regard for mentally ill
At least, U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan was being honest. From his lifetime seat on the federal bench in Las Vegas, Mahan provided a clear explanation for Nevada’s practice of banishing mentally ill people from its borders. Officials simply were allocating resources by busing indigents to other states. Mahan held Feb. 13 that Nevada’s Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital did not violate the constitution or any statute when staffers bought a Greyhound ticket for James Flavy Coy Brown, a mentally ill man who called Nevada his home, and bused him to Sacramento, where he knew no one. No matter that Brown arrived in Sacramento penniless, with only the clothes he wore and the discharge papers from Rawson-Neal, and that some Rawson-Neal staffer actually told him to call 911 upon his arrival. “Indeed,” Mahan wrote, brushing aside Brown’s civil rights lawsuit as if it were lint on his robes, “plaintiff’s account indicates that defendant gave him enough medication to last for the entire trip to Sacramento, and that shortly after he arrived, he was treated at the University of California at Davis Medical Center.” In other words, UC Davis carried out its duty to treat Brown. There was, therefore, no harm. Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin and the American Civil Liberties Union, representing Brown and 1,499 other mentally ill people bused in a five-year period across the continental United States, will ask Mahan to reconsider his ruling. Failing that, they will appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. By ridding itself of Brown and 1,499 other psychiatric patients like him, Nevada spared its taxpayers what the state’s busing policy described as the “burden” of paying for their care. Of course, Nevada simply was shifting costs to California and Iowa and Ohio and Florida, and every other state where it bused patients.
California state agency dysfunction blocking dissemination of residential care home information
The dysfunction at the state Department of Social Services continues to amaze. Recall that this was the agency that suspended the license of a Castro Valley residential care facility last fall, but didn't bother to think about what would happen to the elderly occupants when only a cook and a janitor remained to look after them. The day after Valley Springs Manor lost its license, Maria Galang, an evaluator from the state agency, went back to the facility and found residents still there, insufficient food supply and the person in charge of the medications unable to find them. Galang issued a notice that the facility was operating in violation of the law and gave a copy of the finding to the cook. But neither she nor her supervisor, Mary Segura, took steps to help residents relocate. Lest you think they were just thoughtless bureaucrats in an otherwise smooth-running organization, think again. The ineptitude seems to be widespread. The biggest obstacle is not money, it's a will to get the job done. That seems to be lacking at the agency.
Want fewer guns on California streets? Open carry may be the answer.
Letting people tote their guns around on their hips sounds dangerous. But think again.
What's the best way to minimize the number of guns on California's streets? That's the question confronting gun control supporters after this month's ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down San Diego's restrictions on carrying handguns in public. That case was brought by gun owners who applied for but were denied permits to carry concealed weapons. San Diego will undoubtedly appeal the decision in the hope of saving its restrictive policy for awarding concealed carry permits. Lawmakers who support gun control might want to consider another option: Rewrite state law to allow people to carry guns openly. For many in the gun control community, that will seem like a crazy idea. State law bans ordinary civilians from carrying openly displayed firearms. And gun control advocates don't want to see more gun enthusiasts showing up at Starbucks or the local movie theater with guns hanging on their hips like Gary Cooper in "High Noon." Yet if they don't want too many guns in public, open carry may be the answer.
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco needs new thinking on homeless problem
San Francisco's homeless numbers aren't shrinking, despite hundreds of millions spent over the past decade and a string of major policy steps. Small wonder that residents repeatedly put the sad sight of sprawled bodies on sidewalks and street behavior near the top of their complaint list. More than anything, San Francisco needs to reflect on its well-intended policies that aren't working. It's time for new thinking on helping the homeless and the rest of the city as well.
When your 'right' is up to government, it's not a 'right'
A “right” is an “entitlement” that’s not dependent on the whims of authorities. If you have a right to “free speech,” then you can speak as you choose. The courts let the government enforce a few standards, but it wouldn’t be a “right” if government officials got to preview and restrict what you were planning to say. That’s obvious, especially when it involves activities that are widely supported. It’s hard to find Americans who don’t agree with letting individuals have the widest latitude to speak and protest. But this apparently simple concept gets muddied with rights that are less popular, such as those involving gun ownership. The case isn’t just about guns, but also about what it means for the public to have “rights.” Even Californians who have no interest in carrying a concealed weapon ought to hope the panel’s verdict stands.
Court ruling indicates California gun laws may go too far
For years, California has had some of the nation’s toughest gun control laws, but that hasn’t deterred its politicians from writing ever more restrictions on sale and possession of firearms and ammunition. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely have the final word on how far states may go to control guns, but regardless of the outcome, it’s high time that our politicians approach the issue with logic and fact, rather than emotion and supposition.
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