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Archive for February, 2011

Poll shows opposition to Brown’s plan to cut First 5

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to raid $1 billion this year and $300 million every year thereafter from First 5, the state’s early childhood program, appears to be running into some serious opposition.

A poll showing that 62 percent of voters oppose the move is a first step in what could be a costly and damaging battle for Brown, who is seeking to place a measure on the ballot to extend income, sales and auto taxes as part of his budget plan to close a $25.4 billion deficit.

Brown wants to redirect First 5’s $1 billion reserve into the general fund, but must get voter signoff with a separate ballot measure since it is constitutionally protected.

Approved by voters in November 1998, Proposition 10 added a 50 cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes and a comparable tax on other tobacco products. It generates about $590 million annually, and has a $1 billion reserve fund.

The poll, conducted by Democratic polling firm Tulchin Research, just came out of the field Thursday and could spur deep-pocketed liberals to go all in to save the popular program, which focuses on the first five years of development for underprivileged children.

“We are very concerned about the fact that what has been proposed so far disproportionately hurts kids,” said Los Angeles-based political strategist Chad Griffin, who managed the campaign to pass Prop 10.

“We hope that this current proposal never makes it to the ballot but if it does we will do whatever it takes to defeat the measure in order to protect funding for California’s children, just as we did with every other attempt to cut Prop 10 funding.”

A battle over the Proposition 10 dollars could be a reprise of 2009, when voters turned back six ballot measures, including one to extend by two years taxes that the Legislature approved.

They voted two to one — 66 percent to 34 percent — against Proposition 1D, which would have siphoned $550 million from First 5 funding.

A costly ballot fight over early childhood funding could complicate Brown’s chances to get voter approval of tax extensions — if they make it to the ballot.

Donors have approached the team that defeated Proposition 1D — Griffin, Mark Armour (Barbara Boxer’s media consultant) and pollster Ben Tulchin – and commissioned them to do a poll to gauge public attitudes about the proposals.

Brown had hoped to avoid a well-funded opposition campaign, sidelining corporate interests, oil and tobacco companies by keeping corporate taxes out of the mix.

Those are the entities voters want taxed, according to the Tulchin poll. Nearly two thirds — 65 percent — said they would prefer to “raise taxes on those who can afford it, such as oil companies, tobacco companies, and the wealthy.”

In a polling memo, Tulchin research said the poll “clearly shows that California voters overwhelmingly support First 5 and want elected officials to pursue alternatives to cutting funding for early childhood development.”

The poll was conducted from Feb. 8-10 among 600 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus four points.

Posted on Friday, February 11th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Jackie Speier offers online, financial privacy bills

Worried that Facebook, Google or some other online entity is collecting, using and sharing data on your online activities? Rep. Jackie Speier says she has your back, with one of two bills she introduced today aimed at protecting people’s personal information.

The Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011 (H.R. 654) aims to give consumers the ability to prevent the collection and use of data on their online activities, directing the Federal Trade Commission to develop standards for a “Do Not Track” mechanism so people can choose upfront to opt out of the collection, use or sale of their online activities, and require covered entities to respect the consumer’s choice. Failure to do so would be considered an unfair or deceptive act punishable by law. The covered entity would have to disclose its collection and sharing practices, including with whom the information is shared. The bill would allow the FTC to exempt commonly accepted commercial practices like the collection of information for billing purposes.

“People have a right to surf the web without Big Brother watching their every move and announcing it to the world,” said Speier, D-Hillsborough. “The internet marketplace has matured, and it is time for consumers’ protections to keep pace.”

Speier cited a USA Today poll released Tuesday that showed that 70 percent of Facebook members and 52 percent of Google users say they are either “somewhat” or “very concerned” about their privacy.

“It’s crucial that Americans have as much control over their online privacy as possible and this bill is a welcome and important first step toward that goal,” American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese said. “Signing on to the Internet shouldn’t mean signing away your privacy. Americans must have a mechanism in place to opt out of having their online habits tracked so that they can protect their most sensitive information. A ‘do not track’ list is a logical and common sense place to start. We urge the House to make this bill a priority.”

Speier also introduced the Financial Information Privacy Act of 2011 (H.R. 653), which aims to give consumers control of their own financial information. The bill mirrors a California law Speier steered to passage that prevents financial institutions from sharing or selling personally identifiable nonpublic information with affiliates without an opportunity to opt-out, or in the case of unaffiliated third parties, a requirement that consumers opt-in.

“Because of the law we passed in California, consumers now have the clear and simple ability to prevent financial institutions from sharing their personal information,” Speier said. “Every American deserves that right.”

