Stanford Law Professor is first of two picks that Brown will make
by Brian Leubitz
Gov. Brown will replace Justices Baxter and Kennard this year, and today he announced his first pick, Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar .
Cuellar, 41, was born in Matamoros, Mexico, and for years crossed the border by foot to attend school in Texas. He moved with his family to the Imperial Valley when he was 14 and obtained his bachelor's degree from Harvard College, his law degree from Yale Law School and a doctorate in political science from Stanford.
In selecting Cuellar, Gov. Jerry Brown said: "Tino Cuellar is a renowned scholar who has ... made significant contributions to both political science and the law. His vast knowledge and even temperament will - without question - add further luster to our highest court." (LA Times)
Baxter was widely considered one of the more conservative of the seven member court, so the replacement will likely shift the court leftward. While we can only speculate how a Justice Cuellar will rule, the fact is that Brown will have 3 of the 7 justices by next year. With another Brown administration very likely comes the very real possibility of a Brown majority on the court. And with his current appointment pattern, perhaps a very intellectual California Supreme Court as well.
A federal judge on July 11 denied a motion by an environmental group and fishing organization for a preliminary injunction against water transfers from northern California to San Joaquin Valley irrigators.
Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill of the U.S. District Court in Fresno rejected the motion for the preliminary injunction to stop the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from transferring water through the south Delta export pumps to the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which includes the Westlands Water District.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and AquAlliance filed the motion, claiming that the environmental assessment was "seriously flawed" and that the transfers posed "an eminent threat to threatened Delta smelt," according to a statement from Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.
CSPA and AquAlliance had pointed out that extremely low Delta outflows this year had brought Delta smelt habitat (the low salinity zone) and Delta smelt into the Delta where they were threatened with lethal water temperatures.
The judge's decision was predicated on "agency deference" and the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau claimed that Delta smelt were not in danger because they're not in the Delta in summer, noted Jennings.
Jennings said, "We're deeply disappointed in the decision and will now decide our next steps. Contrary to the decision, Delta smelt are at severe risk. The U.S. Geological Survey's state-of-the-art flow gages of Delta outflow, confirmed by increasing salinity levels, reveal a net inflow to the Delta from the ocean."
Jennnings said the 23-26 June Delta smelt survey by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reveals that there are no Delta smelt in Suisun Bay and that 92.95% are in the Delta and exposed to high temperatures. A remnant group (7%) of Delta smelt is trapped in the Sacramento Ship Channel, but won't likely survive August temperatures.
State fishery biologists counted only 22 smelt, once the most numerous species in the entire Delta, from June 23 to June 26. The survey included 120 trawls at 40 different locations.
"The USFWS and Bureau have escorted Delta smelt to the scaffold and the judge signed the warrant. We did all we could do to prevent disaster," emphasized Jennings.
Jennings said the state and federal governments have mismanaged northern California water so poorly that there was actually a minus 45 cubic feet per second (cfs) net outflow to the Bay this May while the Department of Water Resources and US Bureau of Reclamation were reporting a plus 3805 cfs.
"Last year, excessive water exports and low outflow drew delta smelt from Suisun Bay into the central Delta where they were butchered by lethal water temperatures," Jennings revealed. "This year, with population levels hovering at historic lows: excessive transfers and exports, relaxed flow standards, high temperatures and negligible outflows may catapult the species into the abyss of extinction. On top of these threats, we were astonished to discover that the estimates of Delta outflow that state and federal agencies have reported and regulators have relied upon for years are wrong and significantly overestimate outflow in low flow conditions."
The Net Delta Outflow Index (NDOI) used to assess compliance with required flow standards is based upon a formula of both actual and estimated data. Examination of tidally filtered outflow data from the U.S. Geological Survey's state-of-the-art UVM flow meters on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and Three-mile and Dutch Sloughs reveals that actual Net Delta Outflow (NDO) in low flow conditions are considerably lower, according to Jennings.
The Delta smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, is an endangered fish from 2.0 to 2.8 inches long that is found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. It mainly inhabits the freshwater-saltwater mixing zone of the estuary, except during its spawning season when it migrates upstream to freshwater following winter "first flush" flow events, approximately from March to May.
The fish is an "indicator species" that demonstrates the health of the Bay-Delta Estuary, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Because of its one-year life cycle and relatively low fecundity, it is very susceptible to changes in the environmental conditions of its native habitat. Massive water exports out of Delta to corporate agribusiness interests have played a key role in the precipitous decline of the fish in recent years.
As the California Coastal Commission met in Ventura on Wednesday, July 9, a dozen hazmat-suit-wearing protesters with the Center for Biological Diversity and Food and Water Watch urged the commissioners to consider a biologist's warning that chemicals used in offshore fracking pose a toxic threat to sea mammals and coastal fish populations.
"We had really good turn out at the rally and it shows that a lot of people, especially those along the coast, are concerned about offshore fracking and its impacts," said Hillary Aidun of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The protest took place at 11 a.m. outside Ventura City Hall in Ventura. The Coastal Commission will also provide an update on the issue of offshore fracking during the second day of the meeting today.
"We now know that fracking chemicals pumped into California's offshore oil wells pose a scientifically documented danger to marine life," said Center biologist Shaye Wolf, who wrote the letter to the Commission. "The Coastal Commission needs to protect our waters by halting fracking off California's coast."
Oil companies have fracked at least 203 wells in waters off Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Seal Beach, as well as in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel, over the past 20 years, according to an Associated Press and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) investigation last year. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/10/19/calif-finds-more-instances-of-offshore-fracking/3045721/)
The Center analyzed the chemicals used during 19 fracking events at 19 different wells in California state waters reported during 2011 to 2013 on FracFocus. All 19 fracking events occurred in Long Beach Harbor within two miles from shore, Wolf wrote in her letter.
The letter explains that oil companies fracking in California waters have admitted to using at least 10 chemicals that can harm aquatic life. Nonylphenol ethoxylate, for example, is extremely toxic and has a long-lasting effect on aquatic environments, according to scientific research.
This chemical, which has been employed in at least 16 frack jobs in California state waters, can also bioaccumulate, that is, become dangerously concentrated in the bodies of creatures higher in the food chain, including sea otters.
"We found scientific studies indicating that at least 10 fracking fluid chemicals used offshore in California could kill or harm a broad variety of marine organisms, including sea otters, fish, and invertebrates, if released into the environment. Six of these 10 chemicals were used in all 19 frack jobs," the letter stated.
Fracking involves blasting massive amounts of water and industrial chemicals into the earth at pressures high enough to crack geologic formations and release oil and gas. Scientific studies have revealed that fracking poses consider harm not only to fish and other aquatic life, but to human health as well.
Fracking operations can also spur earthquakes. A substantial number of earthquakes in one region of Oklahoma over the past several years can be linked to the process of fracking, according to a new study from Science magazine.
"About half the oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge wastewater into the sea," according to the Center. "The oil industry has federal permission to dump more than 9 billion gallons of wastewater, including fracking fluid, directly into the ocean off California's coast every year. Fracking chemicals can cause cancer and pose an ecological hazard in these wildlife-rich waters."
Ironically, the same oil industry lobbyist who is leading the charge to expand fracking in California also served as chair of the state panel that created a series of so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California. In an extreme conflict of interest, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast. (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/mpa/brtf_bios_sc.asp)
The Western States Petroleum Association President also "served" on the task forces to craft alleged "marine protected areas" on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012. Much of the fracking exposed in the AP investigation occurred during the time the Reheis-Boyd served on these panels.
The so-called -marine protected created under the Initiative, privately funded by the Resources Legacy Foundation, fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
Field Poll shows Legislature took hit after recent controversy
by Brian Leubitz
Field is in the midst of their most recent data dump, and you can't help but feel that Gov. Brown is all smiles. First, there's the fact that he has a 20 point lead over Neel Kashkari
The results of the latest Field Poll show incumbent Democratic Governor Jerry Brown leading Republican challenger Neel Kashkari by twenty points, 52% to 32%, among likely voters in this year's gubernatorial election. ... Brown is regarded favorably by 54% of likely voters, while 31% have an unfavorable opinion. Following his second place showing in the June primary, Kashkari is viewed favorably by 28%, while 16% of voters hold an unfavorable opinion of him.
In addition, the Poll finds 54% of voters approving of the job Brown is doing as governor, while 29% disapprove. (Field PDF)
The Governor's approval rating during this term has been as low as 43%, before reaching a high of 59% in April of this year. While it did slip, when combined with his mound of campaign funds, the contest between Brown and Kashkari doesn't really seem a fair fight. Barring some major shift of the political landscape, you have to feel that Brown should defeat Kashkari handily.
Now, on the other side, the Legislature was so close to actually having a net favorable rating. The institution's ratings were trending up from a low of 19% in May 2012 before Prop 30. In December 2013, it hit 40% for the first time since 2002. In other words, a really long time. And then in the late March poll, approval was trending even higher, with a 46-40 split in the first few days of polling. Then the Leland Yee story broke, and the numbers fell back to earth.
Slightly more voters believe California is generally on the wrong track (46%) than say it is moving in the right direction (41%). In addition, more voters disapprove (47%) than approve (35%) of the job performance of the state legislature.
Opinions about both matters are directly related to the party registration of voters. Democrats offer a much more optimistic assessment of the direction of the state and hold more positive views of the job the state legislature is doing than Republicans. (Field PDF)
Still, this says a lot about the harmony of the post Prop 30 days. There are still budget fights, but they aren't nearly as toxic as they once were. The majority vote budget means that the fights are basically all within the party. The scandal can't help, but beyond a bad apple or two, this is a legislature that works for California.
First, let's get this out of the way: the budget ($156bn for those counting at home) has now been passed and just awaits a few formalities. It is a budget of compromises, but a solid foundation for California's priorities. And there are no big public fights, no big accusations, and no sleepovers in Sacramento. This is all good, and says a lot about the improved process under the majority vote budget system. (And Prop 30, which gives the revenue breathing room that we need.)
All that being said, the Governor wanted to maintain a hard line on spending. It's nice and prudent and all that, but there are a lot of gaping holes in the budget that should have been addressed. George Skelton's review of the completed product outlines some of those holes:
But the governor refused to reverse a 10% cut in pay rates for doctors who treat patients in the Medi-Cal program that is greatly expanding under Obamacare. Because of the measly rates - lowest in the nation - more and more doctors are refusing to accept Medi-Cal patients.
And, shamefully, no one even tried to restore previously cut funding for the most vulnerable: the aged, blind and disabled poor living entirely off federal and state subsistence programs (SSI/SSP) - $880 (sic, it is actually $877.40 - BL) monthly for singles and $1,480 for couples. There are roughly 1.5 million Californians receiving SSI/SSP, which was reduced to the federal minimum during the recession. The state is still stiffing them. They're not unionized and can't make campaign contributions. Meanwhile, legislators keep raising the minimum wage, bumping up inflation and squeezing these impoverished folks even more.
So the governor and Democrats shouldn't be patting themselves on the backs all that much for their budget compromise. ([George Skelton / LATimes)
There have been a few good editorials about the Medi-Cal question, including this one in the SF Chronicle. Boiling it down, our reimbursement rates are among the lowest in the nation. And while there is a sharp need to control medical costs. As you can see from the graph in this tweet, our costs are still out of control. But the problem here is that if the tightest controls are isolated to Medi-Cal, doctors simply won't take Medi-Cal patients. And that is exactly what is happening. As you can see from the ad up top, this was a big deal for the state. But under the current budget, reimbursement rates are still far too low.
In addition to the heartbreaking failure to restore SSI/SSP funding for some of the state's most vulnerable, the state's contributions to CalSTRS are taking a big chunk out of the restoration of funding to K12 education. And even with the $250+ million for both early child education and vocational education, there are still big funding problems at all levels of California education.
The other big issue: yeah, that would be Republican Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy's non-stop tirade over the high speed rail project. (Seen here looking hilarious in flick user donkeyhotey's cartoon.) The budget allocates $250m from cap and trade revenue, but long-term funding issues are still out there. At this point, HSR leaders can point to several billion of funding that is out there for the project, but are still a ways off from the full price tag. And if McCarthy becomes Majority Leader as expected, comments like these could mean it becomes a lot more challenging to get federal assistance for the project:
"Governor Brown's persistence shows he is more interested in protecting his legacy than communities that will be uprooted by its intrusion," he added. "As long as I am in Congress, I will do whatever I can to ensure that not one dollar of federal funds is directed to this project." (Melanie Mason / LAT)
But those decisions are for another day. Today, we have a budget that will keep the lights on throughout the state, and that's good thing.
The budget deadline is this weekend, and without the need to pull a few Republican votes, harmony seems to reign. Well, not so much real harmony, but something that passes for harmony in Sacramento when you look at the past budget fights before the majority vote budget and Prop 30 votes.
With closed-door negotiations bearing fruit, the joint budget committee is expected to meet Wednesday afternoon to nail down more details on state spending.
"We'll get through most of it," Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who is chairing the committee, said in an interview.(LA Times)
Everybody seems to be all happy-go-lucky on getting a deal done. But to be clear, there are a lot of tough choices to be made. K-12 funding is still too low. Court funding is getting a boost, but is probably still too low. Skinner and Steinberg are still fighting Brown's intention to end overtime pay for homecare workers.
The bigger issue overhanging much of this is whether to include an additional $2.5 billion in projected capital gains revenue, with some sort of compromise likely.
Yes, the negotiations are more civil than in the past, but the issues are very real. Gov. Brown seems to be a bit hesitant to restore funding levels anytime soon, but there is a lot of gap to fill between how much the state needs in services and how much we are providing. The higher end of our economy has clearly recovered, but that is far from universally true across the income spectrum.
The results are in. While workers are celebrating some huge victories this morning, the corporate crowd is wondering what went wrong in some key races. Last night's California primary election presented some very clear choices to voters that are critical to the direction of our state.
The corporate political machine went all in, spending big in an effort to defeat labor champions in a number of races, and for the most part, came up empty. Union workers, who pounded the pavement in the final weeks to talk to voters face-to-face about the importance of the election, likely made the difference in a number of races.
Five reasons last night was a boon for workers (and mostly a bust for big corporations):
The state officials who are fast-tracking the construction of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta constantly claim that the controversial plan is based on "science."
For example, California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird in March 2013 claimed, "At the beginning of the Brown administration, we made a long-term commitment to let science drive the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Science has and will continue to drive a holistic resolution securing our water supply and substantially restoring the Delta's lost habitat."
However, the hollowness of Laird's claim that the BDCP is founded on "science" was exposed on Monday, May 19 when the Delta Independent Science Board (Delta ISB) criticized the science in its review of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement.
This report follows numerous scathing criticisms of the plan's science from an array of federal and independent scientists and scientific panels over the past few years, who have said the construction of the tunnels may hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelta, green sturgeon and other fish species.
The transmittal letter, addressed to Delta Stewardship Council Chair Randy Fiorini and Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham, commends the preparers for assembling the documents while criticizing the science for falling short of what the document requires:
"We commend the preparers of the Draft BDCP documents for assembling and analyzing mountains of scientific information, and for exploring environmental impacts of many proposed BDCP actions. The preparers faced a bewildering array of regulatory requirements and economic, social, and political pressures.
We find, however, that the science in this BDCP effort falls short of what the project requires. We highlight our concerns in the attached report. The report, in turn, draws on our detailed responses to charge questions from the Delta Stewardship Council (Appendix A) and on our reviews of individual chapters in the DEIR/DEIS (Appendix B). Our concerns raise issues that, if not addressed, may undermine the contributions of BDCP to meeting the co-equal goals for the Delta."
