- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

Aug. 6

The Pasadena Star News on the Santa Barbara oil spill:

It may take years for a final accounting of the damage done by the rupture of a pipeline near Santa Barbara in May.

But punishing those responsible should remain a top priority of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is running for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat.

This week the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board formally asked Harris to pursue penalties from Plains All American Pipeline Co.

The company’s corroded pipeline spilled more than 100,000 gallons along the coastline and left the sandy beaches looking more like tar pits.

The Attorney General’s Office can seek up to $25,000 per day of violation and $25 per gallon of oil spilled in enforcement. But the AG can also seek civil and criminal charges.

She should.

What happens to the pipeline company will send a message to those who own the more than 7,000 miles of pipeline that crisscross California.

There is a big responsibility to ensure that those lines are properly cared for. And officials need to show that this is a top priority for a state that prides itself on its forward-thinking, green policies.

Despite this, it appears that it was too easy for Plains All American Pipeline, which has been cited repeatedly over the last decade for violations, to paper over serious corrosion in its pipeline.

In June Harris visited Refugio State Beach, which at the time was still closed, and said she would look at criminal prosecution.

The investigation is still ongoing. But if there is evidence that the company was negligent, she would be smart to demonstrate to the residents of the state how seriously she takes the health of California’s environment.

The public is waiting, especially those along the coast.

Around the same time Harris arrived for a tour of the beach, something akin to tar balls washed up on the shores of Long Beach, more than 100 miles to the south. Tests founds they came from the spill.

While investigators are counting up things like how much habitat was destroyed, how many birds were killed and how many miles of oil covered the ocean, the rest of us are asking how this was allowed to happen and if it will happen again. Probably, unless there is tough punishment.

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Aug. 7

The Riverside Press-Enterprise on state-run banks for marijuana businesses:

It’s a bummer for the state. Medical marijuana has been legal in California since voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996. But federal law still classifies pot as a Schedule I drug, which the U.S. Justice Department defines as having, “no currently accepted medical use in the United States.” That means the national banking system is supposed to be off-limits to medical marijuana dispensaries, which have to pay their state taxes in cash.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Board of Equalization Member George Runner “said a recent tax delivery to his district office in Sacramento involved about $200,000 in cash.” That makes such couriers easy marks for robbery.

To get around that problem, BOE Member Fiona Ma is proposing a state-run bank, as described by CBS News San Francisco, “where cannabis businesses could make cash deposits and electronic transfers to the Tax Board. … Ma says not only is the cash-only system dangerous, it’s also hurting state coffers. California is losing out on millions of dollars in sales tax.” No U.S. state has such a bank.

We are sympathetic to the dilemma of legal businesses forced by misguided federal policy to rely on cash, but this notion of a government bank for marijuana sellers should be snuffed out. For one thing, the issue is moving rapidly. Four states and the District of Columbia recently legalized marijuana not just for medical use, but for recreational use. At least five more states, including California, could do so by initiative in 2016.

The industry in 25 states also has been examined by Dynamic Securities Analytics. “One thing is clear: A wide swath of financial institutions in both (legal and illegal marijuana) states are having to deal with the reality of the fast growing legal marijuana industry,” DSA found. “While we do not yet have a complete picture, the available data suggests a slight opening of financial services to” marijuana-related businesses.

Any California banking legislation would have to be introduced in 2016 at the earliest, and quickly could be overcome by events.

We also worry that this could become a precedent, with state-run banks set up for other political purposes. This is not the time to grow a new bureaucracy.

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Aug. 9

The San Diego Union Tribune on solitary confinement for juveniles:

Of all the troubled souls detained in California lockups, those most deserving of the greatest chance to redeem themselves and return to a productive life in freedom are the children - teens and preteens held in state and county juvenile halls and related correctional centers. Solitary confinement of these youth is almost always incompatible with rehabilitation.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is pushing legislation in the Capitol that would limit the use of solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities and require better documentation and reporting of incidents in which it is used.

The bill, SB 124, has been passed by the Senate and approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee but faces a difficult vote in another committee next week and then the full Assembly. It has strong opposition from law enforcement groups, particularly those representing county probation officers, who run most juvenile facilities in California.

The bill, amended several times in response to the opposition, would prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a tool for discipline, punishment, coercion or retaliation by staff, allowing it only for safety or to assess the mental health of a young ward. The time a youth could be put in isolation would be limited to four hours, plus an additional four hours under certain circumstances. Documentation of each instance would be required and those documents, redacted to maintain the privacy of the youthful offender, would be subject to the state Public Records Act.

The bill is needed, as Leno says, because solitary confinement “is an extremely harmful measure” that continues to be used in California juvenile correctional facilities, though it “has not been shown to have any rehabilitative or treatment value.” To the contrary, he says, “it is a practice that endangers mental health and increases risk of suicide.”

That’s true. But there is also a legitimate need at times to provide protection from a youth who becomes violent, is on drugs or is otherwise a danger to himself or herself or to other youth, not to mention the guards and staff.

Just as in many other juvenile centers in California, the treatment of youth in San Diego County Juvenile Hall and other correctional facilities for youth has been controversial.

Mack Jenkins, San Diego County’s chief probation officer, does not use the term “solitary confinement” in connection with his department’s policies. The policies instead refer to “room confinement,” which Jenkins said does not involve complete isolation of a detainee, and to a “risk management” tool called “administrative separation,” the purpose of which “is to physically and socially separate a detainee from the general population” for temporary periods. He said it is difficult to determine whether either of those policies fits the definition of “solitary confinement” in Leno’s bill.

But it doesn’t matter what it’s called. If it looks like solitary, works like solitary and hurts like solitary, it’s solitary. It’s a tool that ought to be used as little as possible with young offenders. Leno’s bill will help see to that.

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Aug. 11

The Torrance Daily Breeze on the drought and wildfires :

Too much fire and not enough rain is not a new combination in California and the West. But it is as ever a deadly one, and the extent to which the blazes are in the north of our state is a bad omen for us all.

Not that we don’t have wildfires of our own this summer - and this week. The Anza Fire southeast of Hemet burned 500 acres and injured three firefighters on Monday. The North Fire in July near the Cajon Pass burned 4,200 acres and destroyed seven homes - not to mention that scary scenario in which some 20 vehicles were burned as the blaze swept across the 15 Freeway.

A Southern Californian not safe in her or his car - that moving castle in which we sometimes seem to spend more time than in our stationary homes? Now that’s scary. It was the kind of incident that made national news.

But so has much of this summer’s scenario, in which the majority of the wildfires that have struck our very dry state in this historic four-year drought have been well to the north of San Francisco.

Our always more arid Southland is not the only place that sees wildfires in California. Lighting-ignited blazes have swept through the Sierras every summer since time immemorial, and they are not always a bad thing, clearing under-brush and preventing much larger fires from spreading.

But the golden hills that roll for hundreds of miles north of the Bay Area are simply all-too-golden in this drought, and the wine country of Lake County has turned to fire country, with the Rocky Fire, which started July 29, finally largely under control after burning almost 70,000 acres and destroying dozens of homes and out buildings just as the ominously biblically named Jerusalem Fire gains strength in the same area.

It’s not just grassland and majestic oaks and structures threatened by these fires - two brave firefighters have been killed. So these are the real consequences of the dry times we live in, and must adapt to.

Californians deserve some real congratulations with the recent statistical proof of how well we have finally adapted to cutting back on urban and suburban water use at home. Throughout the state we conserved 27 percent in June over the same month two years ago, finally beating Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate of dialing it back by 25 percent after he declared a statewide water emergency in January.

The new numbers show a kind of stages-of-grief progress since confronting the notion that we can no longer irrigate the kelly-green lawn until the runoff flows into the gutters. We had our denial - many cities and water agencies actually experienced water-use increases after the governor’s original warning. Then anger - because change is always maddening. Then bargaining - if we turn off the tap while we brush our teeth, can we still take half-hour showers? Then depression - because the answer was, “No, you cannot.” So now we have apparently come to the final stage of drought acceptance - this is the way it is, like it or not. In those deep words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, “You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.”

Californians have proven we can live with less water. We will miss the wet old days, but we must learn to live in new ways, with fire, and perhaps even with El Nino’s flooding rains.

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Aug. 11

The Sacramento Bee on the state being a leader on immigration:

California long has pioneered the future, from climate change to pay equity. Now, in the absence of national reform, Gov. Jerry Brown is offering a way forward on yet another evolving issue: immigration.

On Monday, acting on a bill by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, Brown excised the offensive term “alien” from the state’s Labor Code, a symbolic but telling flourish to new rules that, taken together, offer a national blueprint for dealing with the nation’s undocumented population. We applaud him. It’s about time.

Anyone who remembers the mean-spirited Proposition 187 era knows that ideology is powerless against demography. The courts rightly overturned that harsh 1994 initiative, which sought to deny education and health care to immigrants here without papers. Proposition 187 came during economic dislocation when Californians felt small and beleaguered. But it also pandered to a fear, now national, that the culture is too rapidly changing.

The lesson that emerged was that, as ever, fear doesn’t halt change, it just complicates adaptation. Minorities are the majority now in California, with Latinos the most populous subgroup, and though Donald Trump and others may imagine some short-term political gain in demonization, California is only previewing a trend that’s enveloping the country.

As Brown has deduced, the smarter approach is to acknowledge people who are here without permission, so that their children aren’t punished, the weak aren’t exploited and the rest of us aren’t endangered by their impulse to remain in the shadows. That, as an analysis in the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, is why California has created a new body of law, ranging from subsidized pediatric health care and protection against federal immigration enforcement to in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Nearly 500,000 people have signed up for the new immigrant driver’s licenses that came online in January, an extraordinary surge that promises to make the state’s freeways exponentially safer. Another pending bill, with bipartisan backing, would seek federal authority to legitimize farmworkers who already are here by granting them work permits.

The shooting death of Kathryn Steinle at the hands of a criminal Mexican national in San Francisco notwithstanding, these new rules have, for the most part, helped smooth California’s evolution.

Congress should watch and learn, and come up with an overall immigration solution. As California can attest, the future happens, whether you roll with it or not.

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