- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 21

Modesto Bee: Concealed carry permit info should be open to public

Ever noticed the bumper sticker, “Protected by Smith & Wesson”? It’s meant as a warning: The occupants of this truck are armed. We get it.

We think criminals would get it, too - which is why Assemblyman Adam Gray’s Assembly Bill 1154 is entirely unnecessary. It’s also wrongheaded and would diminish what you’re allowed to know as a citizen.

For now, California is one of the few states with meaningful limits on concealed weapons permits. When it comes to carrying lethal weapons, on the streets and in cars, we think the state should be careful in whom it permits to pack a gun.

But California’s reasonable rules are a target for pro-gun groups and politicians. Last year, at the behest of gun rights advocates, a federal court questioned the constitutionality of the state’s system, which requires gun owners to tell a sheriff or police chief why they need to carry a hidden gun.

With that case on appeal, Gray, D-Merced, wants to chip away at another sensible restriction. AB 1154 would hide from public view much of the information about who gets those permits, making it harder to find out whether officials are appropriately granting permission to carry. Lawmakers should give it a big thumbs down.

Gray argues the current system puts gun owners at risk because names and contact information for most permit holders are subject to disclosure under the state Public Records Act. He wants to remove all addresses and phone numbers from the public record, as is done now for prosecutors, judges and other public officials.

Citing a New York newspaper that, after the Sandy Hook school massacre, published a map of local gun permits, Gray and gun rights advocates claim criminals could find people with guns, break into their homes and steal their firearms.

That brings us back to those bumper stickers. We feel most sensible thieves would shy away from people known to be armed and capable of defending their property. Further, if they’re not home then the concealed gun isn’t there, either.

“My bill is not eliminating disclosure information,” said Gray. “A reporter could cross that (concealed-carry list) with a donor database and get the same information.”

But obscuring the information makes it that much harder for the public.

California gives sheriffs and police broad discretion over who gets permits, and it matters how and to whom permits are issued. In Orange and Los Angeles counties, elected sheriffs have been accused over the years of favoring campaign donors who had no demonstrable need to carry a concealed weapon. Elsewhere, permits have been issued to connected applicants who don’t even live in that jurisdiction.

The public needs to know if those in power abuse their ability to grant permits. It also needs to know where the guns are.

Whether the federal courts will make our state’s restrictions less judicious is an open question. But if the father of your kid’s friend is carrying a gun, or your sheriff has handed out concealed weapons permits like candy, wouldn’t you want to know?

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April 21

Monterey County Herald: A strategy for better race relations?

In the closing moments of a discussion of race relations at this week’s Leon Panetta Lecture Series in Monterey, one little-discussed strategy came to the fore.

One of the forum speakers, Ben Jealous, who grew up in Monterey and later became president and CEO of the NAACP, introduced the idea of a compulsory national service as a way to promote a “feeling of being more connected, . feeling more American.”

Moderator Leon Panetta quickly agreed, saying that he’s long supported the idea of “two years of national service.”

Another speaker, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, joined the chorus when he said that such a program helps answer the question of “how to bring instruments of diversity . (and to bring) people with different backgrounds together and see each other as human beings.”

What brought the subject up was a question from an audience member about “resegregation,” the idea that even 60 years after the Supreme Court decision to integrate schools that many schools remain racially separated. Speakers agreed that most of the country’s institutions don’t encourage the blending of people from different backgrounds. Panetta, the former secretary of defense and CIA director in the Barack Obama administration, argued that there is an exception: “The military is doing it.”

In fact, in a closing comment to the audience, Panetta argued that if a diversified group of service men and women can risk their lives together, the rest of society can find a way to live with one another.

Much of the lecture on race relations focused on law enforcement and recent highly publicized police shootings of black suspects by white police officers. Taking the law-enforcement view was Ray Kelly, former commissioner of the New York Police Department, who said that his former department had achieved an amount of success through better training and better diversity in hiring. Jealous agreed that the New York Police Department had made progress, but said, “We have a problem (nationally). Black men are getting killed.”

The two men also disagreed on the NYPD’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy. Kelly said the policy helped quell crime. Jealous replied, “I totally disagree.”

Much of the ensuing discussion revolved around better training, more diversity and, ultimately, the use of video cameras by law enforcement. Kelly said that although he had originally been skeptical of the idea, watching the shooting of a fleeing black man in South Carolina changed his mind. While such cameras seem likely and probably would have prevented the South Carolina shooting of the man trying to flee, we wonder about unintended consequences such as a loss of privacy and the anonymous sharing of embarrassing or salacious videos on social media.

But it was the discussion of compulsory national service that probably brought the most focus to what panelists agreed is needed when it comes to race relations. Sadly, no one in Washington seems to be discussing such an idea. None of the presidential hopefuls have brought it up. But at least the speakers at the Panetta Lecture Series have planted the idea.

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April 21

Oroville Mercury-Register: Almonds a convenient scapegoat, but some of the criticism is nutty

We’re headed for another dry summer, the third significant drought that people over the age of 40 have lived through, so you know the drill: find a scapegoat.

Somebody or something must be blamed by the masses for the water shortage. Mother Nature just won’t work as a scapegoat. She’s too nebulous.

Past boogeymen have included golf courses in Palm Springs, swimming pools in Southern California and little fish in the delta.

This year, the target of vitriol has been the almond - and by extension, the almond farmer.

That has local folks just a bit on edge, because almonds are the third-biggest crop in Butte County and the second-largest in Glenn County.

California produces about four-fifths of the world’s almonds, about 2 billion pounds annually. They are grown from the top of the Great Central Valley (Tehama County) to the bottom (Kern County).

Now that there’s a drought, some news agencies seem to have just discovered that growing food takes a lot of water. Mother Jones has particularly been on the almond persecution kick, with headlines like “Your Almond Habit Is Sucking California Dry” and “It Takes How Much Water to Grow an Almond?!”

Most commentaries critical of the almond note that it takes one gallon of water to produce a single nut, and based on that alone, almond farming is worthy of scorn. Most of the critics, however, fail to differentiate between regions, and thus water availability.

A little history: The Sacramento Valley was always the top almond-growing region in the state for two reasons - the availability of water and a dry Mediterranean climate. Farmers in other areas were hesitant to plant orchards. It’s a big investment, and in a dry winter the orchard could die off.

That all changed with the completion of the Central Valley Project and the ability to move water south of the delta at cheap prices. Now the top five almond-producing counties in the state are all south of the delta. That makes little sense because, as we’ve seen recently, the only reliable water supply is north of the delta.

We’d like to think that when the Los Angeles Times writes a story about almonds with the headline “Drought Villains?” or when National Public Radio calls almond farmers a “rogue’s gallery” of water users, they’re talking about decisions made in the San Joaquin Valley, not the Sacramento Valley. Indeed, Mother Jones seems more upset about what it calls “hedge fund almonds” than almonds in general.

Almond planting in the state has expanded by two-thirds in the past decade, mostly in the San Joaquin Valley, where global corporations and hedge funds are investing because there’s a darn good profit.

Farms are different up here. Many of the 38,000 acres planted in Butte County are run by family farmers, five to 50 acres at a time.

And while almond production has doubled in arid counties like Kern, Fresno and Madera in the past decade, almond cultivation in Butte County in pounds has stayed roughly the same.

As for that “one gallon per nut” statistic that is being thrown out, perspective is in order. A person in Southern California can fill his or her swimming pool with 15,000 nuts. Which is the better use of water?

A golf course in the Coachella Valley can use a million gallons a day, and there are 123 courses in that resort area. That’s 123 million almonds a day. Which is the better use of water? It depends on whether you like to golf, or whether you like to eat.

It takes a lot of water to grow alfalfa and hay, too (that’s why it’s grown in places like Siskiyou County, not Bakersfield). The result is that, according to the Los Angeles Times, a hamburger requires 660 gallons of water. One hamburger, or 660 almonds - which is the better use of water?

It’s hard to keep things in perspective when water is tight, but we should at least try.

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April 12

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal: Commuters need better service from Caltrans

Unfortunately, Californians are accustomed to dealing with a state bureaucracy that doesn’t work as well as it should. We put up with it and chalk it up to living in the most populous state in the country.

But we really shouldn’t settle for second-rate service from any parts of government; political bodies and state agencies that aren’t doing their job properly should be taken to task, not tolerated with a shrug of the shoulders.

Caltrans, the state agency that is responsible for highway construction and maintenance across California, and that hires state employees to keep the public informed about that work, recently provided what can only be labeled bad service to the citizens of Southern California, and particularly of the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

In the past few weeks, construction work had been scheduled on Highway 14 through the Santa Clarita Valley. Some of this work, we were told, could result in total closure of the freeway over several hours.

Initially, media outlets were notified by Caltrans about these closures. But then it dropped the ball. Twice the closures didn’t happen as announced, and Caltrans delayed notification, leaving thousands of commuters to wonder what happened and worry about their ability to get to work.

Anticipating a delay in the second Highway 14 lane closures scheduled, a Signal reporter spent an entire day trying to reach a Caltrans spokesman for a status report, but the individual failed to return calls and emails.

A press release issued earlier suggested commuters call 511 for updated lane closures, but the line was unresponsive for days; a caller heard only a rapid busy signal.

A website suggested by the same release offered no information about upcoming closures.

Caltrans delayed information about lane closures into the second day of non-response. Its final answer: Don’t call Caltrans employees paid to provide information; call the contractor.

It is Caltrans’ responsibility to adequately serve the citizens of California - and that includes adequately informing them about planned road closures in a timely fashion. Caltrans officials work for the citizens of our state.

We find this state agency’s bureaucratic ineffectiveness unacceptable in this case.

Commuting on our freeways is a way of life for many Southern Californians. A slowdown or a closure on a freeway can cause severe problems, resulting in loss of revenue for a business or a jeopardized job for an employee.

Any unexpected disruption of the free flow of traffic on our roadways can also translate into a safety hazard.

Commuters want to know ahead of time about planned closures on freeways due to construction, and they rightly expect that public agencies involved in freeway projects also notify the public about any changes to these plans.

It is not too much to ask.

We suggest that Caltrans officials come up with a better system of notifying the public when there are changes to planned road closures.

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April 18

Santa Maria Times: Guadalupe should stay the course

As a general rule, when the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury speaks, people listen - and on occasion, some of those people speak back.

Such is the case with city officials in Guadalupe, concerning the panel’s recent report critical of the city’s fiscal situation and leading to a recommendation that Guadalupe disincorporate.

According to law, the city has 90 days to respond to the grand jury’s recommendation, but judging from the quick and verbal response from City Council members and administrators, we’re confident the blowback at the panel’s report won’t take three months.

For one thing, problems identified in the report are based on information and data supplied to the grand jury by city officials. So, they already knew what the jury’s findings would likely be, long before the report came out earlier this month.

Basically, the report boils down to the city demonstrating a history of fiscal mismanagement, a lack of revenue to make things better, with the only logical conclusion being to give up cityhood and convert to a community services district, because solvency is out of the question.

In other words, the grand jury recommends Guadalupe give up its identity, and throw itself on the mercy of a benevolent county government.

Giving up is the last thing Guadalupe should do.

That sentiment will likely be expressed in the city’s response to the grand jury report. We say that with some confidence, because the city’s voters recently took steps to help remedy some of the fiscal issues by passing ballot measures meant to increase the city’s revenue stream.

Members of the City Council and recent additions to city staff have been acutely aware of financial mismanagement in years past. The panel’s allegation that the city owes the IRS more than $450,000 is just flat wrong, according to City Administrator Andrew Carter.