In a remark made about the water supply section of the plan, the board provides this precious quote: "It is a bit like an orchestra playing a symphony without a conductor and with the sheets of music sometimes shuffled. The notes are all there and mostly well-played individually, but the experience is less than satisfying." (Thanks to Alex Breitler of the Stockton Record for pointing out this quote).
The report addresses eight major points about how the DEIR/DEIS fails the "good enough" scientific standard, ranging from "overly optimistic expectations" regarding the "conservation actions" to the analyses' neglect of the project's downstream impacts on San Francisco Bay. Below is the summary from the report:
"We find that the DEIR/DEIS currently falls short of meeting this 'good enough' scientific standard. In particular:
1. Many of the impact assessments hinge on overly optimistic expectations about the feasibility, effectiveness, or timing of the proposed conservation actions, especially habitat restoration.
2. The project is encumbered by uncertainties that are considered inconsistently and incompletely; modeling has not been used effectively to bracket a range of uncertainties or to explore how uncertainties may propagate.
3. The potential effects of climate change and sea-level rise on the implementation and outcomes of BDCP actions are not adequately evaluated.
4. Insufficient attention is given to linkages and interactions among species, landscapes, and the proposed actions themselves.
5. The analyses largely neglect the influences of downstream effects on San Francisco Bay, levee failures, and environmental effects of increased water availability for agriculture and its environmental impacts in the San Joaquin Valley and downstream.
6. Details of how adaptive management will be implemented are left to a future management team without explicit prior consideration of (a) situations where adaptive management may be inappropriate or impossible to use, (b) contingency plans in case things do not work as planned, or (c) specific thresholds for action.
7. Available tools of risk assessment and decision support have not been used to assess the individual and combined risks associated with BDCP actions.
8. The presentation, despite clear writing and an abundance of information and analyses, makes it difficult to compare alternatives and evaluate the critical underlying assumptions."
Wow, that is quite a smackdown on the alleged "science" of the plan by a panel of respected scientists. Again, John Laird's claim that the Brown administration has "made a long-term commitment to let science drive the Bay Delta Conservation Plan" appears to have little or no basis in fact.
The board's criticisms of the "science" the BDCP documents are based upon are very similar to those that scientists from federal lead agencies for the BDCP EIR/EIS - the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service - made regarding the preliminary BDCP documents last July.
They then provided the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the environmental consultants with 44 pages of comments highly critical of the Consultant Second Administrative Draft EIR/EISDraft), released on May 10. The agencies found, among other things, that the draft environmental documents were "biased," "insufficient," "confusing," and "very subjective." (http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/Libraries/Dynamic_Document_Library/Federal_Agency_Comments_on_Consultant_Administrative_Draft_EIR-EIS_7-18-13.sflb.ashx)
Yes, there is no doubt that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build Jerry Brown's twin tunnels is based on "science" - but it's political science, not natural science, that drives the project.
S&P has never had much faith in the California legislature. Even after the majority vote budget amendment passed, and after Prop 30's additional revenues, S&P never really had faith.
Earlier this week, in a memorandum supportive of a budget reserve, the Wall Street credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's said that "when it comes to reaching a legislative supermajority on fiscal matters, California has a weak track record," raising concerns about the possibility that Brown and lawmakers might fail to reach an accord.
S&P called the negotiation "a test of sorts for the state," adding that "if the Legislature succeeds in assembling the consensus necessary to move the measure forward, it could mark another step in California's ongoing journey toward a more sustainable fiscal structure."(SacBee / David Siders)
Now, despite voters continually supporting revenue and large Democratic majorities, the late 2000s budget fights never really went away. Sure, the players are completely different, but that kind of madness leaves a mark. Yes, we've made wholesale reforms to the system, we've never actually missed any debt payments, and we have a constitutional requirement to pay debt before anything (save Prop 98 requirements). But, the credit bureaus like to see reforms that make them and their Wall St. friends happy.
That brings us back to the rainy day fund. California has always struggled with boom-bust cycles, and the idea was to stash away some of that boom money to spend during the busts. In general a good concept, but the very ominous devil is in the details. And with the recent indictments and subsequent suspensions, the Senate Republicans are relevant again. But, Brown's framework brought a little bit of something for everyone to build off, and today we get this:
But on Thursday, following several weeks of private negotiations, Brown and the legislative leaders of both parties announced an agreement on a proposal to set aside 1.5 percent of total general fund revenue every year, plus revenue from capital-gains taxes when the economy is especially robust. (SacBee / David Siders)
Republicans get their rainy day fund and something to list as an accomplishment. (Giving them an extensive list of...1 accomplishment). Steinberg and the Senate Democrats got a commitment to use half of the 1.5% to pay down debt, rather than having to argue that issue later in the budget fight. That could have been a huge problem down the road, and the inclusion here is a big victory for Steinberg and could be enough to get a much broader base of support.
Looks to fix 2010's ACA 4 that will appear on November ballot
by Brian Leubitz
Gov. Brown has always been fond of the concept of a rainy day fund. He's included the concept on many occasions, speeches, budgets, etc. Add "special session" to that list:
Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday called a special session of the Legislature to replace the "Rainy Day Fund" measure on November's ballot with a dedicated reserve to let the state to pay down its debts and unfunded liabilities.
"We simply must prevent the massive deficits of the last decade and we can only do that by paying down our debts and creating a solid Rainy Day Fund," Brown said in a news release, which accompanied a proclamation convening the special section next Thursday, April 24. (Josh Richman / Political Blotter)
It seems that pretty much everybody in Sacramento, across the political spectrum, supports the move, with Richman pulling supportive quotes from the Speaker, Senate minority leader, and the Chamber of Commerce. But, of course, they all have different ideas of what this means. Brown wants to account for the wild swings in revenue we get due to stock options and the like, while Huff and the Chamber focus first on spending one-time revenue on ongoing expenses.
What exactly this means for the November ballot is unclear. Any changes could push the ballot measure to 2016, but there is some flexibility with a lot of time still remaining.
It turns out having one of your members arrested for involvement in a gun running scandal hurts your approval numbers. Who'd have thunk it?
Following Yee's arrest, voter sentiment of the legislature has turned negative. The proportion of voters expressing disapproval jumped six points from 40% to 46%, and now is greater than the proportion approving (43%), which declined three points. Thus, voter opinions of the legislature swung a net nine points in the negative direction in the days following news of Yee's arrest.(Field poll PDF)
Now, that being said, 40% is still relatively strong compared to the dark days of the budget fights a few years ago. In September 2010, approval of the legislature hit a rather abysmal 10%. The majority vote budget and the wiggle room afforded by Prop 30 should probably get most of the credit for that rebound. But the Yee arrest, following the other Senate legal issues, drags that down. Perhaps some of that will be resolved when those members are officially gone from the chamber, but with the Yee story likely to linger in the news, don't expect an immediate bounce at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Gov. Brown is riding high. Field has him at an all-time high of 59%, with just 32% disapproving. Those are numbers that will be hard for any competitor to overcome in June or November. But the field of candidates that are actually in the race? The odds grow even longer. Right wing extremist Tim Donnelly leads the pack at 17% with no other candidate exceeding 3%. Neel Kashkari hopes to spend his way to relevance, but time is running quite short.
Poll shows right-wing anti-immigrant Tim Donnelly could be GOP standard bearer in November
by Brian Leubitz
WHo really wants to be the one to get steamrolled by Gov. Brown and his huge warchest come June/November? Well, there are a few folks vying for the privilege, but few show any sign of making any inroads. Barring a bizarre calamity, Brown seems a prohibitive favorite over the field. And that instinct is borne out in PPIC's poll:
When primary likely voters are asked how they would vote in the governor's race, 47 percent choose Brown and 10 percent choose Republican Tim Donnelly. Fewer support Republicans Andrew Blount (2%) or Neel Kashkari (2%)-the other candidates included in the survey-while 3 percent name someone else and 36 percent are undecided. (PPIC)
Now, Donnelly, who is a well known right wing extremist better known as a Minuteman vigilante than as a serious legislator. Not exactly the type of candidate a 21st century party is really looking for in a state with a minority majority. But while some party leaders are kind of rooting for Neel Kashkari, and his much more compelling, and modern, story, the grassroots of the party seems to prefer Donnelly's anti-immigrant right-wing platform.
Had Kashkari been able to keep up his initial strong fundraising, you would have to like his odds to pull out the number two spot. But with that fundraising rapidly slowing, Donnelly may be able to carry a right-wing base vote to the second line of the November ballot. The other candidate, Andrew Blount, Mayor of Laguna Hills, says he is raising no money at all. Unless he plans to self-finance, Donnelly's slightly higher name ID would likely be enough to push him over the edge. Here's the current cash situation:
Donnelly reported Monday that he has less than $11,000 in cash on hand, with unpaid bills of $149,068. Kashkari, meanwhile, has banked more than $900,000, while Brown has nearly $20 million on hand.(SacBee)
Perhaps this will improve when one of them squeaks onto the November ballot. However, the numbers right now are all looking strong for Gov. Brown. His current approval rating is at 49% approval, down a bit from his all time high in January of 58%, but more than solid given the other factors in the race.
Governor looks solid for next election, looks back and forward with Dowd
by Brian Leubitz
Neel Kashkari, despite being something of a modest frontrunner to make it to the general election with Gov. Brown, is now struggling with fundraising. Apparently Hank Paulson can only max out once, and Kashkari is having some issues getting contributions beyond the ranks of Goldman Sachs. Kashkari now has less than $1mil, compared to Brown's nearly $20m.
That all leads up to Maureen Dowd's puff piece with the Governor entitled "Palmy Days with the Governor." There are no hard hitting revelations here, just a few rememberances, many of which have to do with the Clintons:
So how does he reconcile what he said in 1992 and now? Have the Clintons changed, or has Brown changed?
He crosses his arms and gives me a flinty look, finally observing: "In retrospect, after we see all the other presidents that came afterwards, certainly, Clinton handled his job with a level of skill that hasn't been met since."
It goes on to cite the heckling at the CDP convention, but Gov. Brown is a fighter at heart. Despite his discomfort at the heckling, he closed his speech with "keep protesting." He has changed a lot since his first go-round, but maybe he is still much the same.
Gov. Brown filed his papers for re-election today after writing a letter to the people of California, highlighting his record of working with everybody and ability to forge a compromise. With his approval rating approaching 60%, and a weak field of competitors, Brown looks very strong in his reelection campaign.
Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle has a way with a video camera like few else. She readily acknowledges the less than high tech camera work, even going so far as to name her video series "Shaky Hand Productions." But she has a way of being in the right place at the right time to ask some very pertinent questions.
Yesterday she posted another such video, this time a dimly lit interview of Gov. Brown. He covered the drought and the frustrating Bay Bridge situation. On mandatory water restrictions he hewed his refrain of letting local governments ride lead:
I like to focus attention and responsibility on local government, local school districts, whenever possible. So I certainly encourage every local community to do exactly what they need ... and when it becomes necessary for the state to take over and actually order (rationing) ... I'll certainly do that. "
Cruise on over to her blog post to get the full transcript. Looks like he'll officially kick his campaign off soon.
At some point, whether this year or two years from now, the state will have to get the prison population down to 137.5% of its designed capacity, or around 112,000 prisoners. Gov. Brown has been working on that primarily through realignment and shifting prisoners to private prisons out of state. The three judge panel took a look and decided the deadline should wait. But there's a catch in the ruling (Full court order here):
Under Monday's order, the state has until Feb. 28, 2016, to reduce the inmate population in its 34 adult prisons - designed to hold 81,574 inmates - to 137.5 percent of its current design capacity. State prisons now house roughly 117,600 inmates. The order requires the number to be reduced to 112,164 and bars the state from sending inmates to out-of-state prisons to get to that level. (SacBee)
Beyond that agreement not to send prisoners out of state, the state also agreed that they would seek to reduce the current out of state population of 8,900. Furthermore, the judges went ahead and outlined how the state was going to get down to that 137.5% figure pretty explicitly, with benchmarks and an appointed compliance officer.
Many of the media reports are simply referring this order as a stay of execution, but rather it is a compromise that requires the state to meet certain conditions. Beyond seeking additional space in county jails, the state will implement the following 8-point plan agreed to by the court:
(a) Increase credits prospectively for non-violent second-strike offenders and minimum custody inmates. Non-violent second-strikers will be eligible to earn good time credits at 33.3% and will be eligible to earn milestone credits for completing rehabilitative programs. Minimum custody inmates will be eligible to earn 2-for-1 good time credits to the extent such credits do not deplete participation in fire camps where inmates also earn 2-for-1 good time credits;
(b) Create and implement a new parole determination process through which non-violent second-strikers will be eligible for parole consideration by the Board of Parole Hearings once they have served 50% of their sentence;
(c) Parole certain inmates serving indeterminate sentences who have already been granted parole by the Board of Parole Hearings but have future parole dates;
(d) In consultation with the Receiver's office, finalize and implement an expanded parole process for medically incapacitated inmates;
(e) Finalize and implement a new parole process whereby inmates who are 60 years of age or older and have served a minimum of twenty-five years of their sentence will be referred to the Board of Parole Hearings to determine suitability for parole;
(f) Activate new reentry hubs at a total of 13 designated prisons to be operational within one year from the date of this order;
(g) Pursue expansion of pilot reentry programs with additional counties and local communities; and
(h) Implement an expanded alternative custody program for female inmates. (Order at p. 3)
The Compliance Officer will be checking in with the court, but the court plans on retaining jurisdiction over the prison system until the reductions are deemed "durable."
In the end, this is a very reasonable plan for all parties. It makes the prison system safer and healthier for prisoners and guards. It will shift focus from parole violaters and other low-risk offenders to the most dangerous elements in the prisons. There is a lot of evidence that we can make our communities safer through more rational sentencing, and perhaps this can be the hammer that prods us along that course.
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful corporate lobbying organization in Sacramento, spent over $4.67 million, more than any other interest group, while lobbying state government in 2013, according to data released by the Secretary State's Office and compiled by the Capitol Morning Report.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called marine protected areas in Southern California, led the successful campaign last year by the oil industry to defeat all one bill to ban or regulate the environmentally destructive practice of fracking last year.
The oil industry added last minute amendments to Senator Fran Pavley's already weak legislation to regulate fracking in California, Senate Bill 4, last September, making an already bad bill even worse. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation, dubbed by environmentalists the "green light for fracking" bill, on September 20.
Another oil company giant, Chevron Corporation and its subsidiaries, spent $3.95 million, the third most spent by any group on lobbying state government in 2013. Chevron also spent much of its money on lobbying against bills that would ban or regulate fracking in California.
The top 10 companies and groups that hired lobbyists during 2013 spent a total of $30.5 million, reported the Capitol Weekly (http://capitolweekly.net/top-10-lobbying-firms-billed-40-million/).
The rest of the top 10 spenders were:
• California State Council of Service Employees, $4.26 million.
• California Chamber of Commerce, $3.7 million.
• California Hospital Association/California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, $3.15 million.
• Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. - $2.24 million.
• AT&T Inc. and its affiliates - $2.33 million.
• California Medical Association - $2.27 million.
• SEIU-UHW (Labor organizations) - $1.88 million.
• Southern California Edison, $1.84 million.
Since it is the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, the oil industry is able to wield enormous influence over state and federal regulators and environmental processes. The result of this inordinate money and influence is the effective evisceration of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 during the MLPA Initiative process and the signing of Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4.
A report recently released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil industry lobby spent $45.4 million in the state between January 1 2009 and June 30, 2013. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009 to lobby legislators. (http://blog.center4tobaccopolicy.org/oil-lobbying-in-california)
Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to Stop Fooling California, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies' efforts to mislead and confuse Californians.
