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Archive for August, 2011

Lawmakers: Gov’t didn’t do enough for Solyndra

At least two local lawmakers say the layoff of 1,100 workers and bankruptcy of Fremont-based Solyndra – a solar cell manufacturing company held up as a paragon of California’s burgeoning green economy by politicians such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Boxer and Barack Obama – is because government hasn’t done enough.

Per our story, Solyndra had landed $535 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as $1.1 billion in private venture capital.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, said he’s saddened by Solyndra’s news and his thoughts are with the workers who’ll lose their jobs, but the company’s struggle “is one shared by other American manufacturers attempting to scale-up operations in a very competitive global economy.

“Although there has been criticism of the amount of public funding received by the company, we must recognize that our fiercest foreign competitors often receive substantially more assistance from their own governments,” he said. “If America is to compete globally and maintain a strong manufacturing base in our industries, we must provide the proper investments, research, and incentives to grow jobs here and assist our companies in scaling up operations. Our workers in the region are among the most innovative and productive in the world, and I remain confident that we can be competitive in the emerging clean energy field.”

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, said it’s “devastating news,” and state lawmakers must “wake up to the fact we must act with urgency to protect jobs and help nurture California’s economy back to good health. When we don’t, our families and communities suffer. The instant loss of 1,100 jobs in my district is big blow that will have negative trickle-down effects throughout the Bay Area.”

“Unfortunately, it is too late to help Solyndra, but many other companies are struggling and could benefit from legislation I have authored that would give California-based solar companies a bid preference on state contracts,” Corbett said. “If California is going to place solar panels on state property, shouldn’t we try to use panels made in California? Isn’t it common sense to use taxpayer dollars to support California jobs? This is a simple measure that can help protect California jobs.”

Corbett’s SB 175 would’ve provided a 5-percent bid preference to companies that certify they’re using California-assembled or manufactured solar panels; the state Senate passed the bill June 1 on a 27-11 vote, but the Assembly Business and Professions Committee nixed it last month. Corbett recently revived the measure by gutting-and-amending the language into SB 134; time is growing short in this legislative session, but Corbett spokesman Andrew LaMar said today that Speaker John Perez’ office has committed to scheduling a hearing on it.

Posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate, economy, Ellen Corbett, energy | 36 Comments »

Bill Clinton coming to Richmond

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton is coming to Richmond on Oct. 21, where he will deliver the keynote speech at the first Blueprint for Healthy Communities Summit sponsored by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

It may be the first official visit to Richmond by a former or sitting president. Longtime Richmond resident and county Supervisor John Gioia cannot recall any other.  (UPDATE ON 9/1/11 sent to Gioia by Michael Husser:  “Bill Clinton is technically not the first President to come to Richmond. In 1956, President Eisenhower stopped in Richmond as part of a whistle stop tour of the Bay Area during his re-election campaign. He spoke in Point Richmond at the Santa Fe Depot. It was not a long speech, but I was there with my father (Dr. Husser) who had served as a physician during WWII and knew Eisenhower.”)

But Clinton doesn’t come cheap. The district will have to raise $150,000 for his speaking fee, probably through corporate sponsorships.  (This ought to be interesting as some of Contra Costa’s biggest corporations are oil refineries subject to air district regulation.)

The invitation-only summit at the Craneway Pavilion on the Richmond waterfront will focus on the links between land-use planning and health primarily. Attendees will be elected officials, public health directors, city staffers and others.

Here’s the email that went out to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board this afternoon:

Dear Board members,

As you know, the Air District has been working through the CARE program and CEQA guidance to help local governments consider air quality, public health and climate protection in their land use decision making. As part of this effort, the Air District will be hosting another cutting edge summit this fall focused on the linkages between public health and land use. I’d like to provide a few highlights of the summit planning.

Title: Blueprint for Healthy Communities Summit

Date: Friday, October 21, 2011

Location: Craneway Pavilion, Richmond Waterfront

Audience: Bay Area elected officials, public health directors, city managers, planning directors, business leaders, non-profits, foundations, and more

Keynote: President Bill Clinton

We are very pleased to have secured President Clinton as the keynote speaker! We have also invited, but not yet confirmed, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius as well as White House Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley. We also plan to offer two workshops and a plenary on Constructing Healthy, Complete Communities.

We already have a number of sponsors for the event and will continue to secure additional sponsorship commitments.

Due to the tight planning schedule and the timing of acceptance by President Clinton, we needed to make some quick decisions and sign a contract to book President Clinton for this event. After speaking to Board Chair Bates about the tight timeline, Chair Bates authorized the APCO to enter into a contract with the Harry Walker Group to secure President Clinton for the October 21st date. Chair Bates gave this authorization with the caveat that speaker fees would be offset by sponsorship funds. The speaking fee is $150,000. We are confident we will be able to secure sponsorships to cover President Clinton’s speaking fee. Staff will provide an update on summit planning at the September 21 Board of Directors meeting.

Please mark your calendars for this exciting, invitation-only event when the Bay Area Air Quality Management District welcomes President Bill Clinton to the Bay Area to speak about a Blueprint for Healthy Communities. Invitations will be mailed soon.

Please feel free to contact me at 415-749-4646 with questions.

Jean Roggenkamp

On behalf of

Jack P. Broadbent

Executive Officer/APCO

Posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Under: Bill Clinton, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Richmond | 3 Comments »

‘Open carry’ ban bill’s author says it’s not dead

The state Senate moved a bill to outlaw the “open carry” of unloaded firearms in public places to its inactive file yesterday, but the bill’s author insists it’s definitely not dead.

AB 144 is not dead; it’s a procedural move, it will be taken up soon,” Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, said today.

AB 144 would make it a crime to openly carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. Law enforcement personnel are exempt as are security guards, hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under specified licensed circumstances.

The Assembly passed the bill in May on a 46-29 vote, and opponents have been hard at work this summer trying to bring pressure to bear on individual Senators. The StopAB144 Twitter group tweeted Tuesday that “at least five Senate Democrats have issues” with the bill, and “all five were Senators that we have been urging to vote no.”

Gun-rights activists have seized upon open-carry laws in states across the nation as a means of expressing their political beliefs, acting individually, or gathering to carry their weapons both as an exercise of constitutional rights and for self-protection. They say they’re both protecting their rights under current law as well as advocating for changes so that more people can get permits to carry concealed weapons, something that’s sharply limited under current law; some have promised to sue if the bill passes.

Supporters of this bill say open-carry practices should be banned for the sake of public safety, and to protect the safety and conserve the resources of police officers checking to ensure the guns aren’t loaded, in accordance with state law.

This Friday is the last day to amend bills on the floor; next Friday, Sept. 9, is the last day for each house to pass bills.

A similar bill, AB 1934 by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, died in September 2010 without a final vote after two days of tense maneuvering; Saldaña was then term-limited out of office. The state Senate approved her bill on a 21-16 vote after state senators Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, and Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino, lent last-minute support despite a phone and fax blitz by gun-rights activists. But the bill had to win a concurrence vote in the Assembly, where Republicans threatened to run out the clock on the bill by debating it until after the midnight deadline — thus also threatening other bills awaiting votes. Majority Leader Chuck Calderon, D-Whittier, eventually won a motion to delay AB 1934′s consideration, and there it died.

Posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Under: Anthony Portantino, Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Public safety | 24 Comments »

President Obama to visit Bay Area next month

President Barack Obama will visit the Bay Area next month, a White House official said this morning.

The President is expected to visit Seattle before coming to the Bay Area on Sunday, Sept. 25. He’ll then visit the San Diego area and the Los Angeles area on Monday, Sept. 26, and the Denver area on Tuesday, Sept. 27, before returning to Washington, D.C. Specific events have not yet been announced.

The President was last in the Bay Area in April for one, two, three fundraisers in San Francisco.

UPDATE @ 11:04 A.M.: More details here.

Posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 12 Comments »

Contra Costa man to lead state redevelopment fight

James Kennedy

Retired Contra Costa County redevelopment chief Jim Kennedy will take the reins of the California Redevelopment Association, the membership organization suing the state over legislation that helped balance the budget using redevelopment money.

The 60-year-old Martinez man will serve as the interim executive director through mid-2012 and “bridge the transition to the post-litigation realm when the shape of redevelopment will be better known,” he said.

He replaces John Shirey, who has been named Sacramento’s new city manager.

Kennedy’s chief task is to shepherd the 350-member organization through its legal challenge of legislation passed earlier this year that requires redevelopment agencies to pay the state a share of their money or go out of business.

The California Supreme Court stayed the law pending a ruling on the lawsuit in early January.

The redevelopment association and the League of California Cities argue that the legislation is unconstitutional in the wake of voter-approved Proposition 22, which barred state raids on local tax dollars.

A 35-year veteran of Contra Costa County, Kennedy officially retired in March although he has returned part-time to help the county unravel its redevelopment future.

After he returns to his retirement, Kennedy says he may teach, work for a nonprofit and write a nonfiction book on transit-oriented development. His wife, Janet, is a Martinez city councilwoman.

 

Posted on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, redevelopment | 2 Comments »

Walmart breaking from the ‘Amazon tax’ pack?

It seems like state Sen. Loni Hancock, an architect of the “Amazon tax” that the online retailing giant is now trying to repeal, isn’t eager to call out a key ally: Walmart.

