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Archive for July, 2011

New pot legalization measure hits the streets

Secretary of State Debra Bowen this morning cleared proponents of a new marijuana-legalization ballot initiative to start gathering petition signatures.

Here’s the official title and summary prepared by the attorney general’s office:

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Decriminalizes marijuana sales, distribution, possession, use, cultivation, processing, and transportation by persons 21 or older. Dismisses pending court actions inconsistent with its provisions. Prohibits advertising, except medical marijuana. Prohibits zoning restrictions on marijuana cultivation and processing. Applies existing agricultural taxes and regulations to marijuana; exempts noncommercial production up to 25 flowering plants or 12 pounds processed marijuana annually. Authorizes retail sales of marijuana with one percent THC or more to persons 21 or older; if less, no age limit. Directs state and local officials to not cooperate with enforcement of federal laws inconsistent with its provisions. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: The fiscal effects of this measure could vary substantially depending on: (1) the extent to which the federal government continues to enforce federal marijuana laws and (2) the specific taxes and regulations applied to marijuana. Savings of potentially several tens of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments on the costs of incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders. Potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in net additional tax revenues related to the production and sale of marijuana products. (11-0011.)

The proponents of the “The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012” – James Gray, William McPike and Steve Kubby – have until Dec. 19 to collect valid signatures of at least 504,760 registered voters (five percent of the total votes cast for governor in 2010) in order to qualify the measure for the ballot.

These are familiar names. Gray, a former Orange County Superior Court presiding judge and the 2004 Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, is a longtime drug reform advocate. McPike is a Fresno attorney specializing in marijuana law. And Kubby, of Lake Arrowhead, is a longtime marijuana advocate and the 1998 Libertarian gubernatorial nominee.

But they are not affiliated with the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the Oakland-based group that grew out of last year’s campaign for Proposition 19, another legalization measure. The coalition folks are working on an initiative of their own for 2012.

Posted on Monday, July 25th, 2011
Under: ballot measures, marijuana | 1 Comment »

Congress’ inaction halts Oakland control tower

Contractors building the new air traffic control tower at Oakland International Airport have been told to stop work today on the $31 million project because Congress missed its Friday-night deadline to reauthorize routine funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

artist's rendering of new Oakland control towerThe Oakland tower, for which ground was broken last October, is just one of dozens of stop-work orders issued all over the nation, worth a total of about $148.5 million.

“Construction workers across America will lose their jobs and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on. Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release issued this morning. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the longer Congress waits, the more work will grind to a halt. “Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification. The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning.”

As the Washington Post reported, the funding extension would have been the 21st since the FAA’s long-term funding authorization expired in 2007, but House Republicans added provisions to their extension bill that the Senate would not accept.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said he included the provision to which Democrats objected due to his frustration over the pace of negotiations to reach agreement on long-term FAA funding plans passed by the House and Senate this year. It cut about $16.5 million in federal subsidies for air service to several small airports in rural areas.

The Senate refused this because these stop-gap extensions normally are bare-bones legislation to simply extend funding at current levels while Congress irons out differences over a longer term.

Construction workers, engineers and planners were told to stay home today after the FAA lost its Congressional authorization to pay a variety of airport construction, rehabilitation and modernization projects. Nearly 4,000 FAA personnel, many needed to oversee various aspects of these projects, were furloughed on Saturday. The delays could significantly increase the projects’ final costs, officials say.

Other major projects halted today are at Las Vegas’ MccCarran International Airport; Palm Springs International Airport; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) International Airport; Battle Creek (Mich.) International Airport; Gulfport-Biloxi (Miss.) International Airport; and New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. The FAA also halted $370 million in contracts with Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, which is under contract to do all the architectural, design, engineering and planning services for existing and future air traffic facilities.

The FAA had been prepared to contracts for new air traffic control towers in Cleveland and in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but now is no longer authorized to access the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Besides building major aviation facilities such as control towers, the FAA is a main funding source for other airport projects through the Airport Improvement Program, which can’t run without congressional reauthorization; that leaves the agency unable to get roughly $2.5 billion out the door for airport projects in all 50 states, meaning delayed or lost jobs.

Nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have been furloughed and forced to go without pay; California is among the eight-hardest hit states. This includes engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists, and community planners. Public safety is not being affected, the agency insists.

Posted on Monday, July 25th, 2011
Under: Transportation, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Richmond official spars with tow truck

Tom Butt

Tom Butt

N0 one delivers constituent service with quite like Richmond Vice Mayor Tom Butt.

Check out Contra Costa Times reporter Karl Fischer’s story about how Butt stood between a tow truck and a resident’s soon-to-be-towed vehicle, then later spurred changes in city policy and may send the tow company on the first train out of town.

Here’s the top few paragraphs of the story:

Farmers markets rarely generate much in the way of police calls, but Richmond dispatchers know to take nothing for granted.

“I’ve got an emergency here in Point Richmond,” the caller reported. “This is Tom Butt. I’m the vice mayor of Richmond.”

Butt phoned while stopping a tow truck with his body last week at the Point Richmond Farmers’ Market. A police cadet would not cut loose an illegally parked car, though its owner beat the tow.

Now Butt wants justice, and possibly heads.

“Look, this is not about me. The victim here is the woman whose car was towed away,” Butt said this week, “because of a confluence of bad policy and rude behavior.”

Butt, who writes a widely read electronic newsletter, published more than 100 compliments received from subscribers after he chronicled the July 13 encounter. He also prompted policy change: Police will now let the car go if the driver beats the tow, Chief Chris Magnus said.

“I am fine with changing the practice, but we have to be fair to the tow operators as well,” Magnus said. “Everyone has their own ideas about what makes sense and what is fair.”

The incident had another outcome: Future city contracts will require sensitivity training for all tow truck drivers, both Butt and Magnus confirmed. Really.

Butt also hopes to ban the tow company from future city work. He will bring the request to City Council next week.


Click through to read Butt’s full forum posting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 7 Comments »

Redistricting scholar talks competitiveness

Public Policy Institute of California fellow Eric McGhee spoke Thursday night to the East Bay chapter of the League of California cities about the potential impacts of independent redistricting.

McGhee’s most interesting points centered around how to measure the success of the new maps in terms of creating more competitive districts winnable by either party.

Watch the video below. A link to McGhee’s slideshow is also below.


Posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Under: redistricting | 3 Comments »

Term limits yield few ‘citizen’ lawmakers

Term limits was supposed to send average folks to California’s Capitol, a return to the old days when lawmakers periodically traveled to Sacramento,  passed a few laws and then returned to their farms and law firms where they earned an honest living.

But the popular restriction has utterly failed to produce these “citizen” lawmakers, according to a solid new study from the Center for Governmental Studies.

“Instead, the state has witnessed an enhanced form of political chairs, in which termed out state legislators simply move to other state or local political offices,” wrote CGS analyst Ava Alexandar. “Indeed, politicians are now moving faster and faster to the music, shifting their political offices to keep up with the pace of politics in California’s post term limits world and continue to serve in public office.”

Most legislators don’t return to their old jobs but instead run for another office, seek a political appointment or work as a lobbyist or other government-related position, Alexandar found.

Read “Citizen Legislators or Political Musical Chairs: Term Limits in California” here.

California voters like term limits and the issue has long been considered inviolate. They smacked down a 2008  measure that would have modified term limits but allowed incumbents to hang around a little longer.

A new measure has qualified for the ballot that would permit legislators to serve 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate, compared with current restrictions that limit legislators to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate. It contains no provisions for incumbents, which was the primary reason the 2008 bill failed.

Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Being on list of tobacco money recipients pains some Dems

It’s an article of faith for most Democrats to avoid being associated with Big Tobacco.

Of the 77 Democrats in the Legislature, 54 (75 percent) have never received a single dime from tobacco companies or interests associated with them.

So, it was more than mere annoyance that Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, found his name on a list of Democrats who received tobacco money.

Yee is running for mayor in San Francisco, and the last thing he needs is to be labeled as the Big Tobacco candidate.

A study by the American Lung Association showed Yee as taking $4,300 from tobacco interests. But Yee’s chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, insists that the report is wrong.

Philip Morris, the tobacco giant, sent Yee $3,300 in 2005-06 when he was running for the Senate. But Yee sent the money back, Keigwin said.

“He has a policy of not accepting tobacco contributions,” Keigwin said. “He never took any donation. They reported it as a contribution, but check our contribution filing and you’ll see he never accepted it.”

Still, there was the $1,000 he received from the California Distributors Association in the 2005-2006 election cycle.

“When he took that, he wasn’t thinking of it as a tobacco contribution,” Keigwin said. “I’m not denying they distribute tobacco. But his policy is to not take tobacco money. That means tobacco companies and manufacturers.

“If you try to include anybody with any connection with tobacco, that’s a bit extreme,” Keigwin said.

Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, said that when he took $1,000 from the California Distributors Association in 2007-2008, he had no idea it has a strong affiliation with tobacco.

“I hate to say it, but I’m not as sharp on the PACs as others,” Beall said from his San Jose district office. “It’s not my priiority.”

Beall was called out on the contribution by a voter in his district, Linda York, who was outraged he’d taken the money.

In an email to me, she wrote, “Had I known that Beall was ‘in bed’ with these types of lobbyists, and as a registered Democrat, I would have voted another way. My mother died of smoking related complications, and I watched as she died a slow death. With all of the negative ads for smoking, along with better education, most people now know its dangers, including, I’m sure, Assemblyman Beall.”

York contacted his office, which said it was news to them that he’d received a tobacco contribution. They assured her that he’s opposed to tobacco influence, and pointed out that Beall authored legislation, AB 2344, last year that would have changed the one-time $100 licensing fee for retailers who sell tobacco products to an annual $185 fee. The money would have gone for enforcement, as well as to breast cancer research.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger.

Beall was also supportive of tobacco cessation programs and initiatives for local fees as a Santa Clara County supervisor.

But York said if indeed he wasn’t in bed with tobacco companies, he should return the money.

I later asked Beall if he would return the money, and he said he wouldn’t.

“I’ve already spent it,” he said. “I did not solicit this contribution. Why would I give it back to them and they will just give it to other elected officials who support them? I’m not interested in plumping up their fund so they can use it for their own cause.”

Beall said that taking the money was “inadvertant. To me it was unsolicited.” And, he said, “it certainly didn’t influence me. They opposed my bill.”

Paul Knepprath, the vice president for Advocacy and Health Initiative of the American Lung Association in California, said it isn’t credible for legislators to say they didn’t know the California Distributors Association is a tobacco affiliate.

“It would be pretty hard to not know CDA represents tobacco distributors and wholesalers,” Knepprath said. “There’s plenty of smart people in the Capitol, staffers and others, who know who’s doing business with tobacco companies and who represents tobacco distributors.”

As for the $3,300 that Philip Morris sent to Yee but was sent back, Knepprath said they will check into it. If they find that he did return it, they will make the correction.

“We want to be fair and accurate,” he said. “If it’s a legitimate issue, we will absolutely address it.”

Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The prison hunger strike is over… or is it?

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Matthew Cate issued a statement this morning saying inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison had ended their hunger strike.

Pelican Bay State Prison“Hunger strikes are a dangerous and ineffective way for prisoners to attempt to negotiate,” Cate said in his news release. “This strike was ordered by prison gang leaders, individuals responsible for terrible crimes against Californians, and so it was with significant and appropriate caution that CDCR worked to end the strike. We will now seek to stabilize operations for all inmates and continue our work to improve the safety and security of our prison system statewide.”

Cate said the strikers, who began their protest July 1, stopped yesterday “after they better understood CDCR’s plans, developed since January, to review and change some policies regarding SHU housing and gang management. These changes, to date, include providing cold-weather caps, wall calendars and some educational opportunities for SHU inmates.”

But this came as news to the prison activists who have been relating the strike to the outside world; lawyers and mediators haven’t heard from the hunger strikers that they’ve quit their protest.

“We would like to hear directly from the men at Pelican Bay that they have resumed eating and what demands, if any, have been met,” Carol Strickman, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, said in a news release this afternoon. “At this point, we have not been able to ascertain what concessions may have been granted.”

CDCR “has used deceptive tactics throughout this strike to try to overcome prisoner resistance,” Taeva Shefler, a member of Prison Activist Resource Center and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, said in the same release. “In order to break the strike, the CDCR has regularly underestimated strike participation and withheld information regarding the health of striking prisoners. Prisoners not yet in solitary have been placed in Administrative Segregation or Security Housing Units as punishment for protesting. These are the very issues this strike aims to change in the first place.”

Pelican Bay SHU cellThe activists say hundreds of inmates refused food in order to protest conditions that international human rights groups have called torturous and inhumane. Inmates in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) – who have been classified as the prison system’s most dangerous and violent offenders – are kept in windowless, 6-foot-by-10-foot cells for about 23 and a half hours per day, sometimes for years. Their demands included an end to long-term solitary confinement, collective punishment, and forced interrogation on gang affiliation.

UPDATE @ 4:43 P.M.: The LA Times reports the inmates at Pelican Bay are eating again, but some inmates at Corcoran, Tehachapi and Calipatria – who’d started striking in sympathy with the Pelican Bay guys – are continuing to refuse meals.

Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Under: State Prisons | 1 Comment »

Medical marijuana advocates appeal feds’ ruling

Medical marijuana advocates asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today to overturn the Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision to keep the cannabis on its list of most-restricted drugs.

The DEA denied advocates’ petition – filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis – two weeks ago. That means the drug, at least for now, remains on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which lists drugs deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision.

Joe Elford, chief counsel for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, filed the notice of appeal today, and will file a brief in the next few weeks.

“By ignoring the wealth of scientific evidence that clearly shows the therapeutic value of marijuana, the Obama Administration is playing politics at the expense of sick and dying Americans,” Elford said in a news release. “For the first time in more than 15 years we will be able to present evidence in court to challenge the government’s flawed position on medical marijuana.”

Advocates argue the federal government’s refusal to reclassify marijuana has stifled meaningful research into therapeutic uses such as pain relief, appetite stimulation, nausea suppression, and spasticity control, among others.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws allowing medical use of marijuana, and the National Cancer Institute – part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – earlier this year added cannabis to its list of complementary alternative medicines. And the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians both have urged the federal government to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance.

Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Under: marijuana | No Comments »

SF Giants to visit Obama at White House Monday

President Barack Obama will welcome the San Francisco Giants to the White House this Monday, July 25, to honor the team and its 2010 World Series victory.

“The President will also recognize the efforts by the Giants to give back to their community as part of their visit, continuing the tradition begun by President Obama of honoring sports teams for their efforts on and off the field,” according to the White House’s release.

Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Under: Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

Feds closing down Bay Area data centers

Two federal data centers in the Bay Area have been shut down and a third will be shuttered next year as part of an Obama Administration’s “Campaign to Cut Waste.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget announced today that it plans to shut down a total of 373 such data centers across the nation by the end of 2012, part of the President’s goal of shutting down 800 by 2015 to save taxpayers more than $3 billion.

“Duplication, waste, and inefficiency are never acceptable, but it is especially intolerable in these challenging budgetary times,” Jeffrey Zients, Federal Chief Performance Officer and OMB’s Deputy Director for Management, said in a news release. “As part of the Campaign to Cut Waste, President Obama has directed his Administration to aggressively root out misspent tax dollars in agencies across the government to ensure we are spending tax dollars wisely.”

The data centers essentially are computer server sites – often with backup power supplies, air conditioning, fire suppression systems and special security – that could be as big as a building or as small as a room, the OMB said. Their number has rocketed since 1998 from 432 to more than 2,000, often creating redundancies and creating far more infrastructure than the government needs; they’ve used only about 27 percent of their collective computing power, even as taxpayers shell out for costs such as electricity use that can be 200 times that of a standard office.

Closing some of them saves money and improves data security, OMB says.

A Justice Department data center in San Francisco and a National Aeronautics and Space Administration data center at Moffett Field near Mountain View already have been shut down in the past year and a half; another NASA site at Moffett Field will be closed in 2012.

Posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Under: Obama presidency | 31 Comments »