Why Is Public Employee Disability Claim Data Being Kept Secret?

TransparencyIn the preamble to California’s Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s 1953 law governing the public’s access to government meetings, the Legislature noted, “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” Likewise, the people “do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.” The public insists “on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

The same noble sentiment forms the foundation of California’s public-records laws, which govern the release of government documents. Yet a new lawsuit alleges that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which operates the largest state pension fund in the country, has been withholding some information that’s necessary to help the public to oversee the system and protect it from waste, fraud and abuse. It deals with disability benefits paid to pensioners.

Specifically, the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which cofounded with California Policy Center Transparent California (the website that publicizes the pay and benefit packages received by California employees), argues that CalPERS has denied its “request for records which would document the type (service, disability or industrial disability) of benefit received,” despite many requests. This information is so important because of the many news reports about the questionable workers’ compensation claims, the lawsuit argues. CalPERS itself recognizes the problem—”it has established a disability fraud tip hotline where it encourages the public to call in and report cases of suspected disability fraud.”

If CalPERS expects the public to help root out bogus disability claims by public employees, then why shouldn’t it provide the public with information that helps it do so? The research institute is merely seeking a one-word designation of the type of pensions that California retirees are receiving. Such information has not been specifically exempted from the California Public Records Act. Anything not exempted is, according to the lawsuit, fair game for public disclosure.

“CalPERS’ claimed sensitivity of information pertaining to the benefit ‘type’ (disability or service) is untenable because hearings related to appeals of denial of disability pensions are public hearings and recorded for broadcast,” according to NPRI’s court filings. Furthermore, the lawsuit argues that CalPERS “has consistently indicated” that it would not release that information. The lawsuit includes correspondence between NPRI and CalPERS backing that claim. CalPERS has yet to respond to the lawsuit and has declined comment to the media, but it has indicated that it believes such information to be an invasion of the recipient’s privacy. …

Click here to read the full article from Reason.com

Governor Moonbeam: California to launch its ‘own damn satellite’

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27: California Governor Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California. Gov. Brown proposed 12 major reforms for state and local pension systems that he claims would end abuses and reduce taypayer costs by billions of dollars. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

He’s mostly shed the “Governor Moonbeam” nickname, but Gov. Jerry Brown pointed California toward the stars as he closed out a global climate change summit here Friday.

“We’re going to launch our own satellite — our own damn satellite to figure out where the pollution is and how we’re going to end it,” Brown told an international audience on the final day of the San Francisco gathering.

California will work with San Francisco-based Planet Labs to launch a satellite capable of tracking climate-altering emissions, Brown said. The effort will lean on the expertise of the state’s Air Resources Board, which has taken the forefront in pursuing climate-related innovations.

The governor’s choice of words in making the announcement deliberately echoed his late 2016 challenge to Donald Trump, amid rumors that the incoming administration would undercut NASA’s climate research role.

“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” Brown said at the time, after musing on his celestial history: “I remember back in 1978 I proposed a Landsat satellite for California. They called me ‘Governor Moonbeam’ because of that,” he said. …

Click here to read the full article from Politico

California’s poverty rate is still the highest in the nation

PovertyNewly released federal estimates show California’s poverty rate remained the highest in the nation, despite a modest fall, and the state’s falling uninsured rate slowed for the first time since before Medicaid expansion.

According to the Census Bureau, the share of Californians in poverty fell to 19 percent — a 1.4 percent decrease from last year. However, policy experts warned that in spite of the good news more than 7 million people still struggle to get by in the state.

The poverty figures released Wednesday are said to paint the best picture of life for California’s working poor since it encompasses income from government programs and factors in the high cost of living in some corners of the state.

Although California has a vigorous economy and a number of safety net programs to aid needy residents, it’s often not enough to forestall economic hardship for one out of every five residents, the data show. …

Click here to read the full article from the Merced Sun Star

UC Berkeley professor blames rent control for California’s housing crisis

UC BerkeleyKenneth Rosen, a UC Berkeley economist and real estate consultant, published a paper Wednesday titled The Case For Preserving Costa Hawkins, in hopes of swaying voters against Proposition 10.

Proposition 10, which will go before voters in November, would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law that severely curtails rent control in California cities. For example, under Costa-Hawkins, only San Francisco apartments built before 1979 may be subject to rent control.

Passing Proposition 10 would not in and of itself create any new rent control housing, but it would allow cities to expand rent control stock for the first time in decades if they so choose.

Rosen, however, argues that turning the clock back to 1994 will stifle new housing and drain apartment stock. …

Click here to read the full article from SF Curbed

California’s Illegal Weed Industry Is Doing Better Than Ever

Marijuana smokingIt was 2004 when William P. first got into the weed game. He was 18 years old and spent much of his life on the road, traveling between Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego to deliver chocolate edibles and sell weed. In the 14 subsequent years, he tried his hand at nearly every aspect of the cannabis supply chain, from starting a delivery service to hauling pounds of weed from the Emerald Triangle—Northern California’s famed farming epicenter—to dispensaries and buyers across Southern California.

“It’s an adrenaline rush that you cannot describe,” William told me. “That becomes a drug. And the money is good too.”

His plan was to secure a license and join California’s newly created legal market this year but “money talks,” as William said, and instead he ended up working with a illicit medical marijuana collective that funneled weed out of state, tapping into that “OT” or out-of-town money, as he calls it.