Governor Brown, a strong supporter of the environmentally destructive practice of fracking, has become known as the "Big Oil Governor." Robert Gammon, East Bay Express reporter, revealed that before Governor Jerry Brown signed Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4, Brown accepted at least $2.49 million in financial donations over the past several years from oil and natural gas interests, according to public records on file with the Secretary of State's Office and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/fracking-jerry-brown/Content?oid=3726533)
In addition to supporting the expansion of fracking in California, Governor Jerry Brown is fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels during the midst of a record drought. The massive tunnels won't create one drop of new water, but they will divert huge quantities of precious water from the Sacramento River to corporate agribusiness interests, Southern California water agencies, and oil companies conducting steam injection and fracking operations in Kern County. The construction of the tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations, as well as imperil salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity River, the largest tributary of the Klamath River.
The oil industry extends its influence not only by direct lobbying, but through its presence and leadership on boards and panels, in a classic example of the fox guarding the hen house. In an extreme conflict of interest, WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd not only chaired the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast, but she served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast. (http://yubanet.com/california/Dan-Bacher-Top-Censored-Environmental-Story-of-2012-Marine-guardian-lobbies-for-offshore-oil-drilling-fracking.php)
The MLPA Initiative, under the "leadership" of Reheis-Boyd and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interests, created fake "marine protected areas" that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
While Reheis-Boyd served on the task forces to "protect" the ocean, the oil industry was conducting environmentally destructive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations off the Southern California coast. Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and media investigations by Associated Press and truthout.org reveal that the ocean has been fracked at least 203 times in the past 20 years, including the period from 2004 to 2012 that Reheis-Boyd served as a "marine guardian."
The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a landmark law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA "Initiative" to "implement" the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.
When will there be a long overdue investigation into the conflicts of interest, terminally flawed science, violation of the Yurok Tribe's gathering rights and failure to provide comprehensive protection in so-called "marine protected areas" that have made the MLPA Initiative into one of the most tainted environmental processes in California history?
While California has been falsely portrayed as a "green state" by the mainstream media and corporate "environmentalists," the state's current political leadership is in reality controlled by Big Oil, Big Ag and other corporate interests.
Governor calls GOP legislation an "an unwelcome and divisive intrusion"
by Brian Leubitz
The GOP really thinks the drought is good for them politically. Problem is, there isn't that much that can really be done to ease the effects, other than a rain dance and monkeying around with precedence of water users.
But the GOP wants to be seen as doing something, so Speaker Boehner flew to the Central Valley for a photo-op and to announce legislation that would change how water is used in the Central Valley. Because water distribution in the arid southwest is a dizzying array of federal and state law, that could mean tossing a flaming bag of dog feces into the mix of already complicated water precedence. But, the folks with power in the districts that elected the California Republicans are generally big ag interests, the GOP Congress members have their marching orders. Bring water back to Big Ag.
So, the legislation they introduced in late January would do that in the short term, and try to gin up support to get more water for Ag in the long term. The short term solution is to just keep pumping until there is no more water to pump. Tough luck salmon!
There are no cheap or easy solutions for that long-term question, but they are trying to score points by pointing at the Senate. Trouble is, in reality, both of our Senators have been working on this issue for a long time, and have an opinion on the so-called Senate inaction. In fact, they already wrote a letter to the President outlining a real plan for action:
The state's other senator, Barbara Boxer, was less charitable in her assessment of the proposal, saying in a statement that it was "old ideas that ignore many of the stakeholders counting on a real solution to this devastating drought."
Boxer urged Republicans to support a three-point plan she and Feinstein outlined in a letter to President Obama. The proposal calls for appointment of a drought task force and a drought coordinator to work with a similar state-level effort, calling for a broad federal disaster declaration, and urging the Obama administration to direct federal agencies to expedite water transfers and infrastructure improvements. (Fresno Bee / John Ellis)
But Governor Brown made his thoughts on the bill crystal clear in a letter to the ranking members of the House Natural Resources Committee:
"H.R. 3964 is an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California's efforts to manage this severe crisis," Brown wrote. "It would override state laws and protections, and mandate that certain water interests come out ahead of others. It falsely suggests the promise of water relief when that is simply not possible given the scarcity of water supplies."(SacBee Capitol Alert
But, the attention is nonetheless necessary. A panel of experts (and hey, maybe including some scientists would help) would be a good start on how to address the long-term health of the Central Valley agricultural environment. Let's face it, there are some very deep systemic concerns for the future water needs, but let's see if Boehner comes back during a rainy season when the photo opportunity isn't as politically advantageous.
Does Jerry Brown Control the Skies? GOP asks if why he is hiding the water
by Brian Leubitz
Governor Brown briefly discussed the drought in his state of the state speech, but clearly there is plenty more to be said. The picture to the right is what is passing for the Sierra snowpack these days. But first let's review what he did say in the speech:
Among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. We can't control it. We can only live with it, and now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration.
Right now, it is imperative that we do everything possible to mitigate the effects of the drought. I have convened an Interagency Drought Task Force and declared a State of Emergency. We need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water. We need regulators to rebalance water rules and enable voluntary transfers of water and we must prepare for forest fires. As the State Water Action Plan lays out, water recycling, expanded storage and serious groundwater management must all be part of the mix. So too must be investments in safe drinking water, particularly in disadvantaged communities. We also need wetlands and watershed restoration and further progress on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
It is a tall order.
He goes on to mention that climate change is real, and that we will be facing more variable weather, more droughts, more fires and other extreme weather. But while 2013 was the driest year on record, it is far from being the driest California has experienced. That being said, a UC-Berkeley professor, B. Lynn Ingram, believes that it might be the driest year in 500 years. But that isn't to say that we know 2014 will be better, or that it was some sort of anomaly.
When Drake landed in California in the 16th Century, it was reportedly as dry, if not drier. But the bigger issue is that the massive 20th century development was based on an abnormally wet century. A century when our droughts were shorter and less severe than the previous millenia:
If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century, like during the Medieval period and the middle Holocene. The 20th century was unusually mild here, in the sense that the droughts weren't as severe as in the past. It was a wetter century, and a lot of our development has been based on that.(B. Lynn Ingram)
Today, that wetter climate supports over 10 million people in LA county alone, in addition to one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Yet what happens if 2013 isn't a blip on the radar, and it is a part of the reversion to the mean? Then we would need to really critically examine our land use patterns and how we collect, store and use our water. But, instead of that critical analysis, the California GOP would rather make this a political issue. Us versus them; agriculture vs environmentalists.
But even if you wanted an us versus them, it isn't clear that you can stop at just agriculture and protection of endangered species. But, that's what the GOP is going with. It sounds good enough to draw the most senior Republican in the nation, Speaker John Boehner:
"When you come to a place like California, and you come from my part of the world, you just shake your head and wonder what kinds of nonsense does the bureaucracy do out here?" (Speaker Boehner) said, referring to the long-running diversion of millions of gallons from farms to the habitats of endangered fish.
"How you can favor fish over people is something that people from my part of the world never understand," he said.(LA Times / Evan Halper)
Nevermind that Ohio deals with issues of endangered species all the time, but the bigger myth is that this is simply an issue of the smelt vs farmers. It is far bigger than that. You have the issues between Delta farmers, who are quite productive themselves, and farmers in the Central Valley, especially the drier southern part of the Valley around Bakersfield. The fish being considered are not just the endangered tiny smelt, but also the salmon runs in Northern California that could be totally eliminated if enough water isn't granted to the rivers. Once the runs dwindle, it is remarkably difficult to bring them back, even with substantial hatchery programs. And those fish, yeah, they represent jobs to thousands of fishermen.
At any rate, it is hard to argue that Jerry Brown has been some sort of impediment to getting water to the Central Valley farmers. In fact, during the last huge drought, then Gov. Jerry Brown tried to get a peripheral canal built. That was ultimately defeated by referendum in 1982. Had it passed it would have brought massive change to the Delta and a lot of questions of sustainability. The BDCP includes two tunnels around the Delta that would divert fresh water around the Delta. Now, the technology has clearly improved over the past 30 years, but questions about the long-term viability of the tunnels still abound. The junior water users, especially the Westlands Water District in the southern Valley, desperately want change, any change, to move them up the ladder. But will there be enough snowpack in the Sierras to divert all that water to Southern California?
The other major question is storage. In an age when snowpack can no longer be trusted to store our water from February-June, do we need to build a bunch of more reservoirs? Well, again, where does that water come from if we have neither rain nor snow? But even with that question, does storage really change the fundamental questions, or just delay the inevitable? With agriculture accounting for about 80% of water usage, how do we decrease usage without decimating our crop yields? No matter how much we spend on water projects, we will need to get more out of the water we do have no matter what.
Or maybe we will get a lot of rain this week when the high pressure ridge breaks down, and we can go back to pretending that there is tons of water laying around. But in the end, it is hard to imagine that blaming Democrats for a lack of rain will bring Republicans out of their political drought of their own making.
Governor to address legislature as new leadership team emerges. I'll be on KALW Your Call at 10AM to discuss the State of the State.
by Brian Leubitz
There was a bit of controversy surrounding what was slowly coming into focus last week surrounding the legislative leadership races. Sen. Steinberg said last week that Sen Kevin de León was going to be the next Senate President Pro Tem. That was met with some worrying tones from Northern California, especially from the Bay Area Council:
We respect the importance of Southern California and often work closely with leaders there on key issues, but for the good of California, we must continue to share leadership.
As a region, therefore, we face an enormous and historic political test. Northern California's senators and Assembly members should stand up for their districts, their voters, their region and this historic balance of power, and ensure that the next leader of either the Senate or the Assembly is from this part of the state. Once we lose that position of power, it's very difficult to get it back. (Jim Wunderman, CEO of Bay Area Council , op-ed)
While this is a fuzzy kind of truth, you don't really have to go all that far back to find contra cases. Willie Brown and Bill Lockyer were leading both chambers in the mid-1990s, but it has been something of a recent practice with the fast changing faces of the Legislature since term limits.
At any rate, the BAC and other northern allies will have another shot at this race in two years. Atkins is term limited in 2016, while de León will face his Senate limit in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Governor has a plethora of topics to discuss at today's State of the State. Water, climate change, the budget, and HSR all may come up. I'll be on KALW Your Call (91.7 in SF) at 10 AM, right after the speech to discuss it.