Warriors’ Move To San Fran Faces Well-Funded Opposition

warriors.arenaThe record-setting Golden State Warriors, the defending NBA champions, have become one of the most beloved sports teams in recent California history. San Francisco politicians have embraced the team’s planned move from Oakland to San Francisco’s Mission Bay area, especially because the team’s wealthy owners are willing to pay for 97 percent of the $1 billion cost of a new 18,000-seat arena (illustration at right). On Tuesday, the city-county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the project’s environmental impact report, and the team hopes to have the area built in time for the 2018-19 NBA season.

So everything is looking positive for the Warriors coming back to San Francisco? Not exactly. Critics have assembled a multimillion-dollar legal fund to fight the project at every turn, and a classic NIMBY battle between well-funded interests looms.

The main opponent “came out of nowhere” in April. The San Francisco Business Times had details:

A group of University of California, San Francisco, donors is threatening to sue or push a ballot measure against the Warriors’ potential Mission Bay arena over parking and traffic concerns. …

The group, a nonprofit called the Mission Bay Alliance, worries that arena traffic will bottle up to ensnarl ambulances headed to nearby UCSF Medical Center and threaten the neighborhood’s ability to grow as a biotechnology hub. Its proximity to AT&T Park and possible overlapping game days will exacerbate that, the group says.

Sam Singer, who is representing the alliance’s public relations efforts, [said], “The alliance wants to see the (arena) and office towers halted completely. If that doesn’t happen through the EIR and public participation process, the alliance will consider a lawsuit and going to the ballot to stop the stadium.”

Poll suggests public not sold on arena

On the eve of the supervisors’ vote, the Mission Bay Alliance released a poll of 540 voters that showed much less support than the Warriors have asserted. This is from a statement on the alliance’s website:

Based on what they know today about the proposed arena plan in Mission Bay, fewer than half of voters say they support it:

Support – 49 percent

Oppose – 42 percent

Don’t know – 10 percent  …

Once voters became aware of the facts surrounding the proposed arena and the expected regional impacts, including traffic gridlock, the lack of parking and clogged emergency access for adjacent UCSF hospitals, support for the arena plummeted even more:

Support – 38 percent

Oppose – 59 percent

Don’t know – 3 percent

Parking and traffic ranked as the two most problematic impacts, with 65 percent of voters concerned about traffic gridlock and 67 percent about a lack of parking in and around the arena. … [The project] does little to alleviate the burden the arena will put on regional transit like BART and CalTrain.

Being a popular champion helps sway debate

But the Warriors and the city leaders who back them up on the planned move could benefit tremendously from timing. San Diego voters agreed to help pay for PETCO Park for the Padres in the city’s downtown area in November 1998 — a month after the team won a rare National League title and advanced to the World Series.

The contrast is sharp with present-day San Diego and seemingly broad opposition to having local governments help the Chargers pay for a new NFL stadium. Other factors certainly come into play. San Diego’s reputation as “Enron by the Bay” has faded, but the city’s years of financial struggles have left scars. The city is debating a huge infrastructure program, prompting questions about why $200 million that might go to fix pocked roads and add fire stations would instead help a billionaire build a stadium. But it hasn’t helped the let’s-hold-our-noses-and-accept subsidies crowd that the Chargers have been hugely disappointing since their 14-2 season in 2007, rarely living up to expectations.

The Warriors, by contrast, sharply exceeded expectations in 2014-15, when they won their first NBA championship in 40 years. This season, meanwhile, they got off to the fastest start of any team in NBA history. That could be an ace in the hole for team owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CalPERS Board Member Goes Rogue

Calpers headquarters is seen in Sacramento, California, October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

Calpers headquarters is seen in Sacramento, California, October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

A member of the CalPERS board has gone rogue, using public records laws to get documents from the agency while facing warnings that it is unacceptable for him to criticize staff at board meetings. Ed Mendel has details at Calpensions.com:

As one of 13 CalPERS board members, J.J. Jelincic presumably has some authority. But last June and July, he filed Public Records Act requests to force CalPERS to give him weekly reports from its federal lobbyists, much like any member of the public.

CalPERS tripled its federal lobbying force last year from one all-purpose firm, the Lussier Group, to three separate lobbying representatives for retirement policy, investment and market regulation, and health care issues.

Jelincic wanted to see what CalPERS was getting for its increased spending. So he asked for the weekly reports from the lobbyists, as specified in their contracts. But the rest of the board had decided monthly reports, also specified in the contracts, are enough, and Jelincic’s informal request was denied.

The unusual Public Records Act requests by a board member helped trigger a CalPERS governance committee discussion last month of “board member behavior” that was clearly aimed at Jelincic.  … In addition to filing the Public Records Act requests, Jelincic was criticized by other board members for “disparaging” staff in public and taking more than his fair share of time at board meetings by asking questions.

Board targets only member who challenges staff

CalPERS’ actions got two much more savage takedowns at Naked Capitalism, a popular niche website dedicated to exposing improper and unethical behavior by large financial institutions and corporations and the government agencies which regulate them. Susan Webber, a 35-year veteran of Wall Street and high finance, writes for the site under the name Yves Smith. Among her allegations:

  • CalPERS board routinely tries to hide basic information about what its doing, apparently at the behest of its staff, which doesn’t like outside scrutiny.
  • CalPERS ignores state laws on taking testimony at its meetings and uses security guards to intimidate individuals who ask difficult or multiple questions.
  • CalPERS is trying to break Jelincic’s will by hassling him. Some specifics from Webber:

[Some video of last month’s] Governance Committee meeting clearly shows that the board, aided and abetted by [fiduciary counsel Robert] Klausner, is in the process of establishing a procedure for implementing trumped-up sanctions against Jelincic, presumably so as to facilitate an opponent unseating him in his next election. But Jelincic’s term isn’t up until 2018, so from their perspective they are stuck with an apostate in their ranks for an uncomfortably long amount of time. Part of their strategy appears to harass him into compliance with the posture the rest of the board, that of ceding authority to staff and conducting board meetings that are largely ceremonial. …

The board ganging up against Jelincic comes straight out of The Peter Principle. One of its corollaries was “hierarchical exfoliation,” in which organizations expel both poor performers and notable outperformers, the latter because they make everyone else look bad. Jelincic, the lone board member willing to do his job, must be tarred and feathered for his crime of showing the rest of the board up. …

[It] is particularly unseemly that the board member who has been the most aggressive in pushing the illegal notion that CalPERS can and should sanction Jelincic over filing Public Records Act requests is Priya Mathur, who has been fined repeatedly for violating state ethics laws.

Jelincic has history as CalPERS maverick

This isn’t the first time Jelincic has tangled with other board members and top CalPERS officials. The Sacramento Bee reported in April on one contretemps, involving limits put on his voting to avoid conflicts of interest because his full-time job is as a CalPERS investment officer.

In 2011, Jelincic was officially reprimanded for alleged sexual harassment of co-workers in CalPERS’ investment office. But he denied the allegations and called the sanctions “politically motivated.”

But Jelincic’s campaign biography and website doesn’t focus on his maverick ways. Instead, they emphasize his history as a union leader, including time as president of the California State Employees Association. Strong union support helped him first win his seat on the CalPERS board in 2009.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

More Corruption and Bribery Uncovered at CA DMV

DMVThe state Department of Motor Vehicles used to be a symbol of bureaucratic inefficiency, the subject of decades of jokes by Jay Leno and other California-based comedians. But then something unexpected happened: The DMV adopted to the computer era better than most state agencies and is often easy to use nowadays, both in scheduling appointments and in handling registration and some license renewals online.

Now, however, the agency is becoming notorious for another problem: chronic corruption. This is from an Aug. 11 AP report:

As many as 100 commercial truck drivers paid up to $5,000 each to bribe state Department of Motor Vehicles employees for illegal California licenses, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Up to 23 traffic accidents could be related to the fraud, officials said, though there were no fatalities.

Emma Klem, a 45-year-old Salinas DMV employee, and trucking school owner Kulwinder Dosanjh Singh, 58, of Turlock, both pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit bribery and identity fraud, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said.

Two other DMV employees in Salinas and Sacramento and two other Central Valley trucking school operators have been arrested on similar charges.

Court records say the employees changed computer records to falsely show that drivers had passed written and behind-the-wheel tests after they were bribed by the owners of three truck-driving schools between June 2011 and March 2015. …

The DMV revoked or cancelled 602 commercial licenses that could be linked to the fraud, including the 100 that were pinpointed by investigators, said Frank Alvarez, the DMV’s chief investigator.

Bribery cases concentrated in San Diego County

This is only one of several recent cases. This is from a June Union-Tribune report:

— A California Highway Patrol officer is the second person to be charged in connection with a DMV bribery scandal.

Carlos Ravelo is accused of illegally transferring a temporary driver’s license to a driver, once in September 2013 and again in January 2014, according to an indictment unsealed in San Diego federal court last month.

Ravelo is a 13-year veteran officer and works at the CHP’s El Cajon station.

In March, a Westminster DMV employee was arrested and charged with two counts related to taking bribes to provide driver’s licenses.

The Los Angeles Times also notes other cases in San Diego County:

In February, a San Diego DMV official pleaded guilty to accepting bribes for setting aside license suspensions and providing unauthorized temporary licenses to drivers who had lost theirs after being arrested on DUI charges.

Last year, five employees of the DMV’s El Cajon and Rancho San Diego offices were convicted in connection with a bribery scam in which licenses were improperly provided to clients of a local driving school.

Low starting pay may be driving scandals

These are in addition to 21 FBI arrests related to bribery at the same two offices in May 2012. This is from the FBI’s press release:

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced today that employees at the California Department of Motor Vehicles in San Diego County were charged in a criminal complaint for their involvement in a long-running bribery conspiracy that resulted in the production of hundreds of fraudulent driver licenses for applicants who had failed — or not taken — the required driver license tests.

The complaint alleges that DMV officials at the El Cajon DMV office … and the Rancho San Diego DMV office … falsely entered both “passing” written and “passing” driving test scores for applicants in exchange for bribes ranging up to $3,000 per license.

In addition to the DMV employees, 16 other defendants were charged in the complaint. … According to court documents, the corruption scheme involved the fraudulent production of both Class C (regular) and Commercial Class A driver licenses. Hundreds of applicants paid recruiters approximately $400- $500 for each fraudulent Class C license … .

Considering that the starting pay of a “business service assistant” at DMV can be as low as $29,940 a year, this may be behind clerks deciding to augment their income illegally.

New Desal Plant in the Works at Camp Pendleton

The dramatic announcement by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month of a 25 percent cut in water use across much of California triggered harsh commentary in the state and across the nation over the lack of preparation by government agencies and water districts for a long-term drought. A typical focus was incredulity over a dry coastal state’s failure to embrace desalination plants, as has been done in Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal nations.

But almost none of the coverage has reflected the fact that formal, official planning has been going on for years for one of the world’s largest desal plants along the coast of the Camp Pendleton Marine base in north San Diego County. Any construction is years off, but necessary preparatory work is well under way.

The image above of a proposed desal plant there comes from a 2010 presentation by the San Diego County Water Authority. It shows how sky-high water planners are on the potential of the 17-mile Camp Pendleton coast. Attention is now focused on a site in the southwest corner of the 125,000-acre base, just north of Oceanside and about 20 miles north of the Carlsbad desalination plant that is scheduled to open in coming months.

The Carlsbad plant will be the biggest in the Western Hemisphere and is expected to produce 50 million gallons of water a day — 7 percent of the San Diego region’s needed supply.

The Camp Pendleton project would be far bigger, with desalination experts saying 150 million gallons of water a day is realistic. That would make it one of the largest desal plants in the world.

A Saudi Arabian desalination plant will produce 264 million gallons a day when its first phase is complete, Bloomberg News reports.

A 2009 San Diego County Water Authority report didn’t take it for granted that the Pendleton project’s supplies are needed. It spoke of only expanding the project to the full 150 million gallons a day “as supply and demand conditions warranted.”

After four years of drought, there’s not much doubt that California needs far more reliable water sources — especially in the San Diego region, given that local water officials have spent 20-plus years fighting with the giant Metropolitan Water District over supply and costs.

The water mega-wholesaler has long opposed San Diego’s efforts to diversify its water supply by partnering with Poseidon, a private company, to build the Carlsbad plant and by striking a deal to shift Colorado River water from agricultural uses in Imperial County to supplies for homes and businesses in San Diego County.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

New bill seeks to terminate CA high school exit exam

Gov. Jerry Brown and state schools chief Tom Torlakson have made plain for years they want no part of the education reform agenda touted by President Obama and think tanks backed by Bill Gates. The state has not pursued federal Race to the Top funds, which were meant to incentivize grant recipients to measure teacher effectiveness. Most school districts effectively ignore the Stull Act — a 1971 state law requiring that student progress be part of teacher performance evaluations — and face no push-back from the governor or Torlakson.

cahsee.testNow the Legislature has taken a first step toward bailing out on another part of the reform agenda: mandatory high school exit exams, which began in California in 2006 and were supposed to ensure a high school degree meant something. On a party-line 6-2 vote, Democrats the Senate Education Committee this week approved a bill by Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that would scrap the state’s high school exit exam beginning with the class of 2017. Liu, a former teacher and teachers union official who represents the Pasadena area, chairs the committee.

Cabinet Report had more on her measure and a big complicating factor: What to do about students who were denied diplomas in the past because they failed a test that the state may abandon:

The legislation … that would suspend the state’s exit exam also calls on education officials to reconsider how students in the state are deemed not only ready to graduate but to lead productive lives afterward.

The question of whether to issue diplomas retroactively did come up when the bill was being drafted, according to a Liu staffer, but the provision was not included in the legislation.

Opponents of handing out diplomas retroactively to thousands of people who failed the test argue that it’s not necessary because there are several opportunities to continue retaking it, even years after graduation, and doing so cheapens the value of the diploma as a gauge for prospective employers.

Others, however, say these one-time exams provide little evidence that the person passing them is academically prepared for college and/or career.

Indeed, despite a 95.5 percent passing rate for California seniors last year, a study by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that over 50 percent of the state’s high school students are in need of remedial work when they arrive at community colleges.

Independent evaluation praised effect of exit exams

However, the Senate bill analysis noted praise of the exit exam and its impact.

According to independent evaluations conducted by the Human Resources Research Organization, California’s high school exit exam has served a valuable purpose by ensuring students demonstrate competency on standards, providing remediation opportunities prior to grade 12, and helping to overall narrow the achievement gap between subgroups. … A very strong relationship was discovered between CAHSEE achievement and college enrollment.

Liu’s measure, Senate Bill 172, will next be reviewed by the Senate Appropriates Committee.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Fracking: California Newspapers Aren’t Telling the Whole Story

Anti-fracking sentiment is growing in California. In November, voters in Mendocino and San Benito Counties voted to ban the energy-extraction process, which involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into rock to release the natural gas trapped inside. In all likelihood, Golden State voters will be asked to consider a statewide fracking ban in November 2016. Not only do California’s environmentalists want to make a statement to the world; they also believe an anti-fracking ballot initiative would help boost turnout among voters sympathetic to liberal causes and politicians. This sentiment—along with sharp criticism by activists of Governor Jerry Brown’s relatively moderate views on hydraulic fracturing in California—led U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in January to call proponents of local fracking bans “know-nothings.”

In an interview with Northern California PBS affiliate KQED, Jewell said the proposed bans on fracking were misguided. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules,” she said. “There are a lot of fears out there in the general public and that manifests itself with local laws or regional laws. … There is a lot of misinformation about fracking. I think that localized efforts or statewide efforts in many cases don’t understand the science behind it and I think there needs to be more science.”

A full-throated defense of fracking’s safety from an Obama administration cabinet official would seem newsworthy. But a Nexis search reveals that the only mention of Jewell’s pro-fracking remarks in a California newspaper came in my own editorial for U-T San Diego. This was no fluke. With the exception of a handful of stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, the state’s largest papers almost never report the administration’s view that—with prudent regulation—fracking can be safe.

At a May 2013 press conference, Jewell discussed new regulations governing fracking on public lands. She delivered her by-now standard endorsement of the practice and criticized misinformation about the energy-extraction technique peddled by environmentalists. “I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop,” she said. “That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy.”

That quotation appeared in the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times omitted Jewell’s quote and chose instead to turn to a spokesman for the Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based trade association, for the pro-fracking view. If a pro-fracking comment appears in a California paper, you can be sure it will be from one of the Golden State media’s favorite bogeyman—either an energy trade association representative or an oil company executive.

Environmental-beat reporters at the L.A. Times, the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury-News, and other large state newspapers have reported on the Obama administration’s other energy policies, including its opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But even as the president campaigned for reelection in 2012 with boasts about all the natural gas and oil produced by fracking during his first term, these reporters have somehow decided his views aren’t worth sharing with their readers.

In 1980, Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss published a thriller about a Soviet plot to subvert the United States called The Spike. It was inspired by de Borchgrave’s years as a journalist and his belief that stories that didn’t reflect news organizations’ liberal political views often got “spiked” (pulled from publication)—even really juicy and provocative stories.

It’s almost impossible to look at California newspapers’ coverage of fracking and not see it as “The Green Spike.” The narrative that the greenest president in history thinks fracking is safe doesn’t fit with the narrative that fracking is dangerous. So in newsrooms across the Golden State, the real views of this president and his administration are considered irrelevant—even as his interior secretary throws down the gauntlet with California’s greens.

UC budget Fight: Brown Playing 3D Chess, Napolitano Playing Tic-Tac-Toe

Gov. Jerry Brown has upped the stakes in his fight with University of California President Janet Napolitano over who is ultimately in charge of UC budget and tuition decisions.

Napolitano’s success last fall in getting UC regents to approve a five-year, 28 percent tuition hike conditioned on how much state funding UC receives is what triggered the fight.

In his newly released state budget, the governor not only ignored her call for more funding, he indicated a preparedness to micromanage UC over whom it admits. The Los Angeles Times’ George Skelton depicted Brown as having …

… essentially stiffed UC President Janet Napolitano and the regents, who have threatened to raise tuition again unless the state chips in substantially more money.

Brown re-offered only last year’s deal: a 4% increase, or about $120 million, if the university keeps tuition flat. UC previously said that wasn’t enough. “The $120 million is not chump change,” the governor insisted.

And he threw in a new condition: No additional out-of-state students, who pay triple tuition, crowding out California kids. UC was “created by the people of California … for the citizens of the state,” he declared.

The populist quality of his admissions maneuver will serve Brown well politically — even if it goes against his normal posture of budget pragmatism. Out-of-state students pay so much in tuition that they shore up financing for UC and relieve pressure on the state budget.

Brown, Legislature > Napolitano, regents

But the insiders and UC watchers I have spoken with think the governor is playing three-dimensional chess and Napolitano is playing tic-tac-toe.

Brown and the Legislature want to get credit for tuition relief for the middle class. Napolitano wants to have a bigger budget but has yet to convince the public or the media that UC is in dire straits.

The governor just won a landslide re-election by making the case he is a careful fiscal steward of the state. Napolitano has no political base in California after years as governor and attorney general of Arizona and homeland security czar for the Obama administration.

Given these facts and circumstances, it’s difficult to see how Brown can lose this fight. The more interesting question is whether Brown will allow the UC president to save face by making some concessions. To this point, he’s not just content to accept the narrative of her as an adversary, he’s actively encouraging it.

Skelton thinks this may be the end game:

Brown wants to negotiate with Napolitano over university cost-cutting, which could include professors spending more time teaching and less researching.

But that would only be a further humiliation for Napolitano, who has repeatedly declared her intention to keep the UC system as one of the world’s great centers of research.

If Napolitano went along, it would also likely trigger a sharp reaction from the UC Faculty Senate.

The former Arizona gov may already regret challenging the current California gov so directly.

– See more at: http://calwatchdog.com/2015/01/18/brown-ready-to-micromanage-uc-wont-defer-to-napolitano/#sthash.uk90kixi.dpuf