William, who operated largely out of Southern California, is just one small part of California’s booming illegal market. Even though recreational (or “adult-use”) marijuana has been legal in the Golden State since January 1, the cannabis industry is still functioning largely as it has for for decades—in the shadows. …

Click here to read the full article from Vice

Oroville Dam repair costs soar past $1 billion

Oroville Dam 2Fixing the Oroville Dam spillway wrecked by storms in 2017 will cost $1.1 billion — a $455-million hike from initial estimates — the state Department of Water Resources announced Wednesday.

The swelling cost can be blamed on design changes that have been made over the last 16 months and damage to the facility near Oroville, Calif., that was far more extensive than initially presumed, the department said.

The Department of Water Resources designed the repairs and issued a contract to Kiewit Corp. in April 2017 based on an estimate that the company could perform the work for $275 million. But the cost of that portion of the project has shot up to $630 million. In addition, the department’s internal costs have grown by $100 million, reaching $310 million. The agency also paid $160 million in emergency response costs, including removing sediment and installing temporary power lines.

In total, the cost of getting the spillway repaired and upgraded has gone up by about $1 million every day since April 2017. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

San Francisco Bans Plastic Straws While Hypodermic Needle Caps Litter Its Streets

San Francisco’s streets are reportedly littered with plastic hypodermic needle caps from the free syringes provided by the city as officials ban the use of plastic straws.

City leaders approved a ban on plastic straws and stirrers in July in the hopes the plastic would not pollute the San Francisco Bay, but tiny plastic caps from hypodermic needles have been causing pollution on land.

The Washington Post reported Monday that many of the orange plastic caps from the needles the city provides to drug users to prevent the spread of disease have wound up on city streets and sidewalks.

“Napkins, straws, and bags are available upon request,” one local sandwich shop, the Sentinel, notes on its menu. “You can still get needles for free though. Welcome to SF.”

The city gives out, on average, 400,000 syringes per month to drug users but does not control how used needles are disposed of. At least 154,000 of those needles have ended up on playgrounds, parks, streets, and sidewalks, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The used needles and other waste products scattered across the city streets without being disposed of properly have taken a toll on the city’s cleanliness.

An investigative report revealed in February that San Francisco — one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. to live in — was on track to become one of the dirtiest cities in the world on par with some third-world countries.

The problem had become so severe that a major medical association decided in July to back out of holding its annual 15,000-plus member convention in the city.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

California Burning Through Billions in Taxpayer Dollars for the ‘Bullet’ Train

High Speed RailCalifornia’s biggest boondoggle just broke the bank.

Not only is the massive high-speed rail project 11 years behind schedule and billions in the red, but managers are also now saying they will need to ramp up spending to hit a 2033 deadline.

California’s money pit cost taxpayers $3.1 million a day last year.

But that’s small potatoes compared to what they’ll have to shell out over the next four if they want to meet their deadline and budget, estimated most recently at $100 billion in a report last month by The New York Times.

The California High Speed Rail Authority will have to increase its daily spending by nine times.

“It’s a very aggressive spending rate,” Russell Fong, the authority’s chief financial officer told the Los Angeles Times, admitting that future goals may be difficult to achieve. …

Click here to read the full article from True Pundit

How Riverside plans to use interns to help the homeless

sanfranciscohomelessPeople without a place to live or on the brink of homelessness often sleep blocks from churches and government agencies trying to lift people out of homelessness.

Meanwhile, local universities have students training to address homelessness, who sometimes travel to other counties or continents to help. The social work internship program approved by the Riverside City Council on Aug. 14 aims to connect those needs with those seeking to help.

La Sierra, California Baptist University and Loma Linda University will send 13 interns to six faith-based nonprofit organizations in Riverside starting this year. The interns will also be tasked with finding grant money to continue the program in future years and with compiling data on the program’s effectiveness.

“We have congregations with very loving people who simply need some structure for how to serve the community, and this is a way to provide that structure,” said Daphne Thomas, an associate professor of social work at La Sierra University and field director of the Riverside school’s internship program. “We’re simply putting it together.”

After a one-year pilot, the program is expected to expand to other sites, including religions other than Christianity and interns from professions other than social work, said Luke Villalobos of Mayor Rusty Bailey’s office, which is supervising the program along with Path of Life Ministries. …

Click here to read the full article from the Riverside Press-Enterprise 

California has largest immigration court backlog

Christmas_Island_Immigration_Detention_Centre_(5424306236)California has the largest immigration court backlog, but the number of pending cases is growing more rapidly in other states, according to a new report.

Average wait times for hearings are also lengthening, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University, an organization that analyzes data from immigration courts.

Regardless of political stance on immigration, most involved in the system agree that, for years, there haven’t been enough immigration judges for the volume of cases coming in. While the Trump administration has hired more judges, the backlog continues to grow.

Nationwide, the backlog grew to 746,049 cases through the end of July, according to TRAC. About 80 percent of those cases are in 10 states — California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia. (Immigration courts are present in 31 states or territories.)

California has the largest backlog at 140,676 cases as of the end of July. Maryland has the fastest growing backlog, at 33,384, which is almost double the number of cases in the state at the beginning of fiscal 2017. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Diego Union-Tribune