Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for August, 2013

Fracking battle heats up for session’s final weeks

The debate over fracking is reaching a fever pitch in Sacramento, as activists urge a moratorium in the final weeks of this legislative session.

A coalition of more than 100 environmental, health and liberal groups on Wednesday released an open letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to impose such a ban and blasting SB 4, a pending bill that would allow some fracking to go forward.

“This is a do-or-die moment in the fight against fracking in California,” CREDO political director Becky Bond said in a conference call with reporters, adding that although state Sen. Fran Pavley – SB 4’s author – has been a reliable ally to environmentalists in the past, “it’s appalling that this bill is the best the Legislature has to offer Californians.”

“We know that there’s no safe way to frack,” she said. “Anything less than a moratorium is reckless and unacceptable.”

But the only moratorium bill that has made it to a floor vote this year – AB 1323 by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City – was defeated in a 24-37 Assembly vote in May.

California must act now, Pavley said by email later Wednesday.

“Companies are fracking and acidizing wells in California now, and we can’t afford to wait for another attempt at a moratorium to take action,” she said. “Strict regulations are our best tool right now to protect the public and the environment and hold the industry and regulators accountable.”

Pavley’s bill would establish a regulatory program for hydraulic fracturing and acid-injection methods of extracting oil and gas, including a study, development of regulations, a permitting process, and public notification and disclosure.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Yet opponents say SB 4 “does nothing to make fracking any less dangerous,” per Adam Scow, California campaigns director for Food & Water Watch.

Victoria Kaplan, a campaign director with MoveOn.org, told reporters that public opinion against fracking is building steadily in California. “The more people learn about fracking, the more they hate it – that’s what we’re seeing this summer.”

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said fracking not only “endangers the air we breathe and the water we drink,” but also would set back California’s efforts to roll back climate change. Not only does the fracking process release methane – a potent greenhouse gas – but burning the oil that it produces from the Monterey Shale will generate more than 6.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, she said.

SB 4 is now pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Activists plan to deliver more than 9,000 petition signatures Thursday to committee chairman Mike Gatto’s and Assembly Speaker John Pérez‘s offices, urging them to add an immediate moratorium on fracking to SB 4.

This is only the latest such petition: MoveOn.org says more than 120,000 people have signed various petitions to ban fracking in California.

Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, energy, Environment, Jerry Brown | 5 Comments »

CA17: Honda on Obamacare, Khanna on women

Rep. Mike Honda will host a town hall meeting on how Obamacare’s implementation will affect his 17th District constituents. Representatives from Covered California – the state’s health benefit exchange created under the Affordable Care Act, which starts enrollment Oct. 1 – will attend the meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3 in the Fremont Senior Center, 40086 Paseo Padre Parkway.

Honda, D-San Jose, earlier this week announced more than 49,000 people across the nation had signed his petition to end the Food and Drug Administration’s policy of banning all blood donations from gay and bi-sexual men. (As of now, more than 50,000 have signed, still short of the 75,000 he’d sought. see update below) The policy has been in effect for more than 30 years, but the issue rose to prominence in his district this summer after Campbell Mayor Evan Low was turned away from a blood drive he’d organized. Honda notes he’s been urging a change in the policy since 2008, when San Jose State University suspended campus blood drives because of the ban.

Honda’s Democratic challenger, former Obama administration official Ro Khanna of Fremont, held a Women’s Equality Day event at his campaign office Monday night to roll out his “Women in the Workplace Agenda.” The plan includes promoting family-friendly work environments, removing workplace inequities, increasing women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and supporting women entrepreneurs.

Khanna and his campaign volunteers will be pounding the pavement this Saturday in San Jose.

UPDATE @ 1:22 P.M.: A clarification – I’m told that Honda’s petition’s signature goal automatically increases as various thresholds are surpassed. So, the goal increased from 50,000 to 75,000 when the 50k mark was passed.

Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Under: 2014 primary, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Steinberg’s prison plan seeks 3-year extension

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s alternative to Gov. Jerry Brown’s state-prison plan involves relies on asking for three more years to solve the overcrowding problem.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, unveiled Senate Democrats’ plan this morning in a letter to Brown and to the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuits that led a three-judge panel to order California to further reduce its inmate population by this year’s end.

Darrell Steinberg“The federal courts have put us in the untenable position of either releasing thousands of inmates from our prisons early, or putting our prison capacity on steroids by renting new prison beds at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars for years to come,” Steinberg said today. “Neither option makes any sense. We can do far better, and would be wrong to give up now.”

Steinberg said his plan would “achieve a durable solution” to prison overcrowding by reducing crime through performance-based grant programs. These grants would incentivize counties to expand proven rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment programs for criminal offenders. This is modeled after a 2009 effort which, in just two years, reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500, with $536 million in state savings over three years.

Also, the state would create an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to analyze and recommend changes in California’s sentencing laws.

But that won’t do the trick by Dec. 31, so Steinberg is asking the plaintiffs to agree to extend the deadline by three years. He wants all parties to the lawsuit to agree to let an independent state panel evaluate and determine proper population levels for California’s prisons based on standards and practices employed by correctional administrators across the country.

The state is under a federal court’s order to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of this year. California already has reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 since 2006 – more than half of which was via 2011’s “realignment,” which spun some offenders out to county jails instead of state prisons.

The one thing on which all the leaders in Sacramento agree is that granting early release to thousands of inmates in order to meet the deadline isn’t an option. Brown, joined by Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, yesterday unveiled a plan that calls for quickly leasing in-state and out-of-state prison capacity, including county jails, and contracting with community corrections facilities; suspending the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco; and spending up to $315 million to make it all happen.

“Governor Brown has a well-earned reputation as a good steward of the public purse; throwing this expensive Band-Aid on a hemorrhage threatens to undermine our hard work,” Steinberg said Wednesday. “We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons.”

UPDATE @ 10:37 A.M.: The plaintiffs say they might be willing to grant the extension Steinberg seeks. Here’s the statement they just released:

“We are ready and willing to sit down with the Governor and his counsel to discuss ways to end federal court oversight. Senator Steinberg’s substantive proposals are acceptable to us and we are open to an extension of the date for compliance with the three judge court’s order if an agreement produces an effective and sustainable approach that will resolve the chronic overcrowding problem in the state’s prisons. The actual amount of time must be arrived at through these discussions.

“We strongly support Senator Steinberg’s proposal to provide local governments with resources to reduce and prevent crime by treating offenders in the community, and to establish a public safety commission. That commission will be charged with making recommendations based on solid evidence to reduce recidivism by holding individuals accountable in the most effective and least costly way. His solution demonstrates that the state can achieve a real, sustainable approach to safely reducing and managing the inmate population without further federal intervention and wasteful spending on more prisons.

“The Governor’s plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the prison system for low risk prisoners will not make the public any safer. Without reform of the sentencing laws California’s prison population will continue to grow, making it only a matter of time before the prisons will once again exceed the population cap and prompt a renewed Court order requiring further reductions in the prison population.”

UPDATE @ 12:00 P.M.: Brown says it wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.

“It would not be responsible to turn over California’s criminal justice policy to inmate lawyers who are not accountable to the people,” the governor said in a statement issued a few moments ago. “My plan avoids early releases of thousands of prisoners and lays the foundation for longer-term changes, and that’s why local officials and law enforcement support it.”

Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Under: California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, Jerry Brown, State Prisons | 1 Comment »

New law allows non-citizen election workers

County elections officials can use non-citizens as polling-place workers in order to translate for voters who don’t speak English, under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Rob BontaAssemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, said his AB 817 will help counties meet federal and state law requiring language assistance at polling sites by drawing upon California’s pool of lawful permanent residents. Bonta issued a news release saying Brown “clearly understands the challenges faced by the increasingly diverse voters in our state related to civic engagement and participation.”

Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles – which was among the bill’s sponsors – said his group looks forward to working with elections officials to implement the law next year. “The bill will improve opportunities for voters who face language barriers to receive the assistance they need to fully participate in our democracy.”

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund also was among the bill’s sponsors, and executive director Arturo Vargas said it also will “provide lawful permanent residents a new opportunity to become more civically engaged.”

The bill emulates rules already in place that allow elections officials to appoint up to five high-school students per precinct as poll workers before they’re old enough to vote. The Assembly approved AB 817 on a 49-23 vote in May; the state Senate approved it 22-10 in July; and the Assembly concurred in the Senate’s amendments with a 49-25 vote earlier this month.

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Rob Bonta | 2 Comments »

What’s Congress’ role in Obama’s call on Syria?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued this statement today on the Syrian government’s used of chemical weapons:

Nancy Pelosi“The Syrian government’s horrific, wanton, and undeniable use of chemical weapons against its own people is a clear violation of any moral standard and places the Assad regime well outside the circle of respect for basic human rights. President Assad’s partnership with Iran and designated terrorist organization Hezbollah to perpetrate such violence only further threatens the safety of the Syrian people and the stability of the region.

“This regime’s indiscriminate actions have claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, internally displaced 4.25 million people, and forced 1.7 million men, women, and children to flee. We appreciate the response taken by neighboring countries to receive and address the needs of Syrian refugees.

“We join President Obama and the international community in strongly condemning the senseless violence of the Assad regime. Moving forward, Members of Congress stand ready to consult with President Obama to consider the appropriate course of action in response to these acts of brutality.”

Ah, but there’s the rub, right? Will President Obama consult Congress in a meaningful way before taking action? Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, said if he doesn’t do so, any action he takes will be illegal.

Tom McClintock“I am deeply concerned about reports that the President is preparing to order acts of war against the government of Syria without congressional authorization.

“The Constitution clearly and unmistakably vests Congress with the sole prerogative ‘to declare war.’ The President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief to order a military attack on a foreign government is implicitly limited by the Constitution to repelling an attack and explicitly limited under the War Powers Resolution to: ‘(1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.’ Unless one of these conditions is present, the decision must be made by Congress and not by the President.

“Nor does our participation in NATO allow the President to order an unprovoked act of war. The North Atlantic Treaty clearly requires troops under NATO command to be deployed in accordance with their country’s constitutional provisions. The War Powers Resolution clearly states that the President’s power to engage United States Armed Forces in hostilities ‘shall not be inferred …from any treaty heretofore or hereafter ratified unless such treaty is implemented by legislation specifically authorizing the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities…’

“Nor does the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 authorize the President to commit U.S. Armed Forces to combat in pursuit of United Nations directives without congressional approval.

“The authors of the Constitution were explicit on this point. Madison said, ‘In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department … Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded.’

“In Federalist 69, Alexander Hamilton drew a sharp distinction between the American President’s authority as Commander in Chief, which he said ‘would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces’ and that of the British king who could actually declare war.

“Indeed, it is reported that the British Prime Minister has called Parliament into special session to consider the question. How ironic it would be if the British government were to act with the authorization of Parliament but the American government acted on the unilateral decision of one man.

“War is not a one-sided act that can be turned on and off with Congressional funding. Once any nation commits an act of war against another, from that moment it is at war – inextricably embroiled and entangled with an aggrieved and belligerent government and its allies that have casus belli to prosecute hostilities regardless of what Congress then decides.

“If there are facts that compel us to take such a course, let those facts be laid before Congress and let Congress fulfill its rightful constitutional role on the most momentous decision any government can make.

“I believe that absent an attack or imminent threat to the United States or a specific authorization by Congress, the order of a military attack on the government of Syria would be illegal and unconstitutional.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Under: Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

Brown, some lawmakers unveil state prison plan

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle – most of them, anyway – rolled out a plan today to satisfy a federal court order to limit the state’s prison population while avoiding the early release of thousands of prisoners.

In the short term, the plan is: Lock ‘em up somewhere else.

The plan unveiled by Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway calls for quickly leasing in-state and out-of-state prison capacity, including county jails, and contracting with community corrections facilities; suspending the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco; and spending up to $315 million to make it all happen.

“This legislation will protect public safety and give us time to work with public officials and interested parties to make thoughtful changes in the overall criminal justice system,” Brown said in a news release.

But while state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he agrees with preventing any early inmate releases, he said Brown’s plan has “no promise and no hope.”

“As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the Court demands mass releases again,” Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in his own news release. “For every 10 prisoners finishing their sentences, nearly seven of them will commit another crime after release and end up back behind bars.”

“More money for more prison cells alone is not a durable solution; it is not a fiscally responsible solution; and it is not a safe solution,” he said, announcing he’ll unveil Senate Democrats’ alternative plan at 10 a.m. Wednesday. “We must invest in a durable criminal justice strategy, which reduces both crime and prison overcrowding.”

The state is under a federal court’s order to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of this year. California already has reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 since 2006 – more than half of which was via 2011’s “realignment,” which spun some offenders out to county jails instead of state prisons.

Brown, Perez, Huff and Conway said they’re also seeking long-term solutions.

“This process will leave no stone unturned as we investigate what can work to make improvements,” Perez, D-Los Angeles, said in the news release. “We will consider every option from updating sentencing laws; to giving local governments and law enforcement the necessary tools. And certainly we will examine broader policy questions that prevent crime, like improving education from preschool to higher education and on programs that break the cycle of poverty.”

Huff, R-Brea, said Senate Republicans will support the plan “because we believe the safety of California families should be our first and foremost priority” and allowing the early release of so many inmates “is simply unacceptable.”

Conway, R-Visalia, said today’s plan incorporates some ideas that Republican lawmakers had put forward. “We will continue to work with the Governor and the Speaker to find sustainable solutions that will honor the court’s demands, while keeping Californians safe.”

Activists who’d like to see the prison population reduced, not just moved around, are disappointed.

“Gov. Brown has turned his back on his own earlier proposals to the court, which detailed smart, sustainable alternatives for California to reach the court order,” said Courage Campaign executive chairman Dr. Paul Song. “Instead, the Governor is choosing to throw hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars down the black hole that is California’s broken prison system. This wasteful spending will prevent the restoration of funding to education and other vital services, which continue to suffer from devastating cuts made during the Great Recession. Funding those services would do more to keep Californians safe than further expansion of the prison-industrial complex.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Bob Huff, California State Senate, Connie Conway, Darrell Steinberg, Jerry Brown, John Perez, State Prisons | 6 Comments »

Oakland & Sac mayors met with Obama today

Oakland’s Jean Quan and Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson were among 18 U.S. mayors who met with President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today at the White House to discuss strategies to reduce youth violence.

According to the White House’s readout of the meeting, Obama “reiterated that government alone can never fill the void that causes a child to turn to violence, but that we all have a responsibility to do our part to create safe communities and save lives.”

“The President applauded the mayors for their local efforts to combat violence, solicited their input about proven methods, and pledged his Administration’s partnership,” the White House reported. “He also vowed to continue doing everything in his power to combat gun violence through executive action and to press Congress to pass common-sense reforms like expanding the background check system and cracking down on gun trafficking.”

For the complete list of mayors at today’s meeting, follow after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Under: Jean Quan, Oakland, Obama presidency, Public safety | 3 Comments »

Brown signs East Bay legislators’ bills into law

Community youth athletic programs can request state- and federal-level background checks for a volunteer coach or hired coach candidate, under an East Bay Assemblywoman’s bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

AB 465 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, closes what they and others said was a big loophole in California law: Sports coaches in public schools had to undergo background checks, but not coaches in youth sports leagues.

“On behalf of the thousands of young athletes in my district, I am proud that AB 465 is now law,” Bonilla, who has been involved in her daughters’ soccer activities, said Monday. “This legislation will improve the safety for these children who participate in community sports programs.”

The Assembly and state Senate had passed the bill unanimously.

Brown also on Monday signed SB 107 by state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, repealing the Jan. 1, 2014 sunset date which would’ve halted the state’s use of federal funds to cover the costs of medical evidentiary exams for sexual assault victims. Under this bill, the state can keep using Violence Against Women Act grant funds to pay for the “rape kits.” The Assembly and state Senate had passed the bill unanimously.

Posted on Monday, August 26th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Ellen Corbett, Susan Bonilla | 3 Comments »

Senate to probe state-federal marijuana conflicts

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Monday he’ll hold a hearing Sept. 10 on the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws.

That’s big news for 20 states including California that have legalized medical marijuana, as well as for Colorado and Washington, which have legalized it for recreational use.

Leahy, D-Vt., has invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify. Perhaps someone will ask them why President Obama’s rhetoric and action haven’t matched up on this issue: Though he has said that federal law enforcement resources are better targeted toward violent elements of the drug trade, federal agents and prosecutors have continued to pursue dispensaries that are in compliance with California law.

Leahy wrote to White House “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske last December, asking how the federal government intended to deal with states like Colorado and Washington. In that letter, Leahy also suggested that federal legislation could be introduced to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana, at least in states that have legalized it; he also sought assurances that state employees would not be prosecuted for implementing state laws.

Congress’ efforts to address this haven’t advanced. H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, would protect those operating under medical-marijuana laws in 18 states including California plus the District of Columbia, or under the recreational legalization laws enacted last year in Colorado and Washington state. Introduced in April, the bill has 18 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle yet has never had a hearing.

“Ending marijuana prohibition not just in the states but also nationally is going to require the sort of leadership that Senator Leahy is now providing,” Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann said Monday. “Now is the time for his colleagues to stand up as well in defense of responsible state regulation of marijuana.”

Posted on Monday, August 26th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Obama presidency, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Video: Antioch soldier receives Medal of Honor

President Barack Obama today presented U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter of Antioch with the Medal of Honor. As we reported last month, Carter is only the fifth living recipient of the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest military honor – for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Here’s the quick Pentagon News spot:

And here’s the entire ceremony:

Read the full transcript of the president’s remarks, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, August 26th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 11 Comments »