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Archive for November, 2009

FPPC to sue prison health-care receiver?

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission will consider this Thursday whether to sue Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate, court-appointed prison health care receiver J. Clark Kelso and others to force them to adopt a conflict-of-interest code for receivership workers.

J. Clark Kelso Kelso runs the prison health care system at the behest of Senior U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who found years ago that California had failed to clean up decades-old neglect and abuse that amounted to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. As a judicially appointed overseer, the receiver has resisted state regulation and oversight lest his efforts get bogged down in the very bureaucracy it was intended to bypass; he files detailed reports on his work to Henderson periodically, even as he’s gotten into a series of dustups with state officials over the limits of his authority.

But the FPPC is responsible for making sure all agencies in California have conflict-of-interest codes defining which of their employees must file the “Form 700” statement of economic interests, and how much must be disclosed on that form. State law requires this so decision-makers aren’t affected by personal interests when they make public policy.

Irrestistable force, meet immovable object. Lawsuit time!

The FPPC is scheduled to take up the matter in closed session after its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday; FPPC executive director Roman Porter told me today there’s no other publicly available information on this. The FPPC doesn’t usually sue until behind-the-scenes negotiation has proved fruitless; Porter won’t say, and I’m awaiting a callback from Luis Patino, Kelso’s spokesman.

UPDATE @ 4:29 p.m.: Kelso’s office says most receivership staffers already file Form 700, but this dispute was over a Construction Oversight Advisory Board and a Rehabilitation Services Advisory Council – the former of which met twice, the latter never – which since have been disbanded, rendering any potential litigation moot. Read Kelso’s verbatim statement, and the FPPC’s reaction, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009
Under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Westly, committee, treasurer to pay FPPC fine

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission will consider Thursday whether to sign off on a $104,500 fine paid by former state Controller and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Westly, his campaign committee, and committee treasurer Kinde Durkee.

Documents show the FPPC leveled against Westly, the committee and the treasurer 29 counts of failing to report or timely report required subvendor information for payments made by the committee; two counts of failing to report accrued expenses; and one count of failing to report expenditures paid to the treasurer’s firm, Durkee & Associates.

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter says that, per the usual procedure, a check for the penalty already has been cut as part of this stipulated agreement, to be deposited into the General Fund if the commission approves the deal Thursday.

Durkee, based in Burbank, is a big-time name in managing money for Democratic campaigns: among her many other clients have been Secretary of State Debra Bowen and a ton of Southern California state lawmakers, Democratic clubs, PACs and ballot measure committees.

But this isn’t the only trouble Durkee potentially faces. The San Diego Union Tribune recently reported that former state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, has asked the FPPC and the Attorney General’s office to investigate the suspected embezzlement of more than $57,000 and other possible financial irregularities found during a routine audit of her 2006 campaign account; Kehoe also fired Durkee for allegedly failing to report 29 suspected check forgeries by one of the company’s employees.

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009
Under: campaign finance | No Comments »

Activists again urge disbarment for Yoo, Haynes

Two Bay Area lawyers who played roles in the Bush Administration’s legal justifications for torture should be disbarred, according to papers filed Friday in Washington, D.C.

John YooDisbar Torture Lawyers, a group of non-governmental organizations with more than a million members, filed complaints with the District of Columbia Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility against John Yoo, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School, and William Haynes, now chief corporate counsel at San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. The group also filed a complaint against former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The group filed the complaints in Washington because that’s where the targets were practicing at the time of their alleged violations. Yoo served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; Haynes served as the Defense Department’s general counsel. Both helped provide a legal framework for fear- and pain-inducing techniques for interrogating suspected terrorist detainees.

“The evidence is overwhelming that Yoo, Haynes, and Gonzales violated their oath by advocating and allowing torture against U.S. detainees,” attorney and group spokesman Kevin Zeese said in a news release. “Just as a lawyer cannot ethically advise a police officer to torture a criminal defendant, a government lawyer cannot ethically advise a government employee to torture a detainee. In both cases, the lawyers would be in violation of the law, and would be subject to disbarment. We strongly urge the Department of Justice to release its own OPR investigation into the conduct of these and other attorneys who provided cover for the wholesale use of torture by our government. We are hopeful that the investigation supports our call for disbarment.”

William Haynes The group filed similar petitions against Yoo and Haynes with the state bars of Pennsylvania and California, respectively, earlier this year.

Also, the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild in March filed a complaint against Haynes with the State Bar of California; after the State Bar closed that case, the NLG said it would pursue the case to the state Supreme Court, but the court rejected the petition in October.