Posted on Friday, February 11th, 2011
Under: Internet and politics, Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Showdown looms over Berkeley’s Gitmo invitation

Berkeley City Council’s consideration this coming Tuesday, Feb. 15, of a resolution offering the city as a site to re-settle some already-cleared Guantanamo Bay terrorism detainees is making waves.

The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission voted Dec. 6 to recommend that the City Council pass such a resolution, which would ask Congress to remove any legislative barriers to resettling cleared detainees. No city funds would be used to support the men; rather, they would be sponsored by community volunteers and organizations that help torture victims victims of torture and refugees. If the resolution passes, Berkeley will be the third U.S. city and the first in California to do adopt such a measure.

The Berkeley City Manager’s office has recommended that the council not act on the resolution:

Currently, federal law explicitly prohibits the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the United States (most recently, in H.R. 6523, the Defense Authorization Act, signed into law on January 7, 2011). In addition to prohibiting the transfer of detainees with Department of Defense funds, the bill also requires the President to submit detailed plans for the “disposition” of any detainee released in the United States. This requirement has not been met at this point in time.

“I’m sure Berkeley citizens will come forward to offer support for them. I’m going to offer a room in my house to one of the men,” said Cynthia Papermaster, an activist with the Berkeley No More Guantanamos group, who brought the resolution to the Peace and Justice Commission.

“Berkeley is a compassionate and caring community. Like Amherst and Leverett, Massachusetts, which passed similar resolutions in 2009 and 2010, Berkeley wants to extend the hand of friendship and support to help these men resume their lives in peace and safety, and to heal from the ordeal of capture, torture and detention at the hands of our government,” she said. “These men are not and never were terrorists.”

But conservative groups are having none of it.

“If the Berkeley City Council wants to hang out with GITMO detainees, why do they have to do it at taxpayer expense and the public safety risk to the community?” Move America Forward executive director Shawn Callahan asked in a news release. “We can do them one better, if the Council wants to go live in GITMO where they can hang out with hundreds of terrorists, let them do that instead, we’ll even pay for their flights.”

MAF spokesman Danny Gonzalez said Berkeley City Council’s approval of the resolution would be “absolutely irresponsible.”

“The people of the City of Berkeley should not be saddled with the burden of having to pay for the housing, feeding and training of two former terrorists,” he said. “If you bring them here, you also have a responsibility to maintain safety. That means keeping Berkeley safe from the former detainee, and keeping the detainee safe from others who may want to hurt him. The average citizen of Berkeley just wants to go about their lives and pay to feed their families, they don’t need this extra burden.”

Posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Under: Berkeley, War on Terror | 1 Comment »

Mike Huckabee targets DiFi in fundraising e-mail

Former 2008 Republican presidential primary candidate Mike Huckabee, who’s reportedly mulling a 2012 presidential bid, targeted U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in a fundraising e-mail today.

The former Arkansas governor’s Huck PAC committee sent out an e-mail soliciting donations for its Stop Senate Democrats Fund:

California needs a conservative United States Senator. Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein has been in Washington too long and it appears she’s stopped listening to California voters – after all, you didn’t want bailouts, you didn’t want the stimulus package and you sure didn’t want Obamacare. Thanks to elected officials like Senator Feinstein you got bailouts, you got the stimulus and you got Obamacare.

Senator Feinstein like all of the Democrats up for re-election in 2012 is a large reason our nation is going bankrupt. Sadly last week, when given a chance to begin to redeem poor legislative choices, Senator Feinstein voted AGAINST the repeal of Obamacare.

Huck PAC is preparing to help conservatives win the California Senate seat and defeat other vulnerable Democrat Senators across the nation. We are asking 100 California supporters to donate this week towards this goal. Will you make a donation of $5 or more to stop Senator Feinstein and the budget-busting Democrats in Washington?

Posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Under: campaign finance, Dianne Feinstein, Mike Huckabee, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Your thoughts on Michael Gressett’s re-hiring?

Some of our regular commenters apparently have been straining at the bit to talk about this situation, so here it is, from the article we carried in yesterday’s print editions:

MARTINEZ — An arbitrator has reversed Contra Costa County’s firing of a veteran prosecutor accused of raping a junior colleague at his Martinez home nearly three years ago, backing Michael Gressett’s claim that the pursuit of rape charges by the District Attorney’s Office was “tainted by political animosity,” according to a copy of the ruling obtained by Bay Area News Group.

In a sharp rebuke of the county, arbitrator Norman Brand rejected six causes for dismissing Gressett, 54, including the rape allegation. Brand ordered the county to reinstate Gressett with full back-pay and benefits. He earned $140,000 in annual salary before his firing in July 2009.

Whether Gressett ever returns to work as a county prosecutor is doubtful. He remains the subject of a 13-count criminal indictment accusing him of raping the former colleague at his Martinez condominium in May 2008, using an ice pick and a handgun. Gressett, who worked in the sex crimes unit, argues that the sex was consensual. He pleaded not guilty in October.

He will likely be placed on paid administrative leave, said Mark Harrison, an investigator working for Gressett.

“He will immediately be placed back on the payroll. He’ll be put on the books today,” Harrison said.

Posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 24 Comments »

McNerney pushes VA on Livermore, San Joaquin

Rep. Jerry McNerney says he went to bat for a couple of 11th Congressional District projects as well as veterans across the nation in his one-on-one meeting today with U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

McNerney and Shinseki 2-9-2011McNerney, D-Pleasanton – who had announced yesterday that he’ll be the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs – said he again urged the secretary to revisit decisions made by his predecessors to close the Livermore VA facility and to instead develop a plan that would keep it in veterans’ hands.

“The Livermore VA is a uniquely situated facility that is an important resource for the thousands of veterans who live in the area,” McNerney said in a news release. “Given its tranquil setting, I’ve long advocated for the facility to remain in veterans’ hands and be used to provide treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. With an increasing number of veterans suffering from PTSD, this type of care is more important than ever.”

He said they also discussed the new veterans’ nursing home and outpatient medical facility planned for San Joaquin County.

“Just the other week, local veterans attended my most recent Congress at Your Corner event in Stockton to ask for an update on the VA’s decision on where to locate the new medical facility,” McNerney said. “At today’s meeting with the secretary I expressed again the importance of reaching a decision. This facility will create about 900 jobs and serve thousands of veterans in the area and it’s very important to our community that a final location is selected without delay.”

And McNerney said he and Shinseki discussed the VA’s backlog of benefits claims waiting to be processed – a figure the VA puts at about 400,000, but advocacy groups such as the American Legion say could be closer to 1 million – as well as the need to improve care for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

Posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Under: Jerry McNerney, U.S. House, veterans | 8 Comments »

Jerry Brown nixes state buildings’ sale/leaseback

Gov. Jerry Brown announced this morning that he’s deep-sixing former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s already-in-motion plan to sell and then lease back 11 state office buildings, saying it would fleece taxpayers in the long run.

Among the state buildings that had been on the sale block were the Elihu Harris Building, at 1515 Clay St. in Oakland; the Earl Warren/Hiram Johnson complex that houses agencies including the state’s Supreme Court, at 350 McAllister/455 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco; and the Public Utilities Commission Building, at 505 Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office had panned the plan last April.

“We estimate that the sale of buildings would result in one-time revenue to the state of between $600 million and $1.4 billion, but that annual leasing costs would eventually exceed ownership costs by approximately $200 million. Over the lives of these buildings, we estimate the transaction would cost the state between $600 million and $1.5 billion,” the LAO reported at the time. “In our view, taking on long-term obligations—like the lease payments on these buildings—in exchange for one-time revenue to pay for current services is bad budgeting practice as it simply shifts costs to future years.”

Brown apparently took that to heart, saying today that the plan “was short-sighted and would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars in the long-run. Selling and leasing back the state’s buildings for one-time gains is not prudent.”

State Controller John Chiang quickly agreed. “While the sale of these buildings would have provided immediate cash for the state, it would have cost Californians more over the long haul. Selling low and renting high would not have served taxpayers’ interests,” he said. “This decision shows Governor Brown is serious about ending the budget gimmicks and sideshows. Only real, on-going solutions will improve our balance sheet and solve our annual fiscal problems.”

The Legislature approved a 2009-10 budget that authorized the sale, and the 2010-11 budget assumes $1.2 billion in revenues from it. But Brown said he’ll propose amending his budget proposal to include borrowing $830 million from special fund reserves, to be paid back by FY 2013-14, so program budgets won’t be affected by the sale’s cancellation. He said that’s all that needs to be borrowed because of other new revenues and cost savings including $90 million more from the Medi-Cal managed care tax and $100 million less in prison infrastructure project costs.

The new owners – California First LLC, a partnership led by a Texas real estate firm and an Irvine-based private equity firm – were to take over the buildings Dec. 15, but that was scuttled by a November lawsuit filed in San Francisco by former state building officials whom Schwarzenegger had removed for questioning the deal. A judge’s emergency stay pushed the deal’s closing beyond Schwarzenegger’s term in office, and put the ball in Brown’s court.

UPDATE @ 11:58 P.M.: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is down with Brown’s “wise decision,” too. “The proposed sale and lease-back of state buildings was a fiscally irresponsible idea conceived by the former administration as an alternative to an honest budget proposal,” he said. “Governor Brown’s plan preserves the state’s assets and is fiscally responsible.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, John Chiang, state budget | No Comments »

Poll numbers shift, ads launched on marriage

Days after a recent poll showed Californians becoming more accepting of same-sex marriage, the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry is rolling out a “Why Marriage Matters” national ad campaign.

The organization says the $10 million, three-year effort will be the largest-ever national public education campaign on this issue, launching Monday – Valentine’s Day – with a national cable buy on CNN. Here’s the first ad:

In partnership with local and state groups, the “Why Marriage Matters” campaign will include a variety of TV, radio, and online ads, plus a website of its own.

“Across the country the thinking of many Americans, from the president to the people next door, continues to — as President Obama put it — ‘evolve’ toward support for same-sex couples joining in the freedom to marry. Freedom to Marry’s team has crunched over a decade’s worth of polling data and field experience to crack the code on moving the reachable but not yet reached,” Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said in a news release. “By engaging friends, families, and neighbors in personal conversations about why marriage matters, each of us can help fair-minded people wrestling with a lack of information and uncertainty, and change hearts and minds.”

Freedom to Marry says its data showed that people who have had conversations with their gay and lesbian friends about why marriage matters to them are more likely to support the freedom to marry.

“As Americans see their gay and lesbian friends, families, and coworkers in loving and committed relationships, they realize there is no good reason to withhold the protections and support that only come with marriage,” said Thalia Zepatos, the group’s public engagement director. “It is as simple as the Golden Rule.”

Here in California, 52.2 percent of voters in November 2008 approved Proposition 8, which amended the state’s constitution to say that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” A federal judge has deemed the measure unconstitutional, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering the case.

But a recent poll indicates Californians’ minds might be changing on the issue even as the courts weigh it. A Public Policy Polling survey of 892 California voters, conducted from Jan. 28 to 30 with a 3.3 percent margin of error, found that when asked, “Do you think same sex marriage should be legal or illegal?,” 51 percent said legal, 40 percent said illegal and 10 percent said they weren’t sure. When PPP had last asked the question in September 2010, a 46 percent plurality was in support, but an almost equal 44 percent was opposed.

The poll showed Democrats remained stable, with two-thirds in support and a quarter opposed both then and now. But Republican voters moved from 76-15 opposed in the earlier poll to 64-29 in this new one; independent voters went from 47-41 to 51-35.

It’s still a generational divide, to some extent: 47 percent of senior citizens oppose same-sex marriage, while only 42 percent support it. Take them out of the poll, and support for legalization grows to 51 percent in favor, 38 percent against – indicating once again that legal acceptance of same-sex marriage may only be a matter of time.

Posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Under: same-sex marriage | 1 Comment »

State auditor rips courts’ computer spending

The California State Auditor’s office has brought the smacketh down upon the Administrative Office of the Courts – the “brain” of the state’s judicial system – for essentially making it up as it went along on a new statewide case management computer system, which swelled in estimated cost from $260 million in 2004 to $1.9 billion in 2010.

That's the smell of money burningThe audit (and a briefer summary here) found the AOC “inadequately planned for the statewide case management project and did not analyze whether the project would be a cost-beneficial solution to the superior courts’ needs,” and couldn’t show that it had analyses and documentation to back up its key decisions on the project’s scope and direction.

The AOC didn’t structure its contract with Deloitte Consulting LLP, the project’s development vendor, to adequately control the project’s cost and scope, the audit found; over seven years, the AOC entered into 102 amendments that boosted the cost from $33 million to $310 million by last year. And the AOC still hasn’t obtained the funding needed for statewide deployment, the audit found; without full deployment to the 58 superior courts, the project’s value is diminished. The superior courts of Los Angeles and Sacramento counties have said they won’t even adopt the system unless their concerns about it are resolved.

William VickreyAOC chief William Vickrey issued a statement today saying his agency and the Judicial Council – the state judiciary’s policy-making body – largely agrees with the audit and already has moved to correct most of the problems.

“We have increased Judicial Council oversight of the project; expanded the participation of justices, judges, court administrators, attorneys, and justice partners; and created a project management office. We are also very close to completing an independent cost-benefit analysis,” Vickrey said.

More on that, and some rebuttal from a court workers’ union, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Under: state budget | 4 Comments »

Contra Costa adopts anti-nepotism policy

On a 4-1 vote, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors adopted an anti-nepotism policy that bans the appointment of their relatives or business associates to county boards.

Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho was the sole opposition vote.

Read the policy here. (Note that the board changed the policy to include first cousins, eliminated the word “adopted” from description of child and added the word “registered” to domestic partners.)

Watch the video here.

Posted on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »