Students to push Legislature for oil-extraction tax

Its proposed measure having failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, a student-led group calling for California to implement an oil-extraction tax will try its fortunes with the Legislature again.

Californians for Responsible Economic Development will change its name to Students’ Voice Now, and will soon announce a partnership with two state senators to get a bill or legislatively referred initiative passed in the Legislature next year, spokesman Kevin Singer said.

“The framework of the bill is expected to include an endowment for education, but also may include subsidies for families and businesses to switch to cleaner forms of energy, a rollback of the gas tax, and/or immediate revenue for the specific purpose of decreasing college tuition across California,” Singer wrote in an email.

Singer said that starting in January, as part of pushing for the bill, they’ll keep networking across California’s college campuses and “continue to build relationships with other interest groups, PACs, and legislators who believe that whether oil is drilled or fracked from our soil, Big Oil needs to pay its fair share.”

California is the only oil-producing state that doesn’t have a specific oil-extraction tax, and the proponents estimated the tax contemplated by their now-dead proposed ballot measure would’ve raised $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year.

But any such legislation probably faces a tough road ahead in the Legislature. State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, this year carried SB 241 to establish an oil-extraction tax, but the bill never made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gov. Jerry Brown has pledged not to raise or create any taxes without voter approval, and so might push hard against any efforts to create this tax by legislation alone. And he probably won’t want a legislatively directed tax hike on the same ballot in which he’s (presumably) running for re-election in 2014.


Boxer spars with nuclear agency on oversight

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer is sparring with the Nuclear Regulatory Committee over congressional access to the agency’s information.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., wrote a letter to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane on Tuesday, urging her to withdraw its new policy that the senator says will inhibit congressional oversight.

“As an ‘independent agency,’ the NRC is independent from the Executive Branch – not from congressional oversight,” Boxer wrote. “It is the NRC’s responsibility to keep Congress apprised of its activities, as well as to follow the law and use its authorities responsibly and in the public’s interest.”

Yet the NRC “unilaterally devised a drastic change of policy behind closed doors” without notifying her committee, and implemented it without consulting Congress or the public, Boxer wrote.

“This policy is a radical departure from previous NRC document policies and creates significant hurdles and delays that can be used to withhold information entirely from the chairs and ranking members of oversight committees,” Boxer wrote. “It also allows the NRC to broadly deny information to individual members of Congress, even when the information is related to matters affecting their home states.”

The NRC’s claims that the new policy is justified by its need to protect against public release of sensitive materials isn’t supported by case law or by Justice Department guidelines, the senator wrote.

“I call on the NRC to cease its efforts to circumvent Congress’ oversight authority and create a policy that is a model of transparency and respects Congress’ responsibility to oversee the NRC,” Boxer wrote.


County Dems urge racist elected official to quit

(Ed.’s note: This post is by my colleague Thomas Peele, who has been on this story’s trail from the start. -J)

The Contra Costa County Democratic Party has joined the chorus of those demanding the resignation of West County Wastewater District Director Leonard Battaglia.

Leonard BattagliaBattaglia, you will remember, made racist remarks about African-Americans and Asians during an interview with this newspaper about his salary and benefits, saying that during his time as a Koren War fighter pilot he trained with black and found them as a race to be genetically inferior.

“Battaglia’s comments are an insult to all Americans who have and are honorably serving our country, including the President of the United States, who is of African American descent,” Ellis Goldberg, the party’s communications officer, said in a statement issued Wednesday that demanded Battaglia’s immediate resignation.

Battaglia, 85, of El Sobrante, is a registered Democrat.

Earlier this month, his water board colleagues asked, by way of a 4-0 vote, for Battaglia to resign. He did not. Several Richmond council members have also called for his resignation. The San Pablo City Council has scheduled a vote for Monday night to condemn Battaglia, whose term expires next year.

Goldberg is calling on other Democratic leaders to pursue similar measures.


Swalwell bill aims to help cities that lost RDAs

California cities that saw economic development projects sidelined or shelved when the state dissolved their redevelopment authorities would compete more easily for federal grants to fund those projects, under a new bill from Rep. Eric Swalwell.

Swalwell news conference 11-26-2013 (photo by Josh Richman)Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, held a news conference Tuesday morning at a huge empty lot along Post Street in Fremont’s Centerville area. A sprawling mixed-use “Artist Walk” development had been planned for the site, but tanked after state lawmakers and the governor did away with local redevelopment authorities in 2011 and seized their assets to help balance the state’s budget.

“There’s a reason we only see buildings in artists’ renderings and not in reality,” Swalwell said. “Localities can no longer raise adequate funds for redevelopment…. And it is my hope today that the federal government can fix it.”

Swalwell’s H.R. 3518, the “Restarting Local Economies Act of 2013,” doesn’t allocate any new federal funding. Rather, it changes rules for the Economic Development Administration’s Economic Adjustment Assistance program, which provides competitive grants for local redevelopment projects if they meet specific criteria related to challenges to their economy.

Swalwell’s bill would include the closure of a government entity – such as a redevelopment agency – as a specific example of an economic challenge to a region, letting California localities more easily compete for these grants.

“I hope we can do our part to make things a little bit easier,” he said, noting projects like the Artist Walk development would create jobs not only in construction but also in the businesses that could locate there.

But for now, it’s “welcome to Centerville, welcome to an empty lot,” quipped Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison. “We need to get people to work, we need affordable housing.”

Harrison said Fremont in the past used redevelopment authority funding to do grade improvement projects that cleared the way for BART’s extension into Santa Clara County, and to improve the Niles Town Plaza around that district’s historic train station.

Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci said an easier path to federal grants could help her city complete its intermodal station district project in the area around its BART station.

Because this bill would have special meaning for California, it’s unclear how it’ll play with the rest of the Republican-controlled House. Swalwell said he hasn’t yet begun lining up co-sponsors even amid California’s delegation.

“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he said. “But whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat in California, you represent cities that suffered with the loss of their redevelopment authorities. This is going to be my year-end push, to reach out to colleagues on this issue.”


What they’re saying about the Iran nuclear deal

The nuclear deal that the international community has struck with Iran is being met with mixed reactions around the world, and here at home.

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“The interim deal has been and will continue to be met with healthy skepticism and hard questions, not just of the Iranians, but of ourselves and our allies involved in the negotiations. Iran has a history of obfuscation that demands verification of its activities and places the burden on the regime to prove it is upholding its obligations in good faith while a final deal is pursued.

“The Administration and its negotiating partners claim that a final deal can be completed that affirms Iran does not have a right to enrich and permanently and irreversibly dismantles the infrastructure of its uranium and plutonium nuclear programs. That is a goal the House shares. The lingering question, however, is whether the negotiating partners will work equally hard to preserve the strong international sanctions regime until that goal is achieved. Otherwise, we will look back on the interim deal as a remarkably clever Iranian move to dismantle the international sanctions regime while maintaining its infrastructure and material to pursue a break-out nuclear capability.

“The House looks forward to the Administration providing a briefing on the interim deal and the next steps.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“Last night’s agreement is an essential step toward meeting our ultimate objective: to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. President Obama, Secretary Kerry, their team, and our allies are to be commended for their successful efforts to hash out a deal that advances national, regional, and global security.

“It is clear that tough, far-reaching sanctions, enacted by Congress and enforced by the Obama Administration, enabled world powers to reach this point and freeze Iran’s nuclear development. But let there be no doubt: America’s commitment to the security of Israel and our allies across the region will stand firm; majority of our sanctions structure remains in place; and if Iran fails to live up to its obligations, the United States will not hesitate to reimpose, deepen, and expand our sanctions regime.

“This announcement marks a necessary bridge to further negotiations on a lasting, long-term, and comprehensive agreement. Through diplomacy, engagement, and unity among our allies, we must continue acting to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program once and for all.”

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“I support the agreement reached today between the P5+1 countries and Iran, which I believe is a significant step toward solving one of the most difficult security challenges facing the world today.

“The six-month agreement puts in place strict controls on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran must halt uranium enrichment above 5%, neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium (by either reducing to 3.5% or converting to uranium oxide), halt the installation of any additional centrifuges of any type, freeze the size of its 3.5% stockpile at current levels (converting any newly enriched 3.5% to uranium oxide), halt production and testing of fuel for the Arak heavy-water reactor, halt installation of any components for the reactor, not transfer fuel or heavy water to the site, share the reactor’s technical design with P5+1 countries and dramatically increase international inspections of all nuclear sites.

“In return, the sanctions relief for Iran is limited, estimated not to exceed $7 billion, which leaves more than $100 billion frozen.

“If Iran violates this agreement, it ends and we will know diplomacy is no longer an option. But if the terms are upheld, we will know that Iran is serious about reaching a final agreement.

“By any standard, this agreement is a giant step forward and should not be undermined by additional sanctions at this time.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“On tonight’s announcement from President Obama on the deal with Iran regarding their nuclear program, we must note the significance, but also recognize that there are challenges ahead.

“This is indeed a triumph for diplomacy, and I’m pleased that President Obama reasserted Congress’ role in these negotiations.

“It is my hope that this deal is a step towards a more peaceful and secure world.”


Bill proposed to regulate toy guns’ appearance

State lawmakers will introduce a bill regulating toy guns so that they don’t look too much like the real thing, in reaction to a Santa Rosa boy’s fatal shooting by a police officer last month.

Real rifle and toy rifleThis “Imitation Firearm Safety Act” would define what an imitation firearm is and what they must look like to differentiate real guns from fake guns. For now, state law doesn’t include paintball, airsoft and bb guns in its legal definition of imitation weapons.

“Currently these copycat toys are manufactured to be virtually indistinguishable from real firearms,” state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said in a news release. “Because the use of lethal force against a person carrying an imitation firearm is a significant threat to public safety, toys must look like toys and not lethal weapons.”

Andy LopezAndy Lopez, 13, was shot dead Oct. 22 in Santa Rosa by a sheriff’s deputy who believed the airsoft gun Lopez carried was a real AK-47-type rifle.

Evans is co-authoring the bill with state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael. In reaction to a similar shooting in Los Angeles, De Leon carried a bill in 2011, SB 798, that would have required all BB, pellet and airsoft guns to be painted a bright color.

“This will give police an opportunity to easily identify toy guns for what they really are and avoid these types of tragedies,” De Leon said in Friday’s news release. “Toy gun replicas do not belong on the streets. They endanger children, teens and law enforcement. We can easily protect everyone involved with this simple solution. My strongest hope is that we can enact legislation this time so that no more families are forced to suffer the terrible grief the Lopez family has suffered today.”

A 1990 Department of Justice study found that there are more than 200 incidents per year in which imitation guns are mistaken for real firearms, the lawmakers said.

Levine called Lopez’ death “unfathomable, gut wrenching, and tragic.”

“When a child is playing with a toy gun, there must be no doubt that the toy is not a real gun,” he said. “Consequently, we need a law that fully protects our families from tragedies like this. I am proud to co-author this important legislation.”

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed De Leon’s SB 1315 to let cities within the County of Los Angeles enact local ordinances more restrictive than state law regulating the manufacture, sale, possession, or use of any BB device, toy gun, or replica of a firearm that substantially similar to existing firearms.