Meanwhile, protestors yet again will urge Cal to fire Yoo today, staging protests at noon on Sproul Plaza and at 3 p.m. – just before one of Yoo’s scheduled classes – at the law school.

UPDATE @ 1:30 P.M. TUESDAY: A Chevron spokesman has just fronted me a letter that William T. Coleman Jr., a prominent Washington, D.C. attorney, wrote to the National Lawyers Guild in March – an impassioned defense of Haynes. “I know first-hand that Jim Haynes is a superb lawyer of the highest integrity, and believe that he discharged his responsibilities while General Counsel of the Defense Department in accordance with his oath of his office and the highest ethical standards,” wrote Coleman, who served as Secretary of Transportation under President Gerald Ford. “We should all be grateful that we had such courageous, committed, knowledgeable and superior people including Jim Haynes, not only willing to serve in these times of peril, but having the love of just laws would always act within the law, even though their mission was to prevent many more attacking terrorist actions on American citizens in the United States and elsewhere in the world.”

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009
Under: Civil liberties, President Bush, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Jerry Brown is thankful for Hollywood, casinos

Or, at least, Hollywood and casinos seem thankful for Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial candidacy.

In addition to the money on which I reported last week, Brown’s campaign in the past seven days has listed contributions totaling $138,800 from Dreamworks cofounders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzeneberg and David Geffen, plus Spielberg’s and Katzenberg’s wives. The campaign also received $25,000 each from the Bicycle Casino of Bell Gardens, the California Commerce Club of Commerce and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation in El Cajon.

But that might be cynical of me, I suppose. Here’s what Brown actually e-mailed out on the day before Thanksgiving:

Jerry BrownAs Anne and I get ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow, many fond memories of past family gatherings come to mind. It is on these occasions that my father would often share stories of his family, particularly his grandfather who came across the plains and over the Sierras to Sacramento in 1852. In those days, the challenges were enormous and of a type we can barely imagine.

Today we face entirely different challenges. Whether they are bigger or smaller, I can’t say. But I do know that California is still a state of imagination and boundless possibility. Our pioneering spirit is very much alive and will enable us to handle any of our problems, however daunting they may now appear.

As you take time to enjoy Thanksgiving with your own family and reflect on the year that is drawing to a close, you can take renewed encouragement from the courage and achievements that have made California such a unique and wonderful place.

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009
Under: 2010 governor's race, campaign finance, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

If you’re gonna dream, dream big.

Lee W. Olson of Huntington Beach clearly feels the ballot initiative process is his opportunity to have his vision of government writ large upon California – even if that vision involves a wholesale reworking of large swaths of public policy.

The Secretary of State’s office last week cleared three Olson-authored initiatives for petition circulation. In an age when lengthy, complex legislation is considered by many to be the devil’s work, Olson has kept each of his measures to a single, tidy paragraph.

One measure would eliminate state income and property taxes for all Californians 55 and older; the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Department of Finance estimate this would mean a $15 billion-per-year hit to the state budget, and $5 billion to $10 billion more for local governments.

A second measure would prohibit property, sales or income taxes from being used to fund California’s public schools, colleges and universities, or to buy textbooks for grades one through eight. K-12 and higher education now account for about 32 percent of California’s General Fund spending, about $38 billion. “The only remaining sources of revenue would be from the state lottery, student fees, and the federal government,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office found. “Absent any new sources of revenues, public education programs would only be a fraction of their current size.”

And a third would change the state constitution to give parents or legal guardians the sole authority and responsibility to set their children’s educational curricula, not to be usurped by state and local governments. Simplicity might not have been Olson’s friend on this one, as the LAO seemed stumped about what it might actually mean.

Olson has until April 23 to gather valid signatures from 694,354 registered voters for each of these measures in order to put them on next year’s ballot. But I’m guessing… no.

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009
Under: ballot measures, education, taxes | 5 Comments »

Campaign finance update: Ballot measures, Brown

ch-CHING!Palo Alto physicist Charles T. Munger Jr., son of Warren Buffett’s billionaire investor partner, yesterday put another $512,167 into his “Voters First Act for Congress” ballot measure, bringing his total so far to $1,515,197. The measure would remove authority for setting California’s 53 Congressional district boundaries from the state Legislature, and would give that authority instead to the same Citizens Redistricting Commission that will soon be setting state Legislative boundaries (as required by last year’s successful Proposition 11).

Real-estate and financial billionaire Eli Broad of Los Angeles put up $100,000 for Californians for an Open Primary. That’s the committee backing the ballot measure that state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria – the guy Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tapped this week to serve as lieutenant governor – forced Legislative Democrats to put on the June 2010 ballot in exchange for his crucial Republican vote on a budget agreement earlier this year. The money, so far, has not been rolling in fast.

Republican former Los Angeles Mayor, 2002 gubernatorial primary candidate and education secretary Richard Riordan gave $6,500 Friday to Democrat Gloria Romero’s campaign for superintendent of public instruction.

And among those showing Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign the deep-pocketed love in the past week are Gemini Industries founder Sebastian Paul Musco and his wife, Marybelle, of Newport Beach ($103,600); movie mogul Rob Reiner of Beverly Hills ($50,000); Belkin International President and CEO Chet Pipkin and his wife, Janice, of Manhattan Beach ($50,000); Hard Rock Hotel and Casino founder and chairman Peter Morton of Los Angeles ($50,000); investor Linda Buckel of Park City, Utah ($50,000); and Annenberg Foundation chairwoman, president and CEO Wallis Annenberg of Los Angeles ($46,000).

Posted on Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
Under: 2010 election, 2010 governor's race, ballot measures, campaign finance, Gloria Romero, Jerry Brown | 2 Comments »

Martinez mayor appointed to Bay Area water board

Schroder

Schroder

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

He also reappointed to the board Lafayette resident Shalom Eliahu, 82, who has served on the board since 2000. Eliahu is president of Solo Engineer Consulting and has also worked in Israel for a construction solar evaporation plant.  He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Schroder, 56, has been Martinez mayor since 2002 and is president and chief financial officer of Schroder Insurance Services. Schroder also serves on the Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission, is an appointed director for the Contra Costa County Transit Authority and is a member of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

Both men are registered decline to state, although Schroder had been a Republican until late 2008.

The appointments require Senate confirmation.

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
Under: Contra Costa politics, Schwarzenegger | No Comments »

Some recent political books for holiday reading

No, I’ve not read Palin’s book. Or Plouffe’s.

Intimate Lives of the Founding FathersBut I’ve very much enjoyed Thomas Fleming’s “The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers” (Smithsonian Books, $27.99), which examines the women behind the men who launched our nation. A young George Washington was head-over-heels for his half-brother’s wife’s hot, young, married sister-in-law long before he met the wealthy widow with whom he would share his life; Benjamin Franklin, while undeniably randy in his youth, was not nearly the elderly horndog his detractors made him out to be; John Adams, while constantly obsessing over perceived slights and his own historical legacy, couldn’t imagine being without Abigail yet endured years apart from her. We’re quick to deify these men, quick to forget they were real people with real lives that helped define the birth of our nation; this very engaging book offers a window into who they really were, and the vital roles their life partners played in making history.

O is for ObamaFar less exciting is “O is for Obama: An Irreverent A-to-Z Guide to Washington and Beltway Politics” (Triumph, $16.95), written by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank and illustrated by Mark Anderson. “D is for Drudge, who, like Limbaugh and Hannity/Believes that Obama is causing calamity.” It’s just not as light and clever as it clearly had hoped to be, although the illustrations by Anderson – whose work has appeared in publications including Time, The New Yorker and the Wall Street journal – are undeniably delightful.

Among other titles that’ve crossed my desk lately:

California’s Golden Years: When Government Worked and Why” (Berkeley Public Policy Press) – William Bagley, a moderate Republican lawmaker (1960-74) from the North Bay who later served on the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Transportation Commission and the University of California Board of Regents, shares “an insider’s explanation for why politics seemed to work better then than now.”

The Insecure American: How We Got Here & What We Should Do About It” (University of California Press, $24.95) – George Mason University Anthropology Professor Hugh Gusterson and Colby College Anthropology Professor Catherine Besteman edit essays from 19 leading ethnographers “to create a unique portrait of an anxious country and to furnish valuable insights into the nation’s possible future,” touching upon issues including the economy, terrorism, the “war on drugs,” racial resentment, a fraying social safety net, immigration, health care and more. Features a forward by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
Under: books | 6 Comments »

Stimulus funds for local energy-storage projects

Bay Area companies have been awarded more than $49 million in economic-stimulus funds for energy storage projects aimed at improving the efficiency and reliability of the nation’s electrical grid, the U.S. Department of Energy announced this morning.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $620 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money for 32 projects across the nation, leveraged with $1 billion in private-sector funds. California is getting about $175 million in ARRA funding to support more than $679 billion in projects.

“These demonstration projects will further our knowledge and understanding of what works best and delivers the best results for the Smart Grid, setting the course for a modern grid that is critical to achieving our energy goals,” Chu said in a news release. “This funding will be used to show how Smart Grid technologies can be applied to whole systems to promote energy savings for consumers, increase energy efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.”

Alameda-based Primus Power Corp. will get $14 million for a wind energy “farm” that will store energy for the Modesto Irrigation District, replacing a planned fossil fuel plant. The project’s total cost is $46.7 million.

Berkeley-based Seeo Inc. will get $6,196,060 to develop and deploy a prototype battery system based on the company’s proprietary nanostructured polymer electrolytes; this new class of advanced lithium-ion rechargeable battery is expected to show improvements in energy density, battery life, safety and cost, and would be targeted for use in utility-scale operations such as community energy storage projects. The project’s total cost is $12,392,120.

Fremont-based Amber Kinetics Inc. will get $4 million to develop and demonstrate a new flywheel technology for use in grid-connected, low-cost bulk energy storage; this effort, in partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is expected to improve on traditional flywheel systems to produce higher efficiency and lower costs competitive with pumped hyrdo technologies. The project’s total cost is $10 million.

And San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will get $25 million to build and validate the design, performance and reliability of an advanced, underground compressed air energy storage plant using a saline porous rock formation near Bakersfield. The project’s total cost is $355,938,600.

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
Under: economy, energy | 1 Comment »

Dem leader not hot on Maldonado

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says he has “grave concerns” about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to nominate GOP Sen. Abel Maldonado as the next lieutenant governor.

“I congratulate Senator Maldonado upon his nomination by the governor,” Steinberg said in a release a few minutes ago. “Senator Maldonado is a fine colleague, but I have grave doubts about filling this position with any sitting elected official for two significant reasons.”

Steinberg questions the cost of holding a special election to replace Maldonado, estimated at $2 million.

“Rather than using taxpayer money to pay for an avoidable election, it may be wiser to use that $2 million to defray recent fee increases in our higher education system,” Steinberg said. “For example, $2 million would significantly reduce the Winter/Spring 2010 fee increases for UC students, or it would cover the recent $6 per unit increase for 333,000 course units for community college students.”

Besides, he added, voters in less than a year will select their own lieutenant governor.

“It may be both fiscally and politically prudent to permit the people to make their own selection for this statewide office next year and avoid the expense of a costly special election,” Steinberg said.

So much for rewarding Maldonado for his aye vote on the budget this year.

The nomination to fill out former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi’s term would be a serious leg up for Maldonado’s election prospects in 2010, where he could run as the incumbent.

UPDATE: Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear says the Legislature has the power to avoid the cost of a special election: If the Legislature confirms Maldonado by Feb. 16, the special election to fill his seat can be consolidated with the June 8 statewide election and pay nothing extra.

UPDATE NO. 2:  Rick Jacobs, chairman of the progressive Courage Campaign, released the following statement today on Maldonado.

“The best thing we can do right now is to remove Sen. Abel Maldonado from a position of importance where he can do great damage, the California State Senate, and place him in an irrelevant post, the Lt. Governor’s office. For once, we agree with the Governor — Abel Maldonado should be demoted to Lt. Governor.”

UPDATE NO. 3: From Steinberg’s office on the cost of special election. ”

“To fill the Maldonado seat, there will almost certainly be two elections: 1) a primary, and 2) a run-off. It is only possible to consolidate one of those two elections with the June primary. Thus, there will have to be at least one unconsolidated election for the 15th SD, which would involve 5 separate county election offices. The cost of administering one such election is estimated at $2 million. That number is based on the most recent Senate special election to fill SD 26 (Curren Price) and what we’ve been told by the Secretary of State’s office.”

UPDATE NO. 4:  Governor Schwarzenegger’s Communications Director Matt David today issued the following statement after Senator Steinberg’s comments on the Governor’s recent appointment of Senator Maldonado as California’s next Lieutenant Governor:

“If Senator Steinberg acts promptly and confirms Senator Maldonado as California’s next Lieutenant Governor within 84 days, the Governor will consolidate the 15th district’s special election with the statewide June election to save tax payer dollars. If Senator Steinberg is concerned about state revenues and college tuition hikes he should stop fighting his own pay cut.”

Senator Steinberg Announced Today That He Was Opposed To A Special Election, But He Had No Problem Earlier This Year Endorsing State Senator Gil Cedillo In The Special Election To Fill The 32nd Congressional District Seat. (Gil Cedillo For U.S. Congress, www.gilcedillo.com, Accessed 11/24/09)

In April, The Sacramento Bee Ran A Story Detailing The Problems The Democratic Leadership May Have As Legislators Leave The Senate And Assembly To Seek Higher Office. This Is What Senator Steinberg Said When Asked About The Vacancy Situation: “Steinberg said he will always ‘encourage my colleagues to seek higher office (and) achieve their goals. We’ll deal with it all as best we can.’ (Shane Goldmacher, “Vacancies To Plague Dem Leadership Throughout ’09,” Sacramento Bee, 4/3/09)

Senator Maldonado Has Had A Commitment To Ensure Fiscal Responsibility By Requesting Legislative Pay Cuts. “State Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) today testified before the Citizens Compensation Commission hearing in Los Angeles, which voted to reduce legislators’ salaries by eighteen percent. As part of his ongoing commitment to fiscal responsibility, Senator Maldonado immediately sent a letter to State Controller John Chiang asking that he be paid the new salary effective June 1, 2009. “Of all the cuts that are being discussed right now, one part of government remains immune-the Legislature. I have always said that this economic crisis is about shared pain and shared sacrifice. That is why I came to Los Angeles today to testify before the commission,” Maldonado stated immediately following the hearing.” (Press Release, Senator Abel Maldonado, 5/20/09)

The State Legislature Is Quietly Seeking Using The Courts To Block A Steep Cut In Lawmakers’ Salary And Perks. “Executives of the Assembly and Senate have asked the state attorney general to determine whether the scheduled 18% pay reduction and additional 18% cuts to living expenses and car allowances are illegal. The lowered benefits are due to kick in next month, while base pay is set to be slashed from $116,000 to $95,000, starting with lawmakers elected starting year.” (Patrick McGreevy, “Lawmakers try to block cuts in their pay, perks; Officials seek attorney general’s ruling on the legality of the trims,” Los Angeles Times, 11/6/09)

UPDATE NO. 5: This one came in Tuesday night from Steinberg’s office after I left:

Governor Schwarzenegger’s Communications Director, Matt David, today issued a statement criticizing Senator Steinberg’s statement expressing concern about the $2 million price tag for a special election that would be necessitated if Senator Maldonado is confirmed as Lieutenant Governor.

I don’t know Matt David, and I’m sure he’s an earnest public servant. But there are a few items within his statement that demand a response.

“[T]he Governor will consolidate the 15th district’s special election with the statewide June election to save tax payer dollars.” That’s great, but it fails to recognize that there will be two elections to fill the SD 15 vacancy if Senator Maldonado is confirmed, and only one of those elections can legally be consolidated with the regularly scheduled June statewide primary. The two elections for SD 15 would be a primary and a runoff election. According to state elections officials, either one of those elections, if unconsolidated, should cost at least $2 million. It is possible that Mr. David believes that there will only be one SD 15 election because some dream candidate will earn more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, thus winning the seat outright. However, anyone with more than 15 minutes of political experience in California will tell you that will not happen in the 15th Senate District. Thus, even if the Governor consolidates the special election primary with the June election, there will be a runoff election that will cost taxpayers $2 million.

“If Senator Steinberg is concerned about state revenues and college tuition hikes he should stop fighting his own pay cut.” This would be ironic, if it weren’t false. Senator Steinberg is not fighting his own pay cut, and Mr. David presented no evidence in his statement establishing otherwise. As was accurately reported in the Los Angeles Times (and Sacramento Bee), “[e]xecutives of the Assembly and Senate” requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General regarding recent actions by the Citizen Compensation Commission. In other words, the request was made by Greg Schmidt and Jon Waldie, not Darrell Steinberg. Of course, whether lawmakers should be paid on a par with communications directors for the Governor is a separate story.

“Senator Steinberg Announced Today That He Was Opposed To A Special Election, But He Had No Problem Earlier This Year Endorsing State Senator Gil Cedillo In The Special Election To Fill The 32nd Congressional District Seat.” It is true that Senator Steinberg encourages his colleagues to pursue their goals. Indeed, if Senator Maldonado chooses to run for Lieutenant Governor in next year’s election, Senator Steinberg would be thrilled to see him pursue his electoral desires. But Mr. David’s argument that somehow Sen. Steinberg is applying a double-standard is a red-herring. The concerns over the cost of the potential special election have nothing to do with the political ambitions of Senator Maldonado. Instead, the concerns are based on the fact that the Governor could have avoided the problem simply by nominating anybody other than a sitting legislator. It may be that the Senate and the Assembly determine that it is worth $2 million to have Senator Maldonado serve out the remaining months left in Garamendi’s LG term, but it’s still a $2 million decision the Governor has forced on the legislature.

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
Under: 2010 election, Lt. Governor | 1 Comment »