Misstatement of facts in final reports from grand juries over the years is not uncommon. The jury is comprised of what are essentially citizen volunteers, some of whom have personal agendas that often are reflected in the research that goes into each grand jury project. Civil grand juries are anything but infallible.

All that being said, one undeniable fact is that such reports serve as a wake-up call for whomever or whatever is being reported upon. And while the facts of the Guadalupe report were known to all the city’s elected officials and staff, having the report on the public record is a kind of insurance that the proper steps will be taken to clean up the city’s house, so to speak.

The Guadalupe report, as scathing as it may have seemed to city officials, also serves as a reminder to officials in other cities and taxing districts in the county that being asleep at the wheel, or outright malfeasance when it comes to government entities’ fiscal responsibilities is unacceptable. The laid-back, good-ol’-boy approach to municipal management is a thing of the distant past.

The three ballot measures approved by voters last November signaled citizens’ faith in elected and hired city officials to get Guadalupe on the right track, and keep it there. We believe the voters’ confidence easily trumps the grand jury’s conclusion that the city is headed toward insolvency, with the only path being disincorporation.

Besides, following the grand jury’s suggestion would only throw Guadalupe in with a county government that has a long history of fiscal problems.

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April 16

The Daily Breeze: UC and CSU fiscal fixes demand a reality check

Symbolism is important, as is substance, so grousing about unseemly high salaries when an organization is having trouble making ends meet is a legitimate tactic.

Students and taxpayers have a real point about the huge paydays reaped by some administrators, professors and athletic coaches within the University of California and California State University systems at a time of rapidly increasing tuition and fees and educational cutbacks at schools that were designed to provide educational excellence at an affordable price.

The price hikes gall, and so those who command big bucks have become an easy target for state legislators, whether they are grandstanding or not.

Thus there are currently at least six bills making their way through the Legislature, as Nanette Asimov points out in the San Francisco Chronicle, aimed at capping UC and CSU salaries and opening up more highly coveted spots for California students at our public universities.

But when the lawmakers ignore the fine print about where the monies come from to pay some of these $500,000-plus compensation packages, they undermine the legitimacy of their cause, not to mention take time and energy away from working on the true fundamentals of fixing the problem of skyrocketing college costs.

AB 837, for instance, by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, would place a $500,000 cap on all UC salaries under penalty of losing public funding for the university system. That’s all well and good; half a million and up is heady annual pay.

University records show that 387 employees get over $500,000 a year. But only three of them are paid that much using solely public funds. In fact, 91 percent of their total compensation comes from private and foundation money.

It may be an outrage that UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford gets $2.6 million a year to honcho the hoops squad. But his base salary is $200,000; all the rest comes from private donors. A few top salaries at the UCLA and UC San Francisco medical schools are over $1 million, but the pay comes from hospital fees and donations. It would be a lot easier to support such legislation if it stopped mixing fiscal apples and oranges.

Other current bills aimed at the universities include SCA1 by Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which would qualify a measure for the state ballot that would repeal UC’s constitutional autonomy and allow legislative control; do Californians really trust the Legislature more than academic professionals to educate our students? SCA 4 by Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, would prohibit UC from raising undergraduate tuition for five years and limit out-of-state admissions to 10 percent at each campus. Problem is, out-of-staters pay much higher tuition, meaning the university would lose money in the bargain.

The real financial problem at our universities occurs off-campus, not on. A huge bureaucracy has been created in the last 30 years away from classrooms - in four separate buildings in downtown Oakland, for instance - where highly paid vice presidents administer programs that have nothing to do with the academic bottom line. If students and parents were truthful about it, they would admit that a lot of the extra fees they pay go for niceties such as suite-style dormitory rooms and dining halls serving food closer to a good restaurant’s than the old steam-table mystery meat offerings. Real cost-cutting efforts in our universities would address the realities.

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