McNerney to release earmark list

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, has released a list of $66.4 million in earmark requests he will make in upcoming appropriations bills.

Critics call earmarks by “pork,” and say members have abuse the process in order to win votes back home and appease special interests groups and lobbyists.

But local government officials view the competition for federal dollars as part of the democratic process, largely because those federal dollars originate with local taxpayers who want to see some of their money returned home.

McNerney says he released his list because “I came to Washington committed to being open and accountable to Californians, and to change the way business is done here. For too long, the earmark process has been shrouded in secrecy, allowing lawmakers to fund expensive boondoggle projects that benefit the special interests as opposed to the public interest.”

The House of Representatives passed ethics reforms in January that require earmarks to carry the sponsoring member’s name within appropriations bills, but the rule does not mandate the individual release of the projects’ requesters.

Critics have called for individual disclosure, rightfully noting that it’s all but impossible for average citizens to wade through voluminous appropriations bills in search of names.

But some members fear such a list will raise local expectations when many earmarks fail to make it through the process. In other words, just because a member asks for money doesn’t mean he or she will get it.

Martinez Congressman George Miller’s office says they release earmarks after the projects have been approved by the sub-committee with jurisdiction. They also release at that time the list of projects that were not funded. (Miller’s press release of June 21 listed two projects that have been included by the relevant subcommittee: $650,000 for sewer and storm drain improvements on Mare Island and $100,000 for a interpretive “Rosie, the Riveter” center in Richmond.

The staff of Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, has a list of her funding requests along with an on-line earmark tutorial on her web site designed to help constituents understand the lengthy, uncertain and bureaucratic process.

It does appear as though the Democrats’ earmark reform, despite critics’ arguments that it doesn’t go far enough, has had an impact. The Interior Department appropriations bill, for example, contains about half the number of earmarks that last year’s under a Republican-led Congress.


Antioch pays eight years for mystery phone line

After Antioch stopped paying directly for its councilmembers’ phone lines and switched to a flat-rate stipend, Antioch Councilman Arne Simonsen wanted to know why a telephone charge continued to show up on the City Council’s budget.

After a bit of research, Antioch staff figured out that it was a phone line installed in a city building downtown at least eight years ago, possibly for a former Antioch elected official. The building is shared by the city, staff for Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, and state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch.

The phone line had escaped detection until it showed up as the only phone line being charged to the city council’s budget.

Thankfully, there’s been no long-distance calls to China, although that might have triggered someone’s attention far earlier.

But phones aren’t free, either. The cost was about $14 a month or $168 a year for roughly eight years. That adds up to $1,344.

On the other hand, let’s not blow it out of proportion: That’s a tiny fraction of the city’s $148.5 million budget this year.


Post-partisanship, indeed.

This comes courtesy of intrepid Tribune reporter Kelly Rayburn…

Few topics were off limits at a pre-Gay Pride Parade breakfast Sunday that brought a bevy of the city’s movers and shakers to the the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano had a suggestion on how Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Chris Daly might settle their long-running feud, which reached a head last week when Daly raised the allegation that Newsom had used cocaine. Newsom angrily denied ever taking the drug.

“In terms of gay pride,” Ammiano said, “I think that Newsom and Daly should show that they have pride and have make-up sex, don’t you?”

The crowd of about 300 burst into laughter.

The breakfast was organized by the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club. The keynote speaker was Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential hopeful John Edwards.

Newsom took the mic at one point, offering no comment Ammiano’s suggestion. Daly was not in attendance.


Dog drives man out of the closet

A press release from the Walnut Creek Police Department prompted those of us working in the newsroom today to wonder if modern criminals are just, well, dumber than they used to be.

The police report that just before 1 p.m. today — that’s broad daylight, folks — a 31-year-old unemployed guy waltzed into the backyard of a Walnut Creek house carrying a backpack. And he did it in full view of a neighbor, who knew the homeowners were away on vacation and he called the police.

The police arrive and find a back window had been removed and they could hear this guy banging around inside the house.

Busted, right? It wasn’t that easy.

Officers told the guy to come out.

He refused.

Officers and a police dog from Concord searched the house found him hiding in a closet. (Oooh, they’ll never find me here!)

They told the guy to come out.

He refused.

So, they sent the dog into the closet and the dog bit the guy in the arm.

He came out.


Dublin mayor looking at BART run

Dublin Mayor Janet Lockhart, in an e-mail from China where she is visiting a sister city, confirmed that she is seriously considering a run for the BART board next year.

She lives in the district of incumbent Zoyd Luce, a man who unexpectedly beat prior BART Director and former Dublin Mayor Pete Snyder. Luce won largely due to support from Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.

At the time, Haggerty was furious with Snyder over what the supervisor considered the BART director’s negative attitude about a future BART extension to Livermore. Snyder had stated that there was no money for it. Ironically, Luce came to the same conclusion in his first year of office.

It’s unclear whether Luce will seek re-election. He has expressed interest in a second term although he has talked about other posts, as well.

Luce, a former BART employee who says he was forced out because he objected to the agency’s safety program, has been a controversial figure at the agency. Luce and retiring BART manager Tom Margo openly loathed each other. Luce’s BART board colleagues tried to temper his blunt language and encouraged him to find more productive means to promote what they considered good ideas.


Lawmakers demand ‘mothball fleet’ briefing

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., are pressing the Bush Administration for a plan to make sure the “mothball fleet” that’s rusting out there in Suisun Bay isn’t releasing toxic materials into the water.


In a letter sent today to the federal Maritime Administration — which maintains the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet and is responsible for its cleanup — the lawmakers asked for a briefing on the current state of the long-mothballed navy fleet and for an update on specific steps the Administration is taking. Our brethren at the Contra Costa Times revealed last Sunday that the administration received a report in February on possible environmental damage, but it’s unclear whether anything is being done about it.

“The beauty and the utility of the bay are two of our region’s greatest resources,” Tauscher said. “Because of this we need to be vigilant and take every step toward protecting it from present and future environmental hazards. The fact that the have been sitting on this report for months is infuriating. Bay Area citizens have the right to know the environmental impact of the mothball fleet which is why we are putting pressure on the Bush administration to let us know what, if any, plans they have to protect our Bay.”

Said Miller: “We recognize that this is a complicated situation but inaction is not a solution. We intend to keep the pressure on the administration to develop a plan that protects the environment and allows for these ships to be disposed of properly.”