Hrabe Exclusive: Fresno spends $232,000 in taxpayer funds on water rate lawsuits

The city of Fresno government tried to raise water rates by $48 per month. The people of Fresno did not like that, so they created a petition to repeal the water rate increase, at the ballot box. Then the city sued trying to stop the petition. The good news is that the courts will allow the vote of the people. The bad news is that the city sued, lost and so far has paid $232,000 fighting the people of the city. Crazy huh. When money is in such short supply, using tax dollars to stop the citizens from voting on city policy, well that is why few have any trust or respect for government.

Would you trust a government that sues families and businesses?

““We support the water-rate increases; they are vital to the city’s future,” the Fresno Bee editorialized last November. “But with these stalling and blocking tactics, Swearengin sends a message that she doesn’t trust Fresno voters to do what’s best for the city.”

judge justice court

Exclusive: Fresno spends $232,000 in taxpayer funds on water rate lawsuits

By John Hrabe, CalNewsroom, 5/21/14

Nearly a quarter million dollars in taxpayer funds has been spent by the City of Fresno in its ongoing lawsuits to keep a water rate referendum off the ballot, a CalNewsroom.com investigation has revealed.

As of May 6, the city has spent $232,254.28 to sue a group of taxpayers that are trying to overturn controversial water rate hikes approved by the city council last year. The figure was obtained through a public records request filed by CalNewsroom.com for all city funds expended to date in Doug Vagim v. City of Fresno and City of Fresno v. Doug Vagim.

Opponents of the water rate increases, who were sued by the city, said that the city’s actions have been “a reckless waste of public funds.”

“Challenging the constitutional rights of the citizen-electorate of Fresno has proven to be a reckless waste of public funds,” said former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim, who is leading the water rate referendum. “When you add our legal fees, the cost to city taxpayers will now be over a third of a million dollars.”

A spokesman for the city did not respond to a request for comment about the litigation costs, which have already increased since the public records request was submitted.

On May 6, the date of the public records request, the city filed a petition for writ of mandate in the 5th District Court of Appeals that sought to set aside a previous trial court order. This week, the appeals court dismissed that petition without prejudice. If the city chooses to pursue another writ of mandate, it would add to the city’s litigation costs.

City denied petition, then sued taxpayers

The battle over Fresno’s water rates began last August, when the city approved a plan supported by Mayor Ashley Swearengin to increase the average water bill to $48 per month. The city says that the additional revenue is needed for a $410 million upgrade to the city’s aging water system. But, some residents of the city and unincorporated parts of Fresno County balked at the prospect of higher water bills, which are expected to double by 2016.

When taxpayers attempted to circulate a petition to overturn the plan, the City of Fresno denied the taxpayers a title and summary for their referendum. Then, the city sued the taxpayers to prevent their initiative from entering circulation. The move appeared to be a direct violation of the California Constitution. Section 3 of Article 13C states that “the initiative power shall not be prohibited or otherwise limited in matters of reducing or repealing any local tax, assessment, fee or charge.”

Even supporters of the water rate hikes have grown disgusted with the city’s hard-ball tactics.

“We support the water-rate increases; they are vital to the city’s future,” the Fresno Bee editorialized last November. “But with these stalling and blocking tactics, Swearengin sends a message that she doesn’t trust Fresno voters to do what’s best for the city.”

The city says that the lawsuits were necessary in order to fulfill its obligation to deliver an essential public service to residents.

“State law is very clear that a ballot initiative is illegal if it deprives a public entity of the ability to supply an essential public service,” City Attorney Doug Sloan said in a statement to CalNewsroom.com earlier this month.

11 judges disagee with city

Yet, 11 judges have disagreed with the city’s arguments in the case. Most recently, the California Supreme Court denied the city’s petition for review of a 5th District Court of Appeals ruling, which held that the city has a legal obligation to issue a petition title and summary.

“The result is disappointing, but asking for a Supreme Court review is always a long shot,” Sloan said of the city’s loss at the state Supreme Court. “The real question that needs to be answered concerns the legality of this initiative, and we are now seeking that answer from the appellate Courts. The citizens of Fresno and public entities throughout the State deserve an answer to that question.”

The potential for further reviews and more litigation disappoints Vagim, who wishes city officials would allow the measure to reach the November 2014 ballot.

“I don’t know if they’ll pursue further reviews and even new lawsuits,” he said. “If they do, it illustrates just how irresponsible the City Council majority, Mayor and City Attorney have been — their protracted acts of hubris are an insult to the citizens of Fresno.””

For years, local government agencies have routinely cited attorney-client privilege as a basis for withholding the cost of ongoing litigation. In 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled that legal fees can be disclosed “when a public records request is made during active litigation.”

 

Caldwell: Spend $175,000 of Your Money to Save the County $15,000?

Government loves to save money, no matter how much it costs to save. Sometimes saved money costs jobs. Other times, the money saved stretches common sense. In this case, Santa Barbara County is going to save $15,000 at the cost of $175,000 (not a typo). My good friend radio talk show host Andy Caldwell has dug up the information. While this is about a single County, my guess is that every county has a program or project just like this. The politicians promote the $15,000 saved, without noting the cost of $175,000. Plus the other costs they do not tell us about!

There are several significant questions that need to be asked. For instance, we should know how much the equipment retails for and if the project was paid for by a grant, why does the company retain ownership? Why doesn’t the grantors keep ownership? If the taxpayers are paying for this why are we giving away the rights to it?

Sounds like this green company is milking the taxpayers and for how much?

We should be told how much the energy “savings” cost per kilowatts compared with other energy sources? We know the cost of solar is several times the cost of oil or gas. Add the extra energy costs to the “grant” as the total cost to the taxpayers. Lots of questions and very few answers. The first one I would ask is a simple one—how much is this really costing us and what are we not doing to pay for this money losing boondoggle.

The grant is being given by the California Energy Commission. This means all the taxpayers of California are being fleeced by the government of Santa Barbara County.

Photo courtesy of lydiashiningbrightly, flickr

Photo courtesy of lydiashiningbrightly, flickr

Spend $175,000 of Your Money to Save the County $15,000?

Andy Caldwell, Santa Barbara News Press, 5/21/14

If you have ever wanted to become an expert on crony capitalism have a seat.  Our lesson today has to do with our nation’s new green economy.  In this economic system, anything that seems good for the environment is deemed to be worth the cost especially when we can hide the costs from the average consumer.

To begin our lesson, let me describe a recently approved county project involving the execution of a contract with Green Charge Networks (GCN) to install a 30KW energy storage system and Level 3 Fast Charging Electric Vehicle Charging Station at the Santa Barbara County Administration Building.

According to the staff report, data analysis suggests energy costs will be reduced via the installation of this energy storage system.  Under the terms of the agreement, GCN will provide, install, and retain ownership of the entire system and be responsible for all operations and maintenance, at no cost to Santa Barbara County.  The county’s responsibility is to provide GCN with access to the sight to install and maintain the energy storage system and EV charging station.  When the agreement’s five-year term expires, the county will have the option of either renewing the agreement, purchasing the equipment at its depreciated value, or requiring GCN to remove the equipment at no cost to the county.

The system is expected to reduce the Santa Barbara County Administration Building’s energy costs through a reduction in utility demand charges.  The project is entirely funded by a grant GCN will receive from the California Energy Commission.  The combined value of the equipment and installation is approximately $175,000.  The system is expected to generate $6,600 in savings per year with potential increases in savings as energy prices continue to escalate.  The county will share half of the savings generated by the system.  As for the fast charging EV station, the fees will be set and collected by CGN, with the county being reimbursed for the electricity utilized for vehicle charging.

The most important part of this narrative?  The fact that the entire project is funded by a grant from the California Energy Commission.  What that means is that California rate payers are ultimately paying for this project- that means you!  In other words, there is no such thing as a free lunch or a free watt!  Otherwise, how do you account for the incentive to make a $175,000 investment with a return of only $33,000 that must be split?  The equipment would have to last nearly 30 years in order to break even!  I can guarantee you the technology will be outdated by then!

The rest of the story?  The reason our electricity costs are rising is due to the fact that we are not utilizing traditional energy sources that would otherwise keep our costs down.  In fact, the opposite is true.  California, by virtue of AB32 is eliminating our energy options.  Moreover, we are not only financing projects like this via 100% subsidy, but in effect, projects like these are actually being mandated at a loss to consumers!

Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and the host of the Andy Caldwell Show weekdays from 3-5 pm on News Press Radio AM1290 and AM1440.

 

North Carolina restaurant BEGS to be robbed at gunpoint—other restaurants safe

My good friend former State Senator Bill Richardson promised he would give anyone that wanted a free sign for their door or front window. The sign would say,” NO GUNS IN THIS HOUSE”. His theory was let criminals hit an easy target, the defenseless, who are proud of being defenseless. Criminals are not totally dumb. Why go into a house that might have weapons when you can go into a house knowing there are no weapons?

The same goes for businesses like restaurants.   In Killeen, Texas years ago a woman with a gun stopped a mass killing by shooting a gunman. In North Carolina a business put in their front window a sing, “NO GUNS ALLOWED”. They got robbed at gunpoint by three criminals with no worries.

“If somebody is going to rob or shoot up a Chipotle, for instance, they’re not going to care that they cannot (or have been politely asked not to) bring a gun onto the premises. Criminals are not going to submit to background checks. They’ll use straw purchases or just buy a gun from an illegal source. All these policies and laws do is make it harder for legal gun owners to protect themselves.”

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19562116

NC Restaurant With “No Weapons” Sign Robbed at Gunpoint

Christine Rousselle, Townhall, 5/21/14

North Carolina restaurant The Pit was robbed at gunpoint on Sunday. Normally, local crime stories like this wouldn’t merit a Townhall post, but this one is different: The Pit has a “no weapons” sign displayed prominently on its door declaring the restaurant a gun-free zone, and bans patrons from carrying concealed weapons.

Authorities said just before 9 p.m. Sunday, three men wearing hoodies entered the restaurant through the back doors with pistols, and forced several staff members to lie on the floor.

The bandits assaulted two employees during the crime, but they were not seriously injured.

What groups like Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America seem to have an issue grasping is that criminals have no respect for the law by nature of being criminals. Criminals aren’t going to be stopped by a “no guns allowed” sign. If somebody is going to rob or shoot up a Chipotle, for instance, they’re not going to care that they cannot (or have been politely asked not to) bring a gun onto the premises. Criminals are not going to submit to background checks. They’ll use straw purchases or just buy a gun from an illegal source. All these policies and laws do is make it harder for legal gun owners to protect themselves.

While I am thankful nobody was hurt, this certainly harms the narrative that “gun free” places are safe places.

 

Medical Marijuana: Rules are still not in place

For many years I had a great friend, Wendall Cutting.   He was the president of CRA (I ran his campaign) a conservative activist, the youngest Mayor of Hemet or San Jacinto and long time aide to Congressman Duncan Hunter. Sadly, cancer over took him and he was hospitalized and forced to leave his job. Shortly before his passing I took him to lunch in the San Diego area. During the meal we discussed his situation, his feelings and needs.

I was surprised when he told me (this was before the legalization of medicinal marijuana) that his doctor got him marijuana to take care of the pain and other problems. Wendall put a human face on this issue. Now cities are deciding how to implement the law—and most want few dispensaries and hidden away, hard to find. Certainly they want it away from children. This is a difficult issue for any of us. What do you think? The law was passed by the people eighteen years ago, and still few rules are in place.

“In Orange County, for instance, the availability of reliable dispensaries has put renewed pressure on lawmakers and voters. In the wake of high-profile pot raids four years ago, the Orange County Cannabis Alliance nearly collected enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would have legalized nonprofit collectives in the city of Costa Mesa.”

Cannabis marijuana weed pot

LA pot politics spreads statewide
By James Poulos, Calwatchdog, 5/21/14

Thanks to Los Angeles, the politics of marijuana is lighting up in California this election season.

Not only are L.A. laws, attitudes and consumption habits influencing neighboring counties, they’re impacting the statewide debate.

The situation is that Proposition 215, which voters approved in 1996, legalized medical marijuana, but left regulation largely up to counties, not the state.

In Orange County, for instance, the availability of reliable dispensaries has put renewed pressure on lawmakers and voters. In the wake of high-profile pot raids four years ago, the Orange County Cannabis Alliance nearly collected enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would have legalized nonprofit collectives in the city of Costa Mesa.

Although that effort fell short, medical marijuana activists are at it again this year, holding up Los Angeles as both an example and an inconvenience. One medical marijuana patient, profiled by the Orange County Register, complained that he couldn’t trust Orange County’s “unlicensed and unregulated storefronts,” so he journeys regularly to downtown L.A. instead.

He and others are pushing for a new Costa Mesa initiative through Americans for Safe Access, a medical pot organization. Their proposed Act to Restrict and Regulate the Operation of Medical Marijuana Businesses is billed as a “conservative” approach, the Register reports. According to proponents, it’s respectful of pot’s medicinal value without condoning a culture of recreational use.

Recovery

Medical pot success stories are gaining exposure on the local news. ABC 7, for instance, recently interviewed a single Orange County mom who attributes her son’s recovery from near death to medical marijuana.

Credentialed experts are using such claims to challenge strict federal drug laws. ABC 7 spoke with Dr. Daniele Piomelli, a professor of Neurobiology, Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry at U.C. Irvine. “We are subjected to a control that is, quite frankly, a little ridiculous,” she said. “If I want to buy marijuana, I can go to the corner and buy it.” Reducing bureaucracy, she claimed, “would accelerate the work” of cannabis research, delivering “effective” medication “much more quickly.”

On the other hand, legal crackdowns continue. O.C. sheriffs recently busted Jason Andrews, one of the county’s best-known pot activists and cultivators. Still, area pot entrepreneurs have wasted no time in forging ahead while Southern California lawmakers navigate the costs and benefits of regulatory change.

Legally and culturally, Los Angeles has set the tone for those changes. That’s especially true as elections approach. For instance, the contending candidates for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, V. Manuel Perez and incumbent Supervisor John Benoit, both favor a relatively cautious, incremental approach, driven by the uncertainty of California law and the ongoing experiments with legalization and enforcement playing out in LA.

Challenging Sacramento

But L.A. is influential at the state level as well. Northern California politicians, including Democrats, often take a tougher approach than the one unfolding in the southland. Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, put forward Assembly Bill 2500, which would effectively make all marijuana smokers guilty of driving under the influence.

That bill failed to advance through committee. Nevertheless, statewide pot policy is up for debate as candidates look for an edge in the race for attorney general. Incumbent Kamala Harris has the benefit of millions in funding and strong name recognition. Although a liberal Democrat, she has worked over the course of her term to crack down on pot growers.

The L.A.-area hopefuls seeking to unseat her take a different view. Not surprisingly, the Libertarian candidate, attorney Jonathan Jeach, advocates the full legalization of marijuana and hemp products alike. But Republican Ronald Gold of Woodland Hills supports decriminalization as well.

Although Harris pleased pot advocates with a relatively favorable writeup of one of the state’s legalization schemes, that initiative failed to gather enough signatures to make this year’s ballot.

Marijuana laws and enforcement are in flux across the United States, with pro-pot states like Colorado and Washington running up against national restrictions (including federal water use). That gives California pot advocates a gray area to work with — risky business, but advantageous to those seeking to build on the momentum created so far in the Los Angeles area.

 

Democrat Senator Lara: cost of FREE Health Care for Illegal aliens “Only” $350 Million

We all know that the cost of a project or government program is always more than advertised at the start. We also know that if you give something away for free, more will want it. Give illegal aliens here already free health care, that becomes a magnet for those not here who need an operation, treatment and medical care a good reason to sneak into our nation (which thanks to Obama we have open borders, not much sneaking needed).

Medi-Cal is causing long waits now, imagine opening the doors to millions crossing our borders illegally will do. Democrats love welfare for Americans, now that want the world to come to our shores for free health care, free education, welfare, housing vouchers and jobs. Senator Lara is looking out for the welfare of foreigners—not even Americans.

“The bill would also create a health insurance marketplace, where those without papers who earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal could buy private coverage with the help of a subsidy from the state.  Wednesday’s projections did not include cost estimates for that portion of the bill, although an analysis by the state senate appropriations committee pegs that cost at $20 million to $40 million a year.

Expanding Medi-Cal would cost between $353 and $369 million next year, representing a roughly two percent increase in state spending on Medi-Cal, according to the projection. The cost would increase to between $424 and $436 million by 2019, it said.”

janet napolitano immigration

Lara estimates cost of expanding Medi-Cal to unauthorized immigrants would top $350M

Adrian Florido, KPCC, 5/21/14

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) introducing SB 1005 at a news conference outside Clinica Oscar Romero in Boyle Heights in February.

Democratic State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) Wednesday estimated that it would cost more than $350 million next year to implement his legislation that would expand Medi-Cal coverage to people in the US illegally. The cost would rise to more than $420 million by 2019, according to Lara’s estimate.

Lara’s bill, SB 1005, has been working its way through the state legislature since February. Wednesday’s cost projection did not include a plan for how the state would pay to expand Medi-Cal to those without legal status.

The bill would also create a health insurance marketplace, where those without papers who earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal could buy private coverage with the help of a subsidy from the state.  Wednesday’s projections did not include cost estimates for that portion of the bill, although an analysis by the state senate appropriations committee pegs that cost at $20 million to $40 million a year.

Expanding Medi-Cal would cost between $353 and $369 million next year, representing a roughly two percent increase in state spending on Medi-Cal, according to the projection. The cost would increase to between $424 and $436 million by 2019, it said.

The cost estimate, compiled by researchers at UCLA and UC Berkeley, assumes that roughly half of an estimated 1.4 to 1.5 million Medi-Cal-eligible uninsured people who lack legal status would actually sign up within five years.

The UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers estimated that Lara’s bill would add between 690,000 and 730,000 people to the Medi-Cal rolls in 2015, growing to an increase of between 750,000 and 790,000 in 2019. That would reduce the total number of uninsured in California by about one quarter, according to the estimate.

“You’re probably increasing the number of people on Medi-Cal by seven percent, but you’re only increasing the budget outlay by two percent,” said UCLA professor Dylan Roby, who worked on the cost estimate. He said that’s because immigrants living in the country illegally tend to be younger and healthier than the general population, making them less expensive to insure.

“So from a state perspective, seems like a pretty good return on investment,” Roby said. The estimate takes into account increased sales tax revenue from the managed care organizations expected to insure the immigrants, and savings from reduced county spending on providing emergency room care to the uninsured.

RELATED: Sen. Lara introduces SB 1005 in February 2014

A spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Brea) said he would have no comment on the bill. State Sen. Mike Morrell (R-Redlands), a member of the senate health committee, was not immediately available for comment.

Senate Bill 1005, also known as the Health For All Act, is Lara’s effort to provide coverage for the last large remaining group of uninsured residents of California. Immigrants without legal status are ineligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

The question of how to pay for the bill looms large in the debate over its fate.

“That’s been one of the challenges and things we keep hearing from legislators: ‘Well, how do we pay for the costs?'” said Jeff Brewer, policy specialist at the California Partnership, a nonprofit advocating for Lara’s bill. “Whether it’s a lot or a little, we still want to identify how.”

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has not revealed how he will ultimately vote on the bill. Budget considerations will be key in determining Steinberg’s stance, said spokesman Mark Hedlund.

“He’s supportive of the policy but recognizes a significant cost, and is weighing it from a fiscal perspective in light of other budget priorities this year,” spokesman Mark Hedlund said.

On Friday, Lara’s bill faces a key vote in the senate appropriations committee.

If the bill clears the appropriations committee, it will move to the Senate floor.

A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown would not comment on Brown’s stance on the bill, because it is still pending.

More than 100 organizations, including nonprofit health advocates, unions, and the city of Los Angeles, have endorsed the bill. Only one group, Californians for Population Stabilization, has registered opposition.

 

CA Insurer for MediCaid Goes Under—State Takes Over—More to Come?

By the end of next year, if Guv Brown is right (he does get very confused about facts and numbers) there will be eleven million people in California getting free MediCaid coverage—not health care, because few doctors and hospitals will accept these patients. The cost to the taxpayers is going to be an extra $1.2 billion in the 2014-15 fiscal year. It is breaking the bank. It is also the cause of an insurance company being taken over by the State government.

Is this the start of the end for private profit and non-profit insurers? Can they afford lengthy waits for service, fewer and fewer providers and long reimbursement periods? Government is squeezing these firms out of business.

“But the financial problems of the Alameda Alliance are a “calamity” and a “debacle” for its mostly low-income enrollees, the state Department of Managed Care said in court papers this month after naming a conservator to oversee the nonprofit public health care provider. The health plan and its prominent East Bay backers are fighting to return it to local control, accusing a state consultant of an “irreconcilable conflict of interest” and asking for more time to sort out a backlog of unpaid medical claims.”

Healthcare costs

State seizes failing Alameda County health insurance provider

By Matt O’Brien and Rebecca Parr, Bay Area News Group, 5/20/14

TO SEE COMPLETE STORY CLICK ON HEADLINE

“The crisis is not simply a matter of bookkeeping woes,” said a court memo by Carol Ventura, deputy director of the state Department of Managed Care, which regulates health plans. Ventura wrote that the Alameda-based insurer could also be committing “serious violations” of state law by not promptly paying back some 280,000 backlogged claims.

The state earlier this month named J. Mark Abernathy as a temporary conservator. Abernathy works for Emeryville-based Berkeley Research Group, the same consultant that had been monitoring Alameda Alliance’s finances since November.

“A conservatorship is absolutely the last step, but we need to make sure the enrollees continue to receive quality care,” said Marta Green, spokeswoman for the state agency. “Their care will not be interrupted while the conservator brings Alliance into a solid financial condition.”

 

Government Transportation—Union Controlled/Taxpayer Funded

If you live in the San Fran area you know that getting to work on time depends on an alarm clock that works and a union that allows the trains to run. Your schedule is at the hands of special interests. Yes, if you drive to work the roads could be crowded or there could be an accident. Seriously, why trust your life to unions? Do you?

Now the people of Los Angeles already burdened by high taxes, corrupt government and radical ideology, have to look at the main roads being torn up—and children in a High School threatened by a train under the school—in earthquake country. Is this child abuse by government? Some think so.

“The money will help build four miles of new track, which is projected to be completed in nine years.

After that, Metro wants the Purple Line to go under Beverly Hills and end on the west side of Los Angeles.”

Photo courtesy of skew-t, flickr

Photo courtesy of skew-t, flickr

Los Angeles’s Purple Line getting $2.1 billion federal promise

KPCC, 5/20/14

Los Angeles’ growing public transit network is receiving another big dose of cash from the federal government.

The office of Sen. Barbara Boxer says that on Wednesday, federal and local transportation officials will sign a $1.25 billion grant for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to extend the Purple Line into Beverly Hills. The project also will receive a $856 million federal loan.

The money will help build four miles of new track, which is projected to be completed in nine years.

After that, Metro wants the Purple Line to go under Beverly Hills and end on the west side of Los Angeles.

Opponents of the extension have sued, saying the tracks should not go under Beverly Hills High School.

 

Sand: Brown v. Board of Education ENDS Race Based Education

The law is a real problem for the bigots that support discrimination, affirmative action and quotas for government education. The Left, ACLU, NAACP, La Raza and other racial based organizations believe that people of color need extra money in the classroom, to make them smart. They show little interest in curriculum unless it denigrates people of one race to promote the superiority of other people, based on race. That is called racism.

“And the privatization shibboleth really needs to be put to rest. Private schools generally do a better job than public schools (at lower cost, I might add), but it is rarely reported that privatization also leads to less racial segregation, not more, as the unions claim. Just a year ago, Greg Forster, of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. The findings about segregation from “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” are not ambiguous.

Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.”

teacher-apple

The Teachers Unions’ “Brown” Problem

By Larry Sand, Union Watch, 5/20/14

When it comes to education and civil rights, NEA and AFT are part of the problem; the solution is choice.

Last Saturday was the 60th anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education decision, which outlawed state-sponsored segregation in schools. Never missing an opportunity to grandstand, the teachers unions groused all last week about various obstacles still facing low-income students of color. Their whine included inadequate school funding, the usual dumping on charter schools and blaming ALEC for various social ills. Amazingly, the Koch Brothers got the week off. 

Kicking off the festivities on May 13th, a union front group calling itself the “Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools” organized a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court. The speakers trotted out the bogeymen du jour – high-stakes testing, school closures, corporate and private involvement in education, etc. National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel complained that “there are several inequalities that still exist in both educational programs and in school facilities.” And American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten, going for the lachrymose, snatched a couple of human shields – I mean young children – from the crowd and proclaimed, “These kids, this is why we do what we do.”

Over on the NEA website, Van Roekel grumbled that not much has changed since Brown and retired educator Bruce Smith asserted that he knowswhere the blame lies. Smith claims that the problem revolves around state politicians… 

who have sold out their constituents and, instead, have pledged their support to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is known for pushing education policies that foster inequity in our public schools.

Many of the wealthiest corporations in the world are members of ALEC, which uses its vast resources to shower state politicians across the country with expensive gifts, high-priced dinners at fancy restaurants, and vacation junkets at exotic resorts.

Those politicians who fall for the “ALEC treatment” become puppets who push the conservative, right-wing group’s education policies and proposals back home–legislation designed to benefit ALEC’s wealthy benefactors and turn a profit on the backs of students without any regard for their educational wellbeing.

For example, ALEC is a big supporter of vouchers and tuition tax credit schemes which use public dollars to subsidize tuition at private or religious schools. In addition to being costly to taxpayers, studies show such programs do not result in a better education for students.

In other words, Smith thinks the most important blocks to kids getting a good education are politicians who are bought off by wealthy, right wing, corporate benefactors. Vouchers and tax credits (which are somehow costly to taxpayers) are of course the devil’s work. His evidence that privatization doesn’t work? The always intriguing “unnamed studies.”

Then there is the “Advancement Project,” a group heavily funded by billionaire globalist George Soros which has ties to various teachers unions. This bunch has decided that charter schools are racist and compared them to prisons. (Apparently, the only thing that is “advanced” about the “Advancement Project” is its advanced deranged thinking.)

Time for a reality check.

First off, if charters are so racist, why are so many parents of all colors flocking to them? Simply because they have been more successful than the traditional public schools – especially with minorities – and over a half-million children of all ethnicities sit on waitlists nationwide. But this inconvenient truth is ignored by the teachers unions because most charters are not unionized.

Regarding Van Roekel’s “inequities,” he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. In a recent in-depth study, University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf found that the gap for charter school funding is widening.

We identified a funding gap of 28.4 percent, meaning that the average public charter school student in the U.S. is receiving $3,814 less in funding than the average traditional public school student. Since the average charter school enrolls 400 students, the average public charter school in the U.S. received $1,525,600 less in per-pupil funding in 2010-11 than it would have received if it had been a traditional public school. The gap is actually higher in focus areas within states where charter schools are more commonly found, such as major cities. (Emphasis added.)

And the privatization shibboleth really needs to be put to rest. Private schools generally do a better job than public schools (at lower cost, I might add), but it is rarely reported that privatization also leads to less racial segregation, not more, as the unions claim. Just a year ago, Greg Forster, of the Friedman Foundation, released the third in a series of reports on school choice which includes vouchers and, to a lesser extent, educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. The findings about segregation from “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” are not ambiguous.

Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation. (Emphasis added.)

Michael Lomax, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, adds…

there have been some improvements toward equality for low-income students of color, particularly in the realm of school choice.

I am beginning to see some promising educational improvements that are ensuring that if a low-income child of color wants to remain in the neighborhood in which he or she lives, that if we create a really good school in that neighborhood, that child can get a very good education,” Lomax says.

Interestingly, last week saw a major victory for educational choice in North Carolina where the state Supreme Court lifted an injunction that had barred parents from accessing North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.

And ultimately, isn’t that the best way to assure that all kids receive the best education possible? By opening the system up to competition, parents get to choose the school that best fits their kids’ needs.

On another note, I think it’s condescending to insist that the only way that black kids can get a good education is if they go to schools with white kids. As Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom wrote recently,

It is demeaning, even racist, to assume that minority children can’t learn—or can’t learn as much—unless they are immersed in a student body in which whites are the majority. The most sophisticated research on the subject does not find that having white classmates notably improves the academic achievement of blacks and Hispanics.

In any event, all the bluster last week reminded me of an old joke.

A woman comes across a man on his knees under a street lamp. “I’ve lost my car keys,” he explains. The woman tries to help the man find his keys. After a few minutes of searching, she asks “Where exactly did you drop them?” 

“About a block away.” 

Puzzled, she asks “Then why aren’t you looking over there?” 

“The light is better here.” 

For the teachers unions and their cronies and acolytes, shining a light on all the old canards will do nothing to help children fulfill the “Promise of Brown.” Like the man in the joke, they are looking in the wrong place. The keys for those kids are great teachers who are accountable to parents. And the best way to get there is by doing away with the government-union duopoly and replacing it with a system of universal school choice.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

 

Comparing Pension Reform in Pacific Grove vs. Bakersfield

The city of Bakersfield made a mistake a few years ago and increased pensions, without the needed revenues to pay for the increase. That created an unfunded pension deficit of $93 million, unsustainable. The City reversed course and changed the formula—the new hires would get 2% @ 50 years old, instead of the 3%@50. They were told that would mean they would not be able to fill openings in the fire or police department—totally untrue. Pacific Grove is about to go bankrupt, they refused to change back to the original formula—they cannot longer pay for police or fire protection.

“In Bakersfield, in 2011, the first year of the reduced pension benefits, Bakersfield recruited a few dozen “new hires” who would receive the reduced pension. It had just over 1,000 qualified applicants.”

Pensions are going to economically harm most government agencies. The good news is that they will be forced to go BK and employ many fewer people on the taxpayers’ dime.

calpers

Comparing Pension Reform in Pacific Grove vs. Bakersfield

By John Moore, Union Watch, 5/21/14

Editor’s note: Several times this year we have published in-depth investigative reports written by John Moore, a citizen activist living in Pacific Grove. This recent letter from Moore was addressed to the local newspapers serving Pacific Grove. Moore is unhappy with the coverage these newspapers have given the city of Pacific Grove’s pension crisis. The Monterey County Herald is a daily. The Cedar Street Times is a weekly, printed each Friday and is the only Pacific Grove newspaper. The editors of these newspapers have a journalistic obligation to provide accurate and balanced reporting on the pension crisis in Pacific Grove. Given the magnitude of the financial challenges facing Pacific Grove because of pensions, it is also their journalistic obligation to investigate serious allegations of financial misconduct relating to Pacific Grove’s pension obligations.

An open letter to the editors of the Monterey County Herald and the Cedar Street Times from John Moore, a Pacific Grove resident:

I continue to list your papers as the primary recipients of my pension reform circulars, because your reporting indicates more than a reluctance to factually describe the recent pension history of Pacific Grove. So you need to know what is going on. Whether you consider my research and opinions news is for you to decide.

In 2002, both Pacific Grove and Bakersfield adopted 3%@%50 for Police and Fire. It was a 50% pension increase negotiated by the fire and police unions. At that time, both cities already had significant pension deficits. Until 2001, both cities had generous surpluses in their pension plans. Until 2002, both cities had a 2%@50 pension plan for the safety unions (2% x number of years service x final salary at retirement).

By 2006, Pacific Grove had an unfunded pension deficit of about $19,000,000 and Bakersfield had a pension deficit of about $93,000,000. Of course Bakersfield is much larger than PG, but, based on population, Pacific Grove had a larger deficit per resident.

In 2010, Pacific Grove adopted a citizen’s initiative that capped the city’s annual pension contribution going forward, at 10% of salary. In 2010, Bakersfield voters adopted Measure D which, for new public safety hires, reduced the pension back to the 2%@50 level.

In both cities, the safety unions sued. In Bakersfield, the case was thrown out of court and the reform is in place. By now about half of the police and fire are new hires receiving the lower pension. In Pacific Grove, as I have documented several times, the City council allowed a seriously conflicted city attorney to supervise the reform law suit to defeat, by assuring that key evidence was not put before the judge.

The Cort-Colangelo city council simply allowed city manager Jim Colangelo (city manager 2006-2009) and city attorney David Laredo to multiply the pension deficit via borrowings, raises, a costly fire dept. merger etc. etc.

The current council majority basically takes the position that nothing can be done at the local level. The Bakersfield example proves otherwise.

Please understand, that I do not believe that any of the council members are criminals (like in the Bell, Ca. case). But the council majorities simply do not want to “confront” the likes of former city manager Jim Colangelo, current city manager Thomas Frutchy and city attorney David Laredo. Instead of demanding reform, the council majorities have allowed the city managers and city attorney Laredo to bury Pacific Grove in debt that is at least ten times more than a small town like Pacific Grove could possibly handle.

Pacific Grove has lost its fire dept. and Museum. The police dept. is in a constant state of disgrace. Recently it was learned that a tenured Commander and his wife were in effect, running a criminal gambit out of the Pacific Grove police dept. for at least a couple of years. Former police Commander Nyunt has pled guilty to several felonies in both state and federal court and is now in federal prison. His ex-wife is in jail awaiting trial on charges of identity theft of victims she identified via her husbands access to police computer programs. These facts were printed several times in the Monterey County Herald. And all this happened right under the noses of the responsible supervisors; the Chief and the city manager. The city manager even placed a letter on the city web site that defended the now incarcerated criminal Commander – before the commander pled guilty.

In San Jose, Salinas, Stockton and several other cities, the police and fire depts. claim that without the 3%@50 pension benefit, recruiting will be affected. Most citizens feel that 2%@50 (60% of final salary) at age 50, is ample. But what are the facts?

In Bakersfield, in 2011, the first year of the reduced pension benefits, Bakersfield recruited a few dozen “new hires” who would receive the reduced pension. It had just over 1,000 qualified applicants.

I believe that the current Pacific Grove unfunded pension deficit is about $45,000,000. There are still 15 payments of about $1,500,000 per year due on the 2006 pension bonds, or, about $22,500,000. Three council seats are up for election in November, including mayor. The 2014 election is the defining moment for Pacific Grove. Pacific Grove needs and deserves three strong new council members who will defend this once great town. The decisions going forward are daunting, but must be made. It will be hard work.If Bakersfield could do something, so can Pacific Grove.

*   *   *

Click here to read more posts by John Moore

About the Author:  John M. Moore is a resident of Pacific Grove, Ca. He is a licensed member of the California State Bar (#34734) and a member of the “Public Law” section of the State Bar. He is retired and no longer practices law, but has Lexis/Nexis for research. John graduated from San Jose State College with majors in Political Science and Economics (summa cum laude). He then received a JD from The Stanford School of Law and practiced business and trial law for 40 years before retiring. In 1987, he was the founding partner of a Sacramento law firm that he formed in 1987 to take advantage of the increased bankruptcies brought about by the Tax Act of 1986. Although Moore did not file and manage bankruptcy cases, he represented clients in numerous litigation matters before the bankruptcy court, including several cases before judge Klein, the current judge of the Stockton bankruptcy case. Moore is an admirer of Judge Klein, for his ability and accuracy on the law. As managing partner at his law firm, Moore understood the goals of bankruptcy filings and its benefits and limitations.

 

Good News? Drought to “Only” Cost Central Valley $1.7 Billion/14,500 Jobs

The loss of 14,500 jobs and revenues of $1.7 billion is a ho-hum to the denizens of Sacramento. That is how much it is estimated will be lost in the Central Valley due to government water policies (we have a drought, but government has decided to use our water for the environment and fish, not people). Also 400,000 acres of prime farm land is going fallow this summer. A massive cost to the economy and the families.

Ask the 14,500 people losing jobs if this is a minor problem. What happens to local stores, sales tax revenues and the economy of the already depressed communities? At the same time the Sacramento politicians are finalizing legislation to take control of groundwater from private owners. Little and big policies have caused the California Depression. Are we angry enough to end it?

“Agriculture companies make up a relatively small share of the state’s economy and state government revenue. The sector contributed 1.5 percent to the state’s gross domestic product in 2012, half of the contribution of the construction industry and less than a quarter of the information and high-tech sector.”

jobs obama sotu

Moody’s: Drought unlikely to hurt state economy

An irrigation canal control gate is dry at a farm near Firebaugh. Moody’s said California’s drought won’t have a significant impact on the state’s credit rating, at least for now. It may be a different picture if the drought continues for a couple more years.

Allen Young, Sacramento Business Journal, 5/21/14

Although the San Joaquin Valley has been called “the food basket of the world,” the drought will won’t have a significant impact on California’s economy and will not hurt the state’s credit rating, according to a Moody’s credit rating agency report Tuesday.

Agriculture companies make up a relatively small share of the state’s economy and state government revenue. The sector contributed 1.5 percent to the state’s gross domestic product in 2012, half of the contribution of the construction industry and less than a quarter of the information and high-tech sector.

However, if the drought continues for another year or two, farmers will struggle to use short-term fixes to reconcile the loss of water, which would lead to “significantly larger losses in farm income and employment,” according to the credit rating agency.

“For a city or county with a large agricultural base, a prolonged drought could lead to material revenue losses,” according to Moody’s.

This report arrives a day after another study from the University of California Davis found that the drought could cost Central Valley farmers and farm communities$1.7 billion this year and may cause more than 14,500 workers to lose their jobs.

Read a PDF of the Moody’s report.