- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

Feb. 12

The Sacramento Bee: Ex-PUC chief’s tribute made everyone look bad

It’s one thing for the defenders of former Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey to stand by him. Before scandal erupted over his back-channel chats with execs of the utilities he was supposed to be regulating, he had led California out of an energy crisis and was known as the greenest commissioner in the history of the CPUC.

But throwing him a $250-a-plate tribute Thursday night at a posh ballroom in San Francisco? With Willie Brown as emcee and sponsors from Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration?

Peevey may indeed have performed “a lifetime of service,” as it said on the invitations, but he also was at the helm when a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. pipeline blew up in 2010, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes in San Bruno.

Post-mortems found that the commission’s failure to focus on safety was partly to blame for the disaster. And emails leaked since show that Peevey had, at best, a casual regard for the formalities of regulation.

Correspondence indicates that he wined and dined PG&E; execs, hit them up for $1 million contributions to environmental causes, gave them free advice and yelled at them about the bump in his bill after his Sea Ranch vacation home got a smart meter.

None of this is acceptable, and some of it may be illegal. The relationship is being probed by state and federal law enforcement authorities, who searched his homes the other day.

So even if pickets hadn’t been expected - and they were - at the benefit dinner in the Julia Morgan Ballroom at the Merchant Exchange Building, the optics alone should have put the kibosh on such a monument to bad public relations. “Disgraced PUC boss to be honored by cronies,” read one Silicon Valley headline, pretty much saying it all.

Peevey may be under fire, but feting him wasn’t the answer. He’s no martyr, and sending him out in a blaze of pretend glory has just added insult to the injuries that still pain San Bruno.

It’s too bad that our modern political culture seems able only to toggle between hero worship and mob rule. In a more nuanced world, Peevey’s friends wouldn’t have felt compelled to super-size his kudos because his enemies couldn’t have artificially inflated his transgressions. His record would have spoken for itself, and public officials would be focusing on making utilities more accountable and safer.

Instead, his friends have had an emotional reaction and gussied it up as a benefit for the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. The cover-up is always worse than the crime, even when it tastes like rubber chicken.

The veteran politicians involved should have known better. Thursday night’s fiasco has just made everyone look bad. Maybe future students of public policy will glean a teachable moment from it.

___

Feb. 12

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat: Too soon to judge top-two primary

California’s major political parties seldom agree on anything, so when they find common ground, it’s worth taking notice. And understanding why.

The state’s top-two primary is one of those rare instances.

It hasn’t ever been popular with Democratic or Republican loyalists. Neither party wanted to surrender control of the nominating process or to face the uncertainty of intraparty general election contests. Since voters adopted the top-two system in 2010, both parties have promoted the idea that it’s a failure.

The latest “proof” is a group of academic studies published this week in the California Journal of Politics & Policy. They concluded that there is little evidence the new system, which allows voters to choose among all the candidates in primary elections, regardless of party affiliation, with the top two finishers advancing to the general election, has increased voter participation or cross-over voting.

As for the main objective - a more productive Legislature with more across-the-aisle cooperation - the academics blithely dismiss the results, conceding that there are more moderates in Sacramento but saying there’s no proof that this is a product of the top-two primary.

After just two election cycles, it’s too soon to call the top-two primary a failure.

For that matter, it’s too soon to call it a success. But the early results are promising.

Under the traditional system, winning a legislative or congressional primary in June was tantamount to winning the general election in November because the demographics of most districts strongly favor one party or the other.

In 2012, the first test of the top-two primary, 28 legislative and congressional contests had two Democrats or two Republicans on the ballot. In 2014, there were 25. Candidates in these contests had a strong incentive to reach out to voters in the other party and to the fastest growing category of voters in California: those who don’t belong to either party.

