- Associated Press - Thursday, May 30, 2019

May 28

The San Diego Union-Tribune on supporting change in the California Community Colleges system:

With more than 2 million students, the 114 campuses of the California Community Colleges system play a crucial role in the state. They offer inexpensive access to career training and to associate degrees for younger and older students alike. Numerous graduates have gone on to get four-year degrees.

But “Vision for Success,” a CCC internal assessment released in 2017, raised difficult questions about the system’s performance. It found that nearly half the system’s students completed a degree or certificate program or transferred to a four-year university within six years of enrollment. It also found that many degree earners take “excess units.” Graduates averaged 87 credits - far more than the 60 credits needed for an associate of arts degree in most majors. This costs students and taxpayers alike, and creates headaches for those who can’t get into classes they must have to graduate.

In response, CCC Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and the CCC Board of Governors took steps to improve graduation and completion rates and to limit “excess units.” But that wasn’t enough for then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who won the Legislature’s approval last year for a profound change in funding, so that it is no longer based only on enrollment. Starting this year, funding also factors in each college’s record in getting students to promptly graduate, earn vocational certificates or transfer to four-year colleges.

This makes complete sense. But a backlash was inevitable from faculty members, who already felt underpaid and underappreciated. Many are also unhappy over the creation of a 115th CCC campus, a well-funded online-only college launching this fall. The board of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, which represents about 9,000 instructors, recently voted unanimously to express “no confidence” in Oakley for not addressing faculty concerns or involving faculty in decision-making. That echoed concerns raised earlier by the California Federation of Teachers, which represents about 30,000 CCC instructors and staff members.

In an interview with an editorial writer, Evan Hawkins, executive director of the faculty association, said Oakley “never engaged” with faculty members raising concerns. Hawkins called the online-only campus “redundant” and said it “creates a competition with existing colleges.” He also said Oakley “didn’t necessarily have to jump on board” when Brown and the Legislature imposed changes.

But in a separate interview with an editorial writer, Oakley stressed that no one should misunderstand what his role is. “I work for the state, for the governor,” he said. “I am accountable for implementing their decisions.”

He’s right. The CCC president and board have much less independence than leaders of the University of California and California State University.

“Change is hard for lots of people, and I appreciate that,” Oakley said, but “institutional behavior” that accepts slow student progress needs to change.

Oakley also said that concerns about the online campus taking resources from existing campuses were unfounded, and that it would actually create more jobs for instructors with its focus on providing career training to the 8 million California workers with no more than a high school degree.

Last week, the CCC board announced that with the support of Gov. Gavin Newsom, it had voted to extend Oakley’s contract through 2023. This no doubt will displease faculty unions. But their criticism never should have focused on the chancellor in the first place. He’s the agent of change - not the cause of it. And the vision he’s pursuing - of a robust community college system that does a much better job of helping Californians navigate a turbulent economy - couldn’t be more worthy.


May 25

Desert Sun on cannabis revenue projected to be less than expected:

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently flashed a yellow warning light of sorts to all those expecting to rake in the “green” from the legal marijuana trade.

The governor announced in the May update to his budget proposal for the next fiscal year that Sacramento is now expecting to see less in the way of cannabis revenues. Quite a bit less, in fact.

According to a recent story by The Desert Sun’s Amy DiPierro, the Newsom administration now says it expects to receive $223 million less in cannabis tax revenue through 2020 than previously forecast.

The forecast now calls for state excise taxes on cultivation and retail sales of pot to raise $288 million this fiscal year and $359 million in the next.

These funds pay for regulating the nascent legal cannabis industry and for research into the drug. In addition, Newsom’s new budget plan proposes using about $200 million of the proceeds during the 2019-2020 fiscal year for education, prevention and treatment of youth substance abuse; responding to environmental damage from illegal cannabis grows; and public safety programs, including programs related to impaired driving.

State voters in 2016 approved Proposition 64, which legalized adult recreational use and allowed individuals to grow marijuana for personal use in their homes. Local jurisdictions get to decide whether to allow cannabis businesses in their areas and how to regulate them, for the most part, if they do.

Those communities that open themselves to cannabis can benefit from their own taxes on the new industry and share in state funding of educational and abuse prevention revenues from cannabis excise taxes.

So, here’s the rub.

Newsom’s lowering of the revenue forecast is just the latest sign that legal cannabis might not be the revenue golden goose some had been predicting - at least not in the near term.

Some local jurisdictions - including here in our Coachella Valley - have fully embraced cannabis and are doing all they can to smooth the way for everything from retail shops and lounges to full-scale cultivation and processing facilities, banking on fat returns for city coffers.

Even before Gov. Newsom’s announcement, however, some local officials who’ve embraced pot as a future budget foundation block have been tapping the brakes on expectations.

For example, last fall Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas told the Editorial Board that even as his city was looking to cannabis to cover an increasing share of city expenses, only a third of the 64 conditional use permits for cannabis operations approved by that point might actually become operating businesses.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, Desert Hot Springs Desert collected $1.72 million from cannabis cultivation and dispensary taxes. It expects to see those funds continue to steadily increase “for the next couple years,” according to the city’s most recent financial audit.

Cathedral City has also aggressively courted cannabis. The City Council there recently approved two annual budget plans that project cannabis tax revenues to grow from the $1.9 million seen in 2017-18 to $7.5 million in 2020-21.

Among other businesses, Cathedral City is the home of an in-process commercial cultivation facility that will eventually boast nearly 500,000 square feet in growing space. City Hall expects that the $54 million Sunniva facility could contribute more than $5 million in taxes each year to city coffers.

Across the valley to the east, Coachella is revisiting its cannabis laws to possibly add more retail as well as build its infrastructure to make it a cultivation mecca. One developer has already broken ground there on what ultimately could become a 1 million-square-foot multi-park cultivation center.

For its part, Palm Springs collected about $2.3 million in cannabis taxes since 2017.

Other valley cities, such as Palm Desert, have been much more conservative in allowing pot to take root. Indio and La Quinta continue a “wait-and-see” approach, while Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage show no sign of letting businesses in.

Newsom’s announcement highlights the difficulty California state government is having in bringing the legal market up to speed as well as the reality of continued competition from the black market that can easily undercut significantly higher priced legal product.

City officials who banked on ever-increasing cannabis cash must have a Plan B in place to ensure the resources and infrastructure they’ve committed to this vision don’t become white elephant monuments to a collapsed “pipe dream.”


May 24

Mercury News & East Bay Times on the potential abuses of facial-recognition technology:

Fears that rapid advancement of facial-recognition technology could lead to a wave of government repression and prosecution of innocent people are real.

China is already using the technology to track ethnic minorities, a deplorable surveillance technique that should be internationally condemned.

Meanwhile, in this country, the ACLU conducted a test in 2018 of Amazon’s facial-recognition tool, “Rekognition.” The software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, identifying them as other people who have been arrested for crimes. A disproportionate number of the false matches were of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Last week, Joy Buolamwini, an artificial intelligence researcher for the MIT Media Lab, testified before Congress that its research also demonstrated a higher rate of inaccuracies when scanning minorities.

Facial-recognition technology poses two potential threats: The abuse of the technology for political repression and the misuse of the technology without appreciation for its limited reliability. Neither should be tolerated.

U.S. and California lawmakers should stop law enforcement from using the technology until its accuracy improves. And they must ensure that one of our greatest freedoms, the right to privacy, is preserved.

State lawmakers are already working on legislation that would prohibit facial-recognition software on police body cameras. A bill introduced by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, passed the Assembly earlier this month and will go before the state Senate in June.

In the Bay Area, officials in two cities aren’t waiting.

San Francisco supervisors voted earlier this month to ban local government’s use of facial-recognition technology. The law extends to police and other municipal agencies. Oakland is considering a similar ban, which will be considered by the Public Safety Committee before going to the City Council.

Californians should support these efforts. And the tech industry should take a bigger role in helping navigate the complex challenge of protecting privacy and civil rights while enabling the multiple benefits of the innovation.

Anxiety over new technology and privacy rights is nothing new.

In 1927, the government, without a warrant, tapped Washington state resident Roy Olmstead’s phone, believing he was illegally smuggling alcohol during Prohibition. It sparked the court case Olmstead v. United States, in which Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis argued in his famous dissent that “the right to be let alone” is “the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men.”

Nearly a century later, lawmakers are just beginning to come to grips with the challenge of facial-recognition technology that goes far beyond anything Brandeis could have imagined.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide