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Archive for February, 2011

Got questions? CoCo has answers

In the ever-expanding transfer of our lives onto the Internet, Contra Costa County is taking a test run at extending its on-line library chat system into other areas of county government.

Check out www.co.contra-costa.ca.us and click on the live web chat and ask away.

A news release from the office of Supervisor John Gioia suggest that residents  could ask things like “Where do I go for a building permit?” “What do I do about barking dogs?” “Is there a bus to the Martinez hospital?” “Where do I vote?”

The county library has had a chat function for years on its website, and will deploy the same employees during the trial run to answer the county questions .

Chat live Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If it works out, the county will make it permanent.

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County | 2 Comments »

Hancock seeks crackdown on gun-toting auditors

State Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock introduced a bill today that would strip the sworn peace-officer status from attorneys and auditors at the state Office of the Inspector General, the independent agency watchdogging the state prison system.

Hancock, D-Berkeley, says her SB 490 would save the state $3.7 million by eliminating the more generous benefits, training and equipment – including guns and cars – provided to the OIG’s 105 attorneys and auditors. In contrast, fewer than five of the Attorney General’s 1,200 attorneys and auditors have peace-officer status.

“This bill starts the process of eliminating the abuse of peace office status in state government and the resulting waste of taxpayer dollars,” Hancock said in a news release. “I want to insure that the Office of the Inspector General continues to carry out its work in a cost-effective manner. I do not believe that peace officer status for their attorneys and auditors is necessary.”

A report issued Nov. 30 by the Senate Office of Oversights and Outcomes entitled, “Gun-toting Auditors and Attorneys: Does the Inspector General Need 105 Armed Peace Officers?” found that outfitting each attorney and auditor with guns, holsters, handcuffs, ammunition and related equipment costs more than $2,000 per employee. The report also found their state-issued cars logged more than 700,000 miles for home-to-work commutes at no cost to the employees, representing about 70 percent of their total mileage.

The state Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee today unanimously approved a motion from Hancock – who chairs its Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary – to reduce the OIG’s budget by $3.4 million and reduce the number of sworn officers in the agency to 25 for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

OIG Chief Deputy Inspector Donald Currier told the Los Angeles Times last November that the office is willing to give up the guns and cars but not its peace-officer pensions, as the job still has risky assignments. “They’re not typical police duties, like CHP officers pulling people over all the time who they don’t know,” Currier said, “but their job is to ferret out criminal wrongdoing in prisons, including abuse of force by correctional officers.” The Times noted, however, that the state Senate report indicated other auditors who investigate criminal wrongdoing at public agencies do so without peace officer status.

UPDATE @ 4:55 P.M.: Hancock’s office clarified that her bill would prevent future OIG hires from getting the more generous pension plans available to peace officers, but current workers’ pensions are legally protected under current agreements. The $3.7 million figure doesn’t include any pension savings, just training and equipment.

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Loni Hancock, state budget, State Prisons | 1 Comment »

Dems warn of House GOP budget’s impact on CA

California Democratic Congressional Delegation Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, rallied her troops today for a conference call with at least eight members highlighting how House Republicans’ budget plan would impact California.

“While we know reining in our deficit is necessary for economic prosperity, there is a responsible way to do it,” she said.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said that “in transportation, we’re really talking about serious, serious job losses in California” as the GOP plan cuts funding for high-speed rail, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, and other programs adding up to at least $1.25 billion.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said she’s now circulating a letter to California House members asking Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect to California $2 billion in high-speed rail funds that Florida Gov. Rick Scott yesterday refused; senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sent such a letter yesterday. Garamendi said unless California gets that money, the Republican budget will leave its rail project underfunded.

Speier was among several members on today’s call who voiced concern at the House GOP plan to cut Title X family planning funding; Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said Republicans are exercising their “vendetta” against family planning and women’s health.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, decried a potential $1.3 billion cut to community health care clinics; he said in a rural community like Watsonville where the clinic would lose $151,000 per year from its base grant, jobs would be lost and health access severely curtailed. “It really does have impacts on Main Street all over the United States.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, said even to a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat like himself, a cut like that makes no sense.

“What they’re doing is a lot like waking up in the morning and finding you’ve put on a lot of weight and deciding you’re going to take care of it by cutting off your leg,” Thompson said, noting sick people cut off from community clinic care will instead seek higher-cost care with traditional family-practice physicians or, worse yet, in emergency rooms. “The cost of health care for these folks is going to go through the roof.”

Farr said addressing the nation’s debt is important, but House Republicans are blurring the distinction between long-term debt – which he likened to a home mortgage – and short-term debt – more like a credit card – in order to score political points.

“What the Republicans are trying to do is scare everybody with the long-term debt saying you have to pay it off right away,” he said, when in fact it’s better to approach that long-term debt with a deliberate, long-term plan rather than “a meat ax.”

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Under: Jackie Speier, John Garamendi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Bay Area people named to education equity panel

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today appointed two Bay Area figures to co-chair a national Equity and Excellence Commission that will examine how school finance impacts educational opportunity and recommend ways to make funding fairer.

Named as co-chairs were University of California, Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Also named to serve on the 28-member panel were Stanford University professors Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Linda Darling-Hammond and Eric Hanushek.

The Department formed the commission in response to a congressional request included in the fiscal year 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, had helped lead the fight for that request.

“All our children should have an equal opportunity to achieve prosperity, not just those at the top,” Honda said in a news release today. “Closing our achievement gap, however, is not just about those at the bottom. It is about making sure that every working and middle class neighborhood has a world-class school. The Equity Commission represents an important opportunity to reframe the issue of education equity and raise its profile in the national debate.”

“We have known for years that equal opportunity is a fallacy in our public schools. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which shows the U.S. lagging badly behind most of the developed world in reading, math and science, highlights how equity/inequity in education correlates directly with global competitiveness or lack thereof,” Honda continued. “As poverty increases in our schools, our scores steadily decrease. This finding should make our goal simple: To make every school as good as the schools in our wealthiest communities.”

The commission will meet for the first time in public session next Tuesday, Feb. 22 in Washington to discuss the scope of its work, outreach efforts, and the timetable for completion of its report.

Edley, Berkeley’s law dean since 2004, cofounded the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, where he taught law for 23 years; and Berkeley’s Chief Justice Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity; he held White House policy positions under Presidents Carter and Clinton, served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and – after having had Barack Obama among his Harvard Law students – advised the current President’s transition team.

Hastings co-founded his DVD-rental-by-mail company in 1997, has been an actiive educational philanthropist and board member of many nonprofits, and served as president of the California State Board of Education from 2000 to 2004; he has led successful statewide political campaigns for more charter public schools and easier passage of local school bonds.

Cuéllar is Professor of Law and Deane F. Johnson Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School, focusing on administrative law, immigration and citizenship, and international and national security. From early 2009 through last summer, he was on leave from Stanford to serving as Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy at the White House; President Obama named him last July to the Council of the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent agency charged with recommending improvements in the efficiency and fairness of federal regulatory programs.

Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University where she has launched the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the School Redesign Network and served as faculty sponsor for the Stanford Teacher Education Program. She’s a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the National Academy of Education. Her research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.

Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, and has been a leader in the development of economic analysis of educational issues, and his work on efficiency, resource usage, and economic outcomes of schools has frequently entered into the design of both national and international educational policy. His research covers areas such as the impacts of teacher quality, high stakes accountability, and class size reduction on achievement along with the role of cognitive skills in international growth and development.

Other commission members include NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund President and General Counsel Thomas Saenz; National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel; and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Under: education, Mike Honda, U.S. House | No Comments »

Barbara Lee, Ron Paul aim to end Afghanistan war

Rep. Barbara Lee joined with two House Republicans this morning to introduce a bill that they say would end the war in Afghanistan.

The bill that Lee, D-Oakland, co-authored with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, would require that any money appropriated for the war in Afghanistan “shall be obligated and expended only for purposes of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel.”

“It sends, really, a strong message that we’ve come together today to speak with one voice on this issue,” Lee said on a teleconference with reporters.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee noted her lone vote against authorizing the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and said her concern that it was a blank check for war hasn’t abated since. Had Americans known we’d still be in Afghanistan almost a decade later, she said, perhaps there would’ve been a more robust debate. “It’s costing us $100 billion a year and countless American lives.”

Lee said the bill already has about 46 co-sponsors, on both sides of the aisle.

Jones, whose district is home to military installations including the Marine Corps’ Camp LeJeune, has seen service members deployed repeatedly to Afghanistan, to little avail. He said he has been in touch with a retired general – whom he declined to name, although he said reporters would recognize the name if he did – who has advised him that the situation in Afghanistan is untenable, and won’t lead to a stable, democratic government there.

“It’s time to bring them home, the American people are fed up and tired of seeking the broken bodies,” he said.

Paul thanked Lee for “leading the charge” and said the war is a consequence of policy dating back at least to the Persian Gulf War, an American interventionist attitude intent on remaking the Middle East and South Asia. We should persuade and lead by example, not by gunpoint, he said.

Asked whether yesterday’s vote on defunding the development of an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter indicated House members are becoming more willing to cross party lines, Paul replied he found it “a bit encouraging” but said it wasn’t a great test vote because there were “a lot of parochial interests involved.” Although the new crop of GOP freshmen seem more inclined to vote independently, he said, “we still have a way to go.”

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Under: Afghanistan, Barbara Lee, Ron Paul, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

Boehner-backed fighter spending shot down

Maybe Speaker John Boehner has found a way to unite the parties in his fractious House: by getting them to team up against $3 billion in defense spending that he supported for his home state of Ohio, even though the Pentagon doesn’t even want it.

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., yesterday offered an amendment to the House Republicans’ budget plan, HR 1, that would zero out spending on the develop a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports, the Pentagon is satisfied with the engine it has, made by Pratt & Whitney, and it doesn’t want the second engine, made by General Electric and others. Eliminating the second engine would save $450 million this year and some $3 billion over 10 years, a cut President Barack Obama supports and for which Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been advocating for years.

Rooney discussed the spending on the House floor yesterday:

Reps. John Larson, D-Conn.; Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; and Tim Griffin, R-Ark., co-authored the amendment with Rooney. As ABC News notes, the main F-35 fighter engine is built by Pratt & Whitney in Larson’s home state of Connecticut; as the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald reports, Pingree’s district hosts a Pratt & Whitney plant that would gain jobs if that company was the sole contractor for the engine.

But, per Milbank, a GE plant that develops the second engine employs 7,000 people in Evendale, Ohio, near Boehner’s district, and so he has pushed to keep the funding.

Ultimately, the House today voted 233-198 to cut the spending, with no party lines in sight: 110 Republicans and 123 Democrats carried the day on this one. The only Bay Area member to vote against Rooney’s amendment was Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

UPDATE @ 0900 THURSDAY: McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh just sent me this statement:

“As someone with years of experience in engineering, Congressman McNerney has a strong appreciation for the benefits of competition between manufacturers as well as the value of an alternate design in a project of this magnitude. Also, according to analysis by the Government Accountability Office, competition between multiple manufactures will likely yield savings in the long-run as well as reduce the risk of dependence on a single design produced by one manufacturer.”

Rooney had addressed this argument Wednesday in a news release:

By this argument, if two engine sources are better than one, then three or four or even ten would be better than two. Just like we cannot afford ten engines, we cannot afford two. Competition does not mean buying two of everything. If that were the case, every aircraft would have multiple source engines.

Secretary Gates has said, “Even after factoring in this unneeded finding, DoD’s cost Analysis and Program Evaluation (CAPE) estimates that the engine still requires a further investment of $2.9 billion to make this program truly competitive by FY17.

“The $2.9 billion cost is real and certain but the benefits of a second engine are not. CAPE has concluded that a second engine might provide savings if both engine vendors respond to competitive pressure and drive prices lower and the second engine supplier matches the F135′s vendor prices for the duration of the competition. The navy has stated they will only buy one engine to avoid having to maintain two different engines aboard a ship. While DoD favors competition where possible, in this case there would not be true competition between the engine vendors. Therefore, it is DoD’s strong judgment that these real costs outweigh the theoretical benefit.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

Boxer and DiFi want Fla.’s high-speed rail money

California’s U.S. Senators today urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect to California more than $2 billion federal funds for high-speed rail that have been turned down by Florida.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott earlier today nixed an HSR project in his state. Last year, LaHood had redirected $624 million to California after senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both D-Calif., made a similar request as several states cancelled their HSR projects.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, earlier today said Florida’s loss could be California’s gain.

“It’s a cloudy day in the Sunshine State for the millions of Floridians who truly want to see jobs created in their state, but Florida’s deep loss is likely to be California’s tremendous gain,” he’d said in a news release. “When the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin surrendered their federal high speed rail money, destroying thousands of jobs in Ohio and Wisconsin, President Obama and Transportation Secretary LaHood shifted much of their money to California. I encourage the Administration to do the same with Florida’s previously allocated $2.4 billion.”

“Planning and construction of California’s high speed rail system is already underway, creating good jobs in the Golden State. We’re prepared to show the rest of the country what a modern transportation network looks like and will gladly invest every penny the federal government is willing to provide,” he said.

Read the senators’ letter to LaHood, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Brown wants top 10 list of actions to cut waste

Gov. Jerry Brown has asked two government oversight agencies to come up with a top 10 list of actions to cut government waste and inefficiencies.

In separate but identical letters to State Auditor Elaine Howle and Daniel Hancock of the Little Hoover Commission, Brown directed both agencies to turn in the list by March 4.

He asked both to come up with five measures that Brown could implement by executive order.

“This week I asked the state’s top watchdogs to provide my office with a list of their ‘Top 10 Actions’ to root out government waste and improve efficiency,” Brown said. “As we tackle a $25 billion deficit, we must examine and re-examine every possible way to save taxpayer dollars.”

Here is the letter, which he sent to both on Monday:

I want to access the best thinking from all parts of state government as my administration and the Legislature tackle the difficult work of closing the State’s $25 billion budget deficit. Over the years, your organization has exposed government waste and proposed thoughtful reforms. Although your proposals often were not heeded, I want to hear and listen to your ideas and act on those that will enable government to effectively reduce costs and increase efficiencies.

I accordingly ask that you send me a list of the top ten actions you believe California can take to reduce government waste and operate more efficiently. If possible, I would like your list by March 4, 2011, and I would like that list to identify at least five measures that I could implement by Executive Order.

With your help, we not only will get through the current fiscal crisis successfully, but we also will leave California stronger and better prepared for the future.

Earlier this week, Brown issued an executive order to freeze hiring across state government. And he has ordered all state departments to cut cell phones and the passenger vehicle fleet in half.

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Gressett arbitration ruling posted

Arbitrator Norman Brand’s scathing indictment of how the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office handled the personnel investigation into allegations of a rape of one its young female lawyers by prosecutor Michael Gressett has been posted below.

Read my colleague John Simerman’s latest stories on the subject here and here.

The arbitrator dismissed all six charges the county based its decision to fire Gressett. He was reinstated into his job with back pay and layer’s fees, but still faces the criminal case, which is being handled by the Attorney General’s Office.


Michael Gressett Arbitration Ruling

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County | No Comments »

Kamala Harris to join President for Bay Area visit

California Attorney General Kamala Harris apparently will be joining President Barack Obama during his visit to the Bay Area tomorrow.

Harris had been scheduled to join former San Francisco Mayor and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to headline a $500-a-head fundraiser late tomorrow afternoon for the Alameda County Democratic Party, to be held at the Downtown Oakland office of Bell Investment Advisors.

But county party executive director Michael Colbruno just sent out a message that the event must be postponed:

I received notice from Attorney General Kamala Harris yesterday that she’s been asked to join President Obama during his visit to the Bay Area on Thursday. Therefore, she will have to reschedule the event scheduled for the same day. She asked that I let everyone know that she is extremely sorry for the late notice and for any inconvenience that it may cause, but that she will keep her commitment. Her office is working with me on scheduling a new time and I will send it to you as soon as it is confirmed.

Not surprising, given that Harris worked hard on Obama’s presidential campaign, and he in turn came out to support her campaign for attorney general last year.

It’s not clear whether she’ll take part in the meeting the President is scheduled to have with high-tech executives, or if she’ll be meeting with him at some other time and place.

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Democratic Party, Kamala Harris, Obama presidency | No Comments »