- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 20

Merced Sun-Star: Ethical lapse belied Merced County Rescue Mission’s lack of faith

Christians are told “fear not,” that with faith anything is possible.

Sadly, the folks at the Merced County Rescue Mission appear to have lost faith in the residents of Merced. And we don’t know why.

Each year, the Rescue Mission serves Thanksgiving dinner and provides food boxes to the neediest of our community. In a city that was at the forefront of the economic collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed, the mission still fills essential needs. Each year, the good people of Merced step up and meet those needs. It’s something Merced can and should be proud of; we all want to help.

But that’s why we are so troubled by reports that the mission misled the public about the amount of food it had on hand. Last year, as Thanksgiving approached, mission CEO Bruce Metcalf apparently feared he would not be able to meet the need. So he scheduled the traditional media event and then instructed volunteers - known as “disciples” - to remove turkeys from the freezers and to hide canned goods at an off-site warehouse.

Apparently, he wanted the public appeal for more turkeys to seem more compelling. Did Metcalf lose faith in Merced? Did he believe his neighbors wouldn’t respond if they thought only a little more was needed? Even worse, Metcalf admits the mission had hundreds of turkeys in storage from previous years when he told the community there were none. Metcalf said the old turkeys were to be given to five nonprofits to fill food baskets before Thanksgiving. That the mission wouldn’t use them.

These allegations don’t come from one person, but from half a dozen mission volunteers. One staff member, who said he was dismissed after expressing concern about this shell game, complained to the California attorney general’s office.

Such tactics were at the least duplicitous, and at the worst downright deceptive. Even Metcalf realizes it: “I guess people could interpret it as lying, but that was not the intention,” he said. Hiding food under beds and emptying freezers before a photo op is a sad insult to all those who have faithfully supported the mission’s work with money, food and time.

Explaining that this is the way the Thanksgiving appeal has always been done doesn’t excuse misleading the public. In a community where giving to others is part of the culture, manipulating them is unacceptable. The people of Merced deserve better.

Failure to recognize the seriousness of this situation and establish an approach that spells out the need will only further undermine support and threaten the mission’s important work. Blaming the disciples who identified the ethical lapses of hiding food while asking for more is highly inappropriate; it must stop.

The Merced Sun-Star has long supported the work of the mission. We know the need is great. But Metcalf and the mission’s board of directors must ensure a full and accurate accounting of not only what food is needed, but what is on hand. Then the mission, like other charities, can make its case to the public for support. We trust the public will respond, as it always has.

The ends never justify the means; not being caught in a lie isn’t the same as telling the truth. If the people who oversee the mission don’t realize that, the organization has bigger problems than hiding turkeys. Metcalf and the mission must not live in fear; they should have more faith in the good people of Merced.


May 20

The Modesto Bee: Warning, this editorial might make you think

Higher-education institutions have an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect students from physical harm, dangerous people, harassment and bullying. What they should not try to do is to protect students from ideas that might shock, scandalize or even offend them.

Sadly, a handful of universities are considering using “trigger warnings” on course descriptions that warn about material that might be particularly reactive for victims of assaults and war veterans. The warnings would give students who might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder a heads-up before being exposed to something that “triggers” memories of an attack. They would be allowed to skip that particular reading.

Worse still, these suggestions are coming from the students.

One of those institutions is the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government is pushing the administration to adopt a policy for such an alert at the request of a student who was upset by a film shown in class that depicted a rape, as reported by The New York Times. Advocates at UCSB hope the idea will spread systemwide.

Sensible people, however, should hope the proposal is shelved along with all the other well-meaning but misguided suggestions that seek to “help” students by limiting material and giving them the option to ignore material. College-level instruction is supposed to be provocative. Students need exposure to different - and, yes, sometimes offensive - perspectives to broaden their intellectual horizons and help them develop the critical-thinking skills adults require.

We’re not talking about “Fifty Shades of Grey” (which many college kids have read on their own) but classic works that have been used as teaching tools for generations of college and high school students - “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Oedipus Rex.”

One Rutgers student, Philip Wythe, who likes the idea of trigger warnings, wrote in a February column that the “trigger warning for ‘The Great Gatsby’ might be: (TW: ‘suicide,’ ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘graphic violence.’)

“One can only imagine the warning label on the Bible: (TW: “fratricide,” ”infanticide,” ”genocide,” ”rape,” ”enslavement,” etc.).

This, of course, assumes students read the syllabi other than to scan the book requirements and class schedule. Let’s reserve warnings for when they might count by providing valuable information that might help curb self-destructive behavior.

As Proposition 65 taught Californians with its ridiculous proliferation of labels warning of possible carcinogens lurking in, say, parking lots, too many warnings are as bad as too few.

Literature is provocative. Warnings on good books are implied: They might make readers think, whether they expect it or not. Copyright 2014 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


May 16

Monterey County Herald: Pesticide report inconclusive at best

As often happens, farmland that has been around for decades finds itself encroached upon by expanding suburban development, followed by the question of whether the proximity is healthy for those who have located nearby.

When the development involves a school and the farmland makes use of pesticides, the result is a very real concern by parents and school officials about any health risk that results.

That’s why a new report on pesticides by the state Department of Public Health caused such concern earlier this month. The report stated that more than 60 Monterey County schools are within a quarter acre of potentially harmful pesticides. Nearly half of the schools are in Salinas, with others in Greenfield, Marina, Soledad, King City, Castroville, Aromas, Moss Landing, Chualar, Lockwood and Gonzales.

Health officials were quick to caution that the report contained no information as to whether there has been any health risk, and there are no data at all on any schoolchildren’s exposure to any harmful substance.

In fact, state agriculture officials were quick to criticize the report, saying the lack of any metrics regarding any possible risk to children is a fatal flaw in the report.

Added to that is some confusion surrounding the release of the report: agriculture groups say that not only were they not consulted on the report, but they had little access to the data even after the report was released to the public.

We agree that the health department could have been far more organized in its release of the report. When preparing a potentially explosive study, it’s important for an agency to realize the impact. Parents have every right to know whether their children are at risk, and this report falls far short of providing any solid evidence of any danger.

What would a responsible parent do in response to the report? There are no data to suggest that a parent should overreact by pulling children out of a school that made the list. The best response, then, might be to watch and wait.

More study is necessary. And while we understand the frustration of the growers whose fields are near the school, in the long run it will be up to them to prove that schoolchildren are protected from the impact of nearby pesticides.

Many area growers have switched over to growing organics, and it wouldn’t be surprising if at least some agricultural land undergoes that kind of transformation. Organic growers have demonstrated the economic viability of moving away from pesticides entirely.

It doesn’t matter who was there first. The schools are there now, and they’re not going away.


May 21

Imperial Valley Press: Graduation season is upon us

Higher-education institutions in Imperial County saw more than 1,000 degrees conferred last week, a sign that more of our residents are seeing the necessity in college degrees to begin to get where they want to be in their lives.

And that idea gels quite nicely with the idea that the economy, continued high unemployment and a tight job market locally and elsewhere has forced older Americans back into the classroom and younger Americans to be more focused on their post-secondary educational goals.

More than 200 people graduated from San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus with either bachelor’s or master’s degrees or educational credentials, a healthy number for any year. Imperial Valley College, however, set a record, graduating more than 800 people with associate’s degrees, nursing degrees and even more in certifications.

Education matters in this country, and it is no longer good enough to graduate high school and make one’s way into the workforce, because the workforce is a hard road to travel to not only survive and be self-sufficient, but to truly find some sort of path beyond day-to-day living.

Fine. That isn’t the case for everyone. There are many people in this world who do fine through their wits, their guile and the knowledge accrued through life, high school and being tempered in the field. But true success in those cases are fewer and fewer as times goes on, as life gets more expensive, goals more unattainable and competition more fierce.

That is the message we’ve sent our children, and it’s a message we need to keep sending as thousands of high school seniors make their way down the stretch run, preparing for graduation next month and the beginning of adulthood.

Some of our grads will enter the workforce right away, and they will stay there, with no aspirations, time or money for college, making a life and being successful. Yet some will enter the workforce and realize quickly, through fate, through job loss or through a personal quest, that college is the answer.

A great many will go to college right away, and that will be one of the smartest and hardest decisions they make. But those grads realize college is what they must do, what they must endure, if they want a solid foundation in the world and a future that is more attainable than simply imaginable.

This is graduation season, and it is a season of dreams, of hopes, and of decisions that set up a path to success, or failure. It’s up to the graduates in the end, because they are adults now, and some have to hit the floor to soar high into the air. And some soar and never touch the ground. College helps get you there, and graduation from high school is the inaugural flight of The Rest of Your Life.

THE ISSUE: Graduates get degrees, diplomas.

WE SAY: College is the way to go to achieve dreams.


May 20

Los Angeles Daily News: Transit fare hike hurts biggest users

The Los Angeles bus and rail system exists largely for those struggling to make ends meet. About half of those who use it make less than $15,000 a year, according to the system’s rider survey.

These are the people who sweep and mop homes in the San Fernando Valley, work at the back of restaurants on the Westside, and tidy up offices when the other workers have long gone home. They often live far from their jobs and can’t afford to drive.

Raising fares three times over six years, as the 13-member governing board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be asked to do on Thursday, will inevitably hurt these mass-transit-dependent workers and their families even as the agency also attempts to fix long-standing problems like eliminating the need to pay fares twice when transferring from bus to rail or vice versa.

That’s why the editorial board backs a different approach by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisors Mark Ridley Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, all MTA board members, that increases some fares but also creates a panel to look at ways to deal with the agency’s growing operating budget deficit and set fees that don’t hurt the most vulnerable.

Their proposal calls for a riders’ advocate, something sorely missing in the agency, a freeze on fare hikes for students and an expansion of a subsidy program for the poorest.

Under the agency’s recommendation, meanwhile, the price of monthly bus passes would jump from $75 to $135 by 2020. The first-year increase would hike passes to $100.

MTA staff has argued the agency has among the lowest fares in the country and the increases must be approved to offset a $36.8 million deficit in 2016 and keep up with the system’s expansion. Fares cover about a quarter of the agency’s operating budget and its analysts say that without an increase, cuts must be made.

Since then, the agency has undertaken a spending and building spree on rail service, while realigning and, in some cases, ending bus routes to better connect with existing rail and other cities. There are 200 bus lines and 87 miles of rail track that cross the agency’s 1,433-square-mile service area from the beaches to the San Gabriel Valley. Within a year, there will be five additional rail lines under construction.

Last year, the MTA reported a 2.4 percent increase in ridership. But tension remains over how well the agency’s most vulnerable customers are served.

Even as the agency seeks to raise fares, many of its riders can’t safely get to rail lines in their neighborhoods, and many believe black youth are disproportionately targeted by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies patrolling the Metro lines. Fare evasion is the No. 1 reason youth are cited by deputies. Those violations put them in the courts with heavy fines.

The proposal by Garcetti and the supervisors helps address this issue, and helps bridge the serious chasm between the MTA and the people it serves.


May 20

Lompoc Record: Letting visitors help out

Hotel and motel operators in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County may soon be explaining to lodgers about that higher final bill.

The Board of Supervisors has approved putting an increase in the transient occupancy tax - known as the bed tax - before voters in November, which if approved by more than 50 percent of voters will boost the tax from 10 percent to 12.5 percent.

If we’re going to raise taxes, this is the one that hurts the least - at least for everyone except the aforementioned hotel and motel operators.

The accommodations industry has been generally opposed to increasing bed taxes, for the obvious reason - it appears, on the surface at least, to make them less competitive in an incredibly competitive market. That is true, to a certain extent.

But as we’ve observed bed-tax increases in the past, they don’t seem to put much of a damper on the hotel-motel business, and for good reason - Santa Barbara County is among the premier visitor-vacation locations in America. Our experience is that if someone really, truly wants to enjoy the fantastic beauty, weather and accommodations of the Central Coast, a few bucks extra on their hotel bill isn’t a deal-breaker.

This would be the first increase in the county’s bed tax in nearly a quarter-century. It has been 10 percent for the past 24 years, and boosting it to 12.5 percent probably isn’t even keeping pace with inflation.

Here is our rationale for why an increase in the bed tax is acceptable - allowing visitors to shoulder some of the local tax burden is just common sense, especially when tourism is such a major industry in this region, and those visitors seem all-too-happy to pony up the extra dollars to enjoy all Santa Barbara County has to offer.

There are other supporting arguments for the increase. Several cities within the county have bed taxes in the 12 percent range, including Solvang and Santa Barbara, and the higher levy hasn’t seemed to do much damage to their reputations as tourism magnets.

The increased county revenue from the higher tax would be significant. County officials reckon the 12.5 percent rate will generate at least $9.4 million a year beginning in fiscal year 2015-16. Under the 10-percent rate, the county was projecting $7.5 million in 2015-16. That puts nearly an additional $1.9 million into the county’s general fund, which more than offsets the bed-tax loss from Goleta, whose revenue-neutrality agreement with the county ended in 2012.

We understand that increasing taxes touches a raw nerve with taxpayers. Remember, we’re in that taxpayer category ourselves. But the simple truth is that if there is to be a higher tax, better it be levied on non-residents and those just passing through. They are using local roads and public facilities, and there is no logical reason why they shouldn’t help pay for the upkeep of those local facilities and resources.

All things considered, moving this forward is a good move by the Board of Supervisors.

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