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.


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.


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.)


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.


Legislature posts members’ spending

Bowing to political pressure, the California Legislature has released its members’ office spending numbers, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the man who started this debate, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, called the reports released by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, a joke.

“If these documents were not posted on the Assembly’s web page, I would think they were an April fool’s joke,” Portantino said in a statement. “Today, Assembly Speaker John Perez released 8 month expenditures that continue to mislead the public on how the Assembly operates. The documents released hide true and accurate accounting of staff budgets and complete staff expenditures. I once again implore Assembly leaders to come clean and open the Assembly to true transparency. The documents released today are an insult to the public.”

Portantino has been feuding with Perez over cuts to his office budget.

Incomplete or not, an examination of the numbers shows that the bulk of the members’ annual expenses are staff salaries. And state senators have office budgets four to five times bigger than assemblymembers.

Interestingly, the Senate GOP Caucus spent more than its Democratic counterparts: $1.58 million for the Republicans vs. $1.52 million for Democrats. The Republican floor leader spent $1 million, while the Democratic floor leader spent $477,161. Aren’t Democrats the majority party?

I was also curious about East Bay members’ spending.

In a sampling of Assembly expenditures of Dec. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2010:

  • Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo:  $322,459 total expenses, of which $171,034 went to salaries. Her second-highest expense was $65,590 for communications.
  • Former Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (now state superintendent of public instruction), D-Antioch: $321,972 total expenses, of which $223,288 went to salaries. His second-highest expense was $52,017 for rent and utilities in his district office.
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley: $278,678 in total expenses, of which $225,820 went to salaries. Her second-highest expense was $28,967 for personal per diem.

Assembly expenditures from Dec. 1, 2010 through July 31, 2011 (eight months):

  • Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord: $257,476 total expenses, of which $178,917 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $34,217 for rent and utilities at her district office.
  • Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo: $244,868 total expenses, of which $148,267 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was$28,812 for rent and utilities at her district office.
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley: $204,113 total expenses, of which $158,691 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $24,328 for personal per diem.

Senate expenditures for Nov. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2010:

  • Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord: $1.09 million in total expenditures, of which $847,134 was salaries. His second-highest expense was $63,289 for his district office.
  • Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley: $922,551 in total expenditures, of which $851,505 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $28,797 for personal per diem.
  • Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro: $983,547 in total expenditures, of which $802,258 was for salaries. Her second-highest expense was $72,592 for her district office.

Boxer and Baucus bet on bambinos’ blazing bats

Teams from Huntington Beach and Billings, Mont., will face off Saturday for the U.S. championship in the Little League World Series, so U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Max Baucus have laid a friendly wager on the outcome.

Boxer, D-Calif., put up candy from Huntington Beach’s Surf City Candy. “I am so proud of the Ocean View Little League All-Stars of Huntington Beach for their hard work, team spirit and good sportsmanship. I can’t wait to see them put their skills and dedication to the test in the championship against a very talented Billings All-Star team,” she said.

Baucus, D-Mont., wagered one box of Billings’ famous Caramel Cookie Waffles. “I couldn’t be more proud of the Billings All Star team – not just for their historic season on the field, but also for reminding us all what amazing things we can accomplish with teamwork. There’s nowhere I’d rather place my bet than on good, old-fashioned Montana work ethic, and I can’t wait to cheer our boys on to victory Saturday,” he said.

The winner of Saturday’s game will go on to play the winner of the international championship for the World Series title on Sunday.

UPDATE @ 3:04 P.M. MONDAY 8/29: Time for Baucus to pay up.