Arkansas-based Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, had been pretty gung-ho on Hancock’s and other lawmakers’ rhetoric that changing California law to ensure collection of sales taxes online was a means of “leveling the playing field” between online and brick-and-mortar businesses.

But Brisbane-based Walmart.com, the LA Times reported today, “offers hundreds of products from a third-party retailer, CSN Stores in Boston, that are sold without collecting taxes when state residents buy them. Wal-Mart insists that it’s not its responsibility to require companies that sell products through its site’s Marketplace Retailers program to collect California sales tax, even though the billing and the credit card transactions take place on Walmart.com.”

Asked for comment, Hancock, D-Berkeley sent a statement:

“The new laws are not specifically aimed at Amazon or any other particular internet company. They are aimed at creating a level playing for all companies doing business in the State of California – big and small. It’s up to the Board of Equalization to enforce the law and ensure that no company is evading its responsibility to collect and remit California sales tax.”

So: not taking a position on Walmart specifically, but leaving it up to the Board of Equalization to examine and act on the issue.

Federal law says states can tax sales only if the seller has a physical presence in the state; Californians are supposed to pay taxes on whatever they buy online, but very few actually do.

California’s new law lets the state tax board collect from any retailer with a so-called business “nexus” or connection with an affiliate inside California. Several other states have enacted similar statutes. Amazon has launched a campaign committee to put a measure on next year’s ballot to repeal the law; Hancock last week launched another tax bill that would supersede the existing law but would be passed with a 2/3 legislative majority, making it impervious to repeal by referendum.

Walmart had been poised to help fight against Amazon’s repeal referendum, but now…?

UPDATE @ 5:34 P.M.: Hancock spokesman Larry Levin and chief of staff Hans Hemann feel I’ve been unfair to the senator; they just e-mailed this statement.

Of the three legislative bills dealing with the Amazon tax situation, the one Loni authored – the so-called “long arm” provision – is the bill that gives the Board of Equalization the most wide-ranging authority and open-ended freedom to go after ALL internet sales tax scofflaws.

In fact, it was SPECIFICALLY designed to give BOE enforcement authority to determine if a company owes sales tax. The sponsor of our bill, Board of Equalization board member Betty Yee, told the LA Times that “she believes that Wal-Mart does have an obligation under the California law that took effect July 1 to collect the taxes.”

So we think your post about her was unfair. Her bill speaks for itself. It’s not fair of you to imply that she’s “taking a walk on Walmart” – as you clearly did – when her own bill is clearly and unambiguously designed to go after companies in exactly these circumstances. That is why she said in her statement that she expects the BOE to go after whoever violates the new law.

Posted on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Loni Hancock, taxes | 3 Comments »

Biden: DOE money seeded Bay Area investments

Five institutions that got Energy Department seed money in 2009-2010 – including two in the Bay Area – since have attracted more than $100 million in outside private capital investment, Vice President Joe Biden said today.

The money came from the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

“America is at its best when we innovate – and ARPA-E supports the very best of American innovation,” said Biden, who spoke today at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 in Las Vegas.

“These five companies are swinging for the fences, pioneering new technologies that could help answer the energy challenge and create jobs,” he said. “They illustrate how a small but strategic investment by the federal government can pay big dividends down the road and bring into the market groundbreaking new technologies.”

Primus Power of Hayward received $2 million in ARPA-E seed funding in July 2010, and in May 2011 raised $11M in a round of financing. DBL Investors and I2BF Global Ventures joined existing investors Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. It’s developing a “flow battery” using high energy fluids pumped throughout the unit, capable of storing renewable energy such as wind and solar power and then releasing that energy into the grid during peak load times.

Stanford University received $1.5 million in ARPA-E seed funding million and since has secured $25 million in private investments to support Professor Fritz Prinz’s work on commercializing a new type of energy storage device that will perform many of the same jobs as a normal battery, but deliver greater energy and power and withstand thousands of charges without showing a significant drop in performance.

ARPA-E will be making its next round of awards in September, including some to projects to keep America’s manufacturers competitive by reducing the need for expensive “rare earth” materials from China. Rare earths are naturally-occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties, used for modern necessities such as laptops and lasers as well as in clean-energy technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. Up to $30 million will be made available for this area, in addition to funding for projects in advanced biofuels, thermal storage, grid control technologies and solar power.

Posted on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Under: energy | 1 Comment »

Gov. gets bill to take prohibited guns off streets

The Assembly today passed a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would provide more resources to find and confiscate guns belonging to convicted felons and the mentally ill.

SB 819 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, passed on a 48-23 vote; the state Senate had approved it June 1 on a 22-16 vote, so it now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

SB 819 – sponsored by state Attorney General Kamala Harris – would let the state Justice Department use money from the $19 Dealer Record of Sale fee that’s collected on each firearm sale to enforce the existing Armed Prohibited Persons System program. APPS, launched in 2007, identifies prohibited persons so law enforcement can go collect the illegally possessed weapons.

The state Justice Department’s Bureau of Firearms has identified more than 18,000 Californians who illegally own tens of thousands of firearms, a list that grows by 15 to 20 per day. But state and local officials say they lack the resources to confiscate this enormous backlog of weapons, much less keep up with new additions to the list.

Leno calls that “a troubling blind spot in our current enforcement of firearms laws.”

“Thousands of gun owners who once obtained their weapons legally still possess firearms despite subsequent issues, including criminal activities, that disqualify them from owning weapons,” he said in a news release today. “Innocent lives have been lost because we allow guns to be in the hands of known criminals, gang members and people who have serious mental illnesses. SB 819 helps remedy this troubling threat to public safety.”

To be clear: It’s not raising any more money for the state, just authorizing another purpose for which the DROS fee money can be used. The Justice Department has estimated it wouyld draw about $1 million per year from the DROS fund for this; the fund currently holds about $5.5 million.

The California Association of Firearms Retailers has argued that the DROS fee is supposed to pay for the costs of a criminal and mental background check to determine a buyer’s eligibility to lawfully own a firearm, and so redirecting some of it to another, more general purpose effectively turns it into a tax.

Posted on Monday, August 29th, 2011
Under: Assembly, Attorney General, California State Senate, gun control, Kamala Harris, Mark Leno, Public safety | 6 Comments »

They feel the earth move under their feet

Gov. Jerry Brown today named four new members, including an East Bay woman, to the state commission that advises him and the Legislature on reducing earthquake risk.

The Alfred E. Alquist Seismic Safety Commission, formed in 1975, has 20 commissioners in all who receive no compensation other than a $100 per diem, as well as a paid, professional staff of seven.

Peggy Hellweg, 59, of Orinda, has been a research geophysicist at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory since 2001. She was a geophysical consultant for Geo Enterprises Orinda from 1995 to 2001 and a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Seismology, from 1990 to 1995. She holds a doctorate in geophysics from Stuttgart University in Germany. Hellweg is a Democrat.

Kit Miyamoto, 48, of Sacramento, has been president and CEO of Miyamoto International, a global earthquake and structural engineering firm, since 1990. Miyamoto holds a doctorate in structural engineering from Tokyo Institute of Technology. Miyamoto is a Republican.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, 55, has served in that office since 2002 and in a number of other positions in the Merced County Sheriff’s Department since 1981. He holds a Master’s degree in national security from the American Military University. Pazin is a Republican.

Timothy Strack, 41, of Riverside, has been a captain in the City of Riverside Fire Department since 1995; earlier, he was a firefighter at the San Bernardino County Fire Department from 1987 to 1995. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in public administration from California State University, San Bernardino. Strack is a Republican.

All of these appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

(And a hearty headline h/t to Carole King.)

Posted on Monday, August 29th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown | 1 Comment »

Anna Eshoo stakes her claim

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, announced today that she’ll run for re-election to an 11th term in the House in the newly drawn 18th Congressional District.

“While the redistricting process shifted some cities out of this district that I have represented for decades and added new ones, my work has always had its roots in our regional strengths and needs, and those will not change,” she said in an e-mailed statement:

“This is no time to stand down or step back. For those of us who believe government can be a source of solutions and a vehicle for progress, we must make it so. I will use all that I’ve accomplished and learned to meet that responsibility. Retooling our workforce and reorienting some industries are essential to reviving the national economy long-term. Government and the private sector can work together towards this common goal, but we must each do our part. My priorities and those of all of Silicon Valley are keeping jobs here, attracting new ones and expanding government support for new technologies that will create the next generation of industries and jobs.

“As the Ranking Member on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, and member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I am well positioned to fight for affordable, reliable broadband and preserving a free and open Internet. I am also committed to providing our first responders with a nationwide, interoperable communications network and improving our 9-1-1 call centers.

“Tough times can test our commitment to our values. But my commitments have not changed: protecting our environment, guaranteeing every American has affordable healthcare, ensuring equal rights, guarding individual privacy, supporting comprehensive immigration reform, bringing our troops home from wars that I’ve voted against and preserving Social Security and Medicare for seniors and future generations.”

Eshoo’s Menlo Park home falls within the 18th District, and there’s no drama with neighboring incumbents: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, lives in what’s now the 19th District; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, lives in what’s now the 14th District; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, lives in what’s now the 20th District.

Posted on Monday, August 29th, 2011
Under: Anna Eshoo, U.S. House | 5 Comments »