Each election produced a major upset in which a candidate unaffiliated with the party establishment unseated a consummate insider. In 2012, it was Democrat Marc Levine of San Rafael defeating incumbent Michael Allen of Santa Rosa. Democrat Patty Lopez did the same thing in 2012, defeating incumbent Raul Bocanegra in a Los Angeles County Assembly district.

As former political consultant Tony Quinn wrote, “Birds on a telephone line notice when one bird falls, and Sacramento legislators noticed the Bocangera upset.” The message is simple: Pay attention to the voters, all of them, or beware the consequences.

___

Feb. 11

San Jose Mercury News: California should end personal belief vaccine exemption

State Sen. Richard Pan believes a child should not have to die for California to tough its vaccination laws.

The Sacramento Democrat is a pediatrician who was the former director of the UC-Davis Pediatric Residency Program. For years he’s been warning that the state’s lax immunization laws leave California vulnerable to contagious diseases, and he’s right. With the first measles case reported in Contra Costa County Wednesday and the possibility that BART riders have been exposed, the peril hits home in the Bay Area.

It’s time to change the law. Parents should not be able to opt out of vaccinations under a “personal belief” exemption, as they can now, and it may be necessary to eliminate the religious exemption, too. The tougher state laws are, the higher vaccination rates go.

Measles was all but eliminated in the United States until the past decade, when parents began resisting immunization despite overwhelming scientific evidence. The disease is still life-threatening; about 25 percent of the more than 120 victims so far have been hospitalized.

The Centers for Disease Control has a goal of immunizing at least 90 percent of all children before they enter kindergarten. Clusters of unvaccinated kids create a pool in which disease can spread, threatening those who can’t be vaccinated for various reasons as well as the small minority for whom vaccine does not work.

The national average immunization rate is 91.1 percent. California’s rate hovers just above the 90 percent rate. But California had a nearly 70 percent increase in exemptions from 2009-2013, leaving the state vulnerable to this outbreak.

California is one of only 20 states to permit a personal belief exemption for philosophical reasons, and 80 percent of parents who decline vaccines for their kids use this excuse. Today more than 10,000 kindergarten students have waivers due to parents’ personal beliefs. Another 2,760 California parents sought religious exemptions for their kindergarteners.

Pan is teaming with Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, on a bill to increase vaccination rates. Eliminating the personal belief exemption is essential. The Legislature should discuss ending the religious exemption as well, although all but two states — West Virginia and Mississippi — still allow it. The danger is that parents now using “personal belief” might suddenly claim they’ve gotten religion.

A spokesman for Brown told the Los Angeles Times last week that the governor is open to a bill that eliminates all exemptions except for medical reasons, although he has supported the religious exemption in the past. So it’s up to Pan and Allen to sell the tightest possible regulation. Santa Clara County has an immunization rate of 92.53 percent, and Contra Costa County’s is 93.96 percent. But families cross county borders all the time, and Santa Cruz (84.38 percent) and Alameda (88.94 percent) have troubling levels. Remember Disneyland, and support strong legislation.

___

Feb. 13

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune: Many California high school tests, not enough learning

A story in the Cabinet Report on an effort to abandon California’s high school exit exam notes that the test is especially controversial in light of “the growing emphasis on high school students graduating ready for college or to enter the workforce.”

But hasn’t that always been the emphasis when it comes to the expectations we put on a high school education? Otherwise, what’s the point?

And the ironies abound here. When you look at the curriculum tackled by high school students in the 1940s, say, and the success with which many students of that era met its challenges, it’s hard to believe there has been a lot of progress educationally in the ensuing decades. Pull out a yellowed high school newspaper from that time and look at the quality of the prose - know many high schoolers today writing, and therefore thinking, at that level?

But education then vs. now is way more complicated than that, of course. There is an entirely new world of science and computer-oriented instruction, and expertise, that didn’t begin to exist back then. It was a time when far fewer high schoolers had the opportunity or desire to go on to college, which was an educational level mostly reserved for the elite. There were far more jobs offering a liveable wage back then that simply didn’t require college-level studies. But if fewer students were taking highly advanced sciences and calculus then, there were also far more courses in real-world economics that would prepare a young person for running a business or at least understanding a federal tax form.

But the central irony about California’s required high school exit exam - which state Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, this month introduced legislation, AB 172, to get rid of beginning with the 2016-17 academic year - is the stunning number of students who pass it: some 95.5 percent of high school seniors in 2014.

Something is clearly amiss here - and that’s probably enough to support getting rid of it - when we constantly hear from our community college teachers about how many of their students simply aren’t ready for college-level work. In fact, a study by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento said that over 50 percent of California’s high school students are in need of remedial work when they arrive at community colleges. How can that be when 95 percent of our students pass the California High School Exit Examination? It doesn’t take a valedictorian to thereby deduce that the exam is bogus. Let’s dump it.

___

Feb 11

The Riverside Press-Enterprise: Experimental reviews of body cameras promising

Law enforcement agencies throughout southern California, particularly in the Inland Empire, have long been pursuing the use of body cameras. The devices have shown great promise and potential in jurisdictions that have used them. The reason is simple: the presence of cameras influences human behavior.

Experimental reviews of the devices in cities like Rialto and Mesa, Ariz., have demonstrated declines in citizen complaints against officers and use-of-force incidents. The presence of body-worn cameras, recording video and audio, may make individuals think twice before misbehaving and may help ensure that officers remain professional.

The results out of Rialto helped influence the Ontario Police Department’s decision to adopt the use of body cameras last year.

“The department began looking at this for a year on a trial period,” says detective Bill Russell, administrator of the program. “It seemed like technology caught up to where it became a feasible item for us.”

The department, which doesn’t have dashboard cameras, determined that body cameras were a more feasible and practical technology. Rather than simply having a camera fixed to the car, it was seen as more sensible to have a camera that follows the officer.

After negotiating the terms and conditions of their use with the police union, the department issued cameras to all uniformed officers in the field, about 220 in total.

“Like anything, there was a little apprehension until people stated using them,” says Mr. Russell. “But now the officers are on board.”

The department contracts with Taser International, at a cost of $1.1 million over five years for the cameras and cloud storage for the footage.

The footage is routinely used in court cases and has become a key piece of evidence. Officers are allowed to view the footage when writing reports.

Among the top concerns Mr. Russell raises for other departments includes issues of cost and data storage. “There’s a cost concern, these programs are not free,” he says. “Along with that is the data storage issue, whether or not to maintain your own servers or contract with a cloud service, which may be the biggest hurdle.”

These are all issues worth being mindful of going forward. Though each law enforcement agency will need to assess the merits of body cameras for themselves, we believe the technology has significant potential to enhance transparency, accountability and public trust in law enforcement.

___

Feb. 13

U-T San Diego: CEQA reformers up against powerful forces

California’s current governor, Jerry Brown, and all living ex-governors - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian - say the California Environmental Quality Act could be streamlined in ways that would help the state’s economy without damaging the environment in any way.

This bipartisan call for reform is also seen among legislative leaders. Earlier this month, Senate President Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, praised a CEQA modification measure proposed by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

So smooth sailing awaits Jackson’s proposal? We wish it were that simple. Instead, CEQA reform is unlikely to ever occur in a Legislature in which majority Democrats are tightly allied with two groups who love the law exactly as it is.

Those in the environmental movement use CEQA to endlessly stall projects they don’t like or to force costly concessions from developers. Trial lawyers use CEQA to endlessly stall projects until they are paid to drop their objections.

As Brown, Schwarzenegger, Davis, Wilson and Deukmejian have all pointed out, the state’s landmark environmental law wasn’t meant to be used as an anti-business bludgeon. Unfortunately, those doing the bludgeoning are so powerful that it will be difficult for common sense and good faith to win this fight.

___


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide