- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sept. 16

The Pasadena Star-News on recycling taxpayer money for water projects:

When faced with a crisis, Californians, whether garage tinkerers or civil engineers, are a people of big-idea responses to the big problem at hand.

That’s why, in the ongoing environmental crisis that is the four-year drought in our state and throughout the far West, so many citizens come forward with new - or remind us to recycle the best of the old - ideas for working our way through it.

Some of the more crackpot ones are interesting enough to hear out again, but are never going to actually happen. Every drought, here come the tweed-coated, bow-tied fellows at the cocktail parties extolling the notion of towing an iceberg down from the Arctic, anchoring it off Santa Monica and letting the meltdown somehow water our collective dichondra.

Thanks for the memories, guys.

Or, as one smart headline writer had it last spring: “William Shatner boldly goes after Northwest water for California.” Yes, Captain Kirk in April announced his own big idea: A $30 billion pipeline from Washington state to California to help drain the soggy bits on the map in favor of the dry states. The Pacific Northwest is just drowning in the stuff, under this theory, and would dearly love to send some down the drain.

Even if that latter part were true, one of the many problems with this concept, oft-spouted by letter-to-the-editor writers, is that the Northwest is experiencing its own drought these days.

Better to stick with the somewhat more tried-and-true. And, barring a sudden renewal of the Sierra snowpack levels of yesteryear, one of the best of the big-engineering plans to alleviate the drought is to simply recycle the water Californians already use.

The land does this naturally when irrigation water percolates down into the aquifers beneath the state. But the domestic water that flows into our sewer systems is usually filtered and then sent out to sea. Filter it just a few times more, and it is just as clean and healthful as that from a mountain stream - minus the giardia.

After being derided as “toilet-to-tap,” a truly awful PR stigma, recycled water was a hard sell in previous droughts. But now there is a renewal of interest in using it, especially for irrigation, in our parched state. If it’s not as cheap as simply draining off the Colorado River, well, there is less of that to drain these days. But an investigation in the San Francisco Chronicle reports that it’s only half the price of that other favorite suggestion, desalination of seawater. And the 1.1 million acre-feet of usable water that could be created through recycling would be twice as much as backward-thinking dam projects proposed for California.

But the newspaper reports that the Obama administration this year asked for just $20 million in recycling projects for all 17 states in the West. And the Republican House has ditched funding through “earmarks,” so that no member of Congress can individually propose spending on any project, no matter how important. So the budget passed with the support of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, does not mention recycling and contains no money for any water projects. It instead relies on transferring more water from the north to the south.

California sends more tax money to D.C. than we get in return. Let’s lobby to recycle that for the nation’s greengrocer.

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Sept. 18

The Press-Enterprise on state lobbyists:

Lobbyists, like death and taxes, seem unavoidable. Of course, if the government is after you with higher taxes or stricter regulations, what you really want is someone to argue your case with local, state and national governments.

The problem is that all too many lobbyists do the opposite: They help their clients by working to increase taxes and regulations. And the number of lobbyists in the state Capitol keeps growing. “As of June 30, there were 1,760 lobbyists registered with the state, according to filings with the secretary of state,” reported the Sacrament Bee. “That is down slightly from last year, but about 100 more than a comparable time in 2013, the first half of the 2013-2014 legislative session.”

So the number is up about 6 percent in two years. Well, that’s less than the logarithmic 13 percent increase, to $113 billion, in state general fund spending during that period.

According to the Bee, in addition to businesses, local governments increasingly are lobbying state legislators to get more of the revenue pie funded by taxpayers, and to prevent raids on their treasuries, such as the 2011 elimination (unfortunately only temporary) of redevelopment agencies and prison realignment, which sent about 24,000 nonviolent felons from state prisons to county jails.

In 2010, the Legislature also passed Assembly Bill 1743 in the wake of a scandal involving “influence peddling at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System,” according to the Foley legal news site. The bill defined as “lobbyists” those trying to influence investments by CalPERS and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

But the overall problem, really, is the gigantic size of government at all levels. The Declaration of Independence was passed because, as it stated of tyrannical King George III, “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” The founders were made so upset by some minor taxes on stamps and tea.

The only way to reduce the number and influence of lobbyists of all types is to cut the size of government - drastically.

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Sept. 20

The Sacramento Bee on Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.:

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States this week won’t include California. It’s a missed opportunity. Rarely has such a secular blue state had so much in common with a spiritual leader: Hispanic roots, environmentalism, Father Junipero Serra, a certain star quality.

Though many Californians - including at least 100 Roman Catholics from the Diocese of Sacramento - are traveling East to be part of the historic occasion, it has been 28 years since a pope last graced this state. The Pope arrives Tuesday with a five-day itinerary that will include Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. We welcome him, and hope his presence brings more of the nation around to a more Californian viewpoint during his trip, which will coincide with Climate Week.

Francis will meet with Congress and President Barack Obama and the U.N. General Assembly. He may run into Gov. Jerry Brown, who will be in New York for the climate change conference. And he’ll meet with legions of poor people and prison inmates. In this respect, he and California are alike, too - better acquainted than most with both the powerful and the deeply impoverished.

In Washington, at a Spanish Mass, the pope will canonize Serra, who founded this state’s mission system, and reach out to the Native Americans who suffered in the name of Christian salvation. A representative of the Ohlone people, who were nearly wiped out during the mission era, will do one of the ceremonial readings in the tribe’s native language, which until recently had all but disappeared.

We appreciate this spirit of reconciliation. This world hasn’t been open-hearted lately, and Francis’ example underscores how far we have drifted from each other. He is charismatic, and Americans have been swept up in a way that few would have thought possible only a few years ago during the pedophile priest scandals.

And it would be nice if that charisma were to soften some of this nation’s divisions, though that’s probably unlikely. The political left points to the anti-consumerism in “Laudato si,” his landmark encyclical on global warming. The right notes that while he has shifted emphasis, church doctrine is unchanged toward abortion and same-sex marriage. People see what they want to see in him, again, like California.

Meanwhile, there are his actual marching orders, which couldn’t be more counterintuitive to the striving, self-absorbed American middle: Money must serve, not rule. Take in the migrants. If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.

Here in California, Francis’ challenge is manifest in our burning, struggling, diverse, immigrant-filled, wealthy, poverty-stricken landscape. The challenges he sees are more than rhetoric here, from income disparity to climate change.

Religion isn’t the force here that it once was, but in these desperate times, we’re open to any help he can offer. In a nation that thought John F. Kennedy’s faith might keep him from being elected, nearly 31 percent of Congress now identifies as Roman Catholic, as do eight of the politicians running for the White House. How they greet this pope will be revealing. Here’s hoping he imparts some wisdom. Red or blue, East, West or middle, we could all use a little grace.

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Sept. 21

The San Jose Mercury News on publicizing union negotiations:

Since 2008, San Jose has been posting written offers and counter offers made in union negotiations on its website. It has allowed the public - and union members - to understand basic positions and goals in bargaining and to prevent surprises when agreement, or impasse, is reached.

Public employee unions statewide have set out to prevent this practice if it’s mandated in a city ordinance. The bill they got through the California Legislature is transparently punitive: If cities or elected boards pass laws requiring disclosure - or if voters pass them through ballot measures - they’ll be hit with a poison pill, a whole raft of ridiculously onerous rules for contracting work that no city would want to deal with.

The legislation also would prohibit mandates for independent financial analyses of the costs of proposals. Amazing.

Gov. Jerry Brown has to veto SB 331, which could be the worst piece of legislative garbage passed this year. If cities or their voters believe it’s useful for people to see what’s on the table in negotiations, the state should not intervene. If anything, Brown should urge more disclosure. It could help prevent financial meltdowns in cities like Vallejo and Stockton.

San Jose posts negotiating offers as city policy, not an ordinance so the practice appears to be safe for now. But it’s too close for comfort.

Masquerading as a transparency bill, the legislation carried by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, was designed by labor groups to block fledgling local laws bringing transparency to collective bargaining.

In most municipalities, unions negotiate with managers who also benefit from increased compensation granted to the rank and file, and ultimately with elected officials who depend on labor support in political campaigns. The public does not see details until the deal has been approved.

An egregious example of the consequence was the infamous 2013 BART contract. Transit system representatives upped their financial offer by 48 percent in the final hours, and the public didn’t find out until it was too late.

The unions’ bill specifically targets COIN ordinances, for “Civic Openness in Negotiations,” that some cities are trying to implement. They require essentially what San Jose does in posting offers and counter offers online as well as requiring an independent financial analysis of them, a great addition. Why prohibit a financial analysis if union proposals are reasonable?

The bill masquerades as a way to improve transparency for contracting. Hogwash. Contracting already is far more transparent than labor bargaining - and if contracting rules are a problem, why not change them for all cities? Why just those that want the public to understand what’s at stake in labor talks?

Senate Bill 331 is the worst kind of cynical legislation, pretending to increase transparency when it would lock in secrecy that benefits unions. Brown has to stop it.

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Sept. 22

The San Francisco Chronicle on using clean fuel:

Though state lawmakers caved to the oil industry by spiking a plan to sharply reduce gasoline use, there’s another option for Sacramento in reducing climate change and promoting alternative sources to fill gas tanks. State regulators are close to extending a measure that cuts carbon levels in everyday driving fuel.

The low-carbon standard is among a batch of policies designed to cut carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse-gas culprit blamed for rising temperatures and whipsawing weather. Extending the mandate to cut levels in gas is an essential part of state strategies to curb climate change.

Reducing the carbon level in gas has other benefits. It spurs development of alternative biofuels to wean California off its petroleum diet. The skies will be clearer and public health improved. It nudges the state toward more low-emission vehicles by showcasing the innovation needed to change gas-burning habits.

It’s not without controversy. Oil producers and Midwest ethanol producers say the plan is too flawed and complicated to work, an argument that failed in court last year. But this week, a string of major businesses - eBay, KB Home and Dignity Health among them - is backing the fuel rule. “It’s a practical, gradual and manageable transition,” said Anne Kelly, director of the employer coalition known as Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy.

Later this week the state Air Resources Board will consider extending the low-carbon standard, first promulgated in 2007. It’s almost certain to renew the policy, which aims to lower carbon levels by 10 percent by 2020.

The larger picture should be unmistakable. California is pushing ahead on major climate-change measures that Washington is too timid to undertake. The state is increasing renewable energy to light homes and businesses. Rules to encourage thriftier ways of heating and cooling will be strengthened. The worries about lost jobs and shuttered businesses aren’t proving true as the state’s economy gathers steam.

Changing the ingredients in gas-pump fuels should be part of this overall trend. Renewing the low-carbon standard will be good for California’s future.

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Sept. 22

The Santa Maria Times on the state’s teacher shortage:

It often seems people assume there is a crisis in our public schools - but no one is really putting their finger on the root cause.

Politicians like to blame teachers, because as we all know, that’s where the rubber hits the road in a classroom. But as with most issues in this modern age, it’s far more complicated than that, with multiple causes, most of which we have discussed at length in this space.

Public education’s situation is not unlike California wildfires. The fire itself is a living, fast-moving beast, and if the blaze is big, firefighters really don’t have much of a shot at bringing it down quickly.

So, they work on putting out peripheral fires, dousing the hot spots in an effort to prevent them from growing into yet another beast.

In education, the beast is generally considered to be entrenched methods and policy, and uncertainty of unreliable funding. But what about the hot spots? Something has to be at the core of public education’s problems.

Here’s one hot spot - this region, state and nation don’t have nearly enough qualified, certificated teachers to satisfy classroom demand.

The situation in California is especially acute. Public schools in this state are expected to be more than 100,000 teachers short of what’s needed over the next decade. And about a third of those empty teaching slots are in two academic disciplines crucial to this state and nation’s economy - math and science.

What is true for North County is also true statewide, in large part because a third of new teachers don’t last more than seven years, 13 percent of them drop out after the first year in front of a class, and one in 10 teachers who venture into high-poverty schools quickly seek transfers to schools less stressed by financial hardships.

The latest problem for North County districts is a looming shortage of qualified substitute teachers, which has compelled several districts to launch a recruiting program, in which attendees get a snapshot of the job, along with a free sandwich. The substitute crisis also has induced several districts to increase per-diem pay rates, in the hope that more money will equate to more interest in the job.

About the job. Most teachers and substitutes will quickly tell you that imparting your knowledge and skills to children in your community is enormously rewarding - at least on an emotional and psychological level. The job, however, is clearly not rewarding enough, when so many cannot pay their bills on a teacher’s pay.

There’s more to it, of course. One retired teacher - more than 30 years at the head of high school classrooms - was asked why there is a teacher shortage, and here is her answer: No money, no respect, inappropriate evaluations and expectations, and the availability these days of more, varied career options for women.

Take the math/science-qualified teacher. He or she can make more money - in most cases, a lot more - taking jobs in the private sector than in public education. College grads with degrees in math and science gravitate to those better jobs, and often don’t even pretend to take a teaching career into consideration.

For us, the salary issue is big, but perhaps even bigger is the attitude so many Americans have about teachers. No one likes to be looked down upon. At least no one we can think of.

California has a severe teacher problem. This state already ranks last in student-to-teacher ratios. Something for the California Legislature to consider, instead of wasting time doing nothing.

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