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California lawmakers globe-trot to Cuba, Japan

With the Legislature in recess next week, California’s top lawmakers – and a few Bay Area members, too – are leaving Sacramento to do some globe-trotting.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Agriculture Committee Chair Henry Perea, D-Fresno, will lead a trade delegation of legislators, academics, and agriculture industry representatives to Cuba from Monday, March 30 to Friday, April 3.

They’re aiming to build ties with Cuban policymakers, farmers, and businesses, and to explore options for California and Cuba to collaborate not only in agriculture but also in telecommunications, construction and banking.

Toni Atkins“With the federal government moving forward with efforts to normalize diplomatic, economic, and commercial relations, it is important for California to also engage with Cuba and expand economic relationships that create new opportunities for businesses in our state,” Atkins said in a news release. “The Assembly wants to do everything we can to create more jobs and business in California, and this trade delegation is one way to help California companies gain a competitive edge.”

The partner organization for the trade delegation is Californians Building Bridges, a nonprofit with years of experience leading cultural, humanitarian and entrepreneurial exchanges between California and Cuba. No Assembly funds are being spent.

Also in the delegation are Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond; Luis Alejo, D-Salinas; Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove; Adam Gray, D-Merced; Jose Medina, D-Riverside; and Rudy Salas Jr., D-Bakersfield – all Agriculture Committee members, or serving districts with agricultural interests. Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Republicans on the Agriculture Committee were invited but declined to attend.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will lead a delegation including Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, to Japan from Monday, March 30 through Thursday, April 2. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is going, too.

The lawmakers were invited by the Japanese government, and they’ll be discussing issues including transportation, seismic safety, clean energy, environmental protection and climate change.

Kevin de LeonThey’re scheduled to meet Monday in Tokyo with U.S. Embassy officials and Japanese officials including Issei Kitagawa, the state minister of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism to discuss high-speed rail. They’ll also meet that day with people from Japan’s Reconstruction Agency, the main entity responsible for recovery from the March 2011 earthquake that devastated part of the nation.

On Tuesday, they’re scheduled to visit Japan’s National Diet, the legislature, as well as to tour the High Speed Rail Operation Center and to ride in a new fuel-cell car produced by Toyota.

On Wednesday they’ll travel to Kobe to meet with the mayor and tour a facility memorializing the January 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and the recovery efforts that followed. And on Thursday they’ll start in Osaka and then head for Kyoto, to meet the mayor for a briefing on the city’s economy and history.

Posted on Friday, March 27th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Bill Quirk, Bob Huff, California State Senate, Kevin de Leon, Toni Atkins, Tony Thurmond | 1 Comment »

Ted Cruz declares; Jerry Brown is unimpressed

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is the first major Republican candidate to declare his candidacy for president in 2016 – and California Gov. Jerry Brown says he’s “absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Cruz, R-Texas, launched a 30-second spot Sunday:

And a longer one Monday:

And he formally announced his run with a speech Monday morning at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

“I believe in you,” he told the crowd at the evangelical Christian university. “I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for President of the United States.”

But on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Brown was shown a clip of Cruz claiming that science doesn’t support the predictions of climate change “alarmists.” His Jerry-ness was NOT amused.

“What he said is absolutely false. Over 90 percent of the scientists who deal with climate are absolutely convinced that the human activity, industrial activity, generation of CO2, methane, oxides and nitrogen, and all the rest of those greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere. They are heat trapping. And they are causing not just warm, drought in California, but severe storms and cold in the East Coast. So it’s climate disruption of many different kinds. And that man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of existing scientific data. It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Cruz later told Breitbart News Sunday that if Brown wanted to hurt him politically, Brown would appear on television and praise him; Cruz insisted data doesn’t support climate change.

Posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2015
Under: 2016 presidential election, Global warming, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 6 Comments »

Bill would provide funds for ‘mystery goo’ cleanups

A new bill would provide state funding to clean up incidents like the “mystery goo” in the San Francisco Bay that recently killed more than 200 birds.

EAST BAY BIRD RESCUEState Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said SB 718 – jointly authored by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley – fixes a gap in existing law by creating a funding mechanism for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation during such rare events.

“California has a sophisticated oil spill response system, but in the unique event when a pollutant is unidentified, there is no clear funding mechanism for the cleanup,” Leno said in a news release. “This legislation clarifies that the state’s top priority during a spill of any kind is to immediately protect waterways and wildlife, regardless of what type of substance caused the problem.”

The bill authorizes the Office of Spill Prevention and Response to borrow up to $500,000 from the state’s oil spill prevention fund for the rehabilitation and rescue of wildlife in spill events where the substance is non-petroleum based. The bill gives the state clear authority to quickly respond to these events; once the responsible parties for the spills are found, they would be required to reimburse the state for the costs of cleanup, including accrued interest.

The bill is co-sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper and Audubon California.

“When a spill happens, it is essential that first responders can act quickly to protect sensitive shorelines and species,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, San Francisco Baykeeper’s interim executive director. “This bill will help ensure that state, local and nonprofit responders are working in concert — and with adequate resources — to prevent harm to San Francisco Bay and all of California’s waters.”

An unidentified sticky synthetic goo first appeared in the Bay in mid-January and coated hundreds of birds, many of which died because they could not maintain their body heat. Others were rehabilitated and released back into the wild by volunteers from local non-profit organizations. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife investigated the incident, but no significant state resources were available to support non-governmental agencies in their cleanup, rescue and rehabilitation efforts. The International Bird Rescue center, a publicly supported non-profit group, spent about $150,000 on animal care.

No word on whether future mystery-goo cleanups would involve the Ghostbusters:

Posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2015
Under: California State Senate, Environment, Loni Hancock, Mark Leno | No Comments »

Bay Area House members out and about Friday

Bay Area House members have a bunch of events planned for Friday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will take part in a discussion with employers of the benefits of hiring trained ex-convicts at 9 a.m. Friday in the student lounge in Building R of Merritt College, 12500 Campus Dr. in Oakland. Others expected to take part include California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard; California Prison Industry Authority General Manager Charles Pattillo; Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle; Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles; and PWC Development President Prophet Walker, himself a former offender.

Mark DeSaulnierReps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Sarbanes, D-Md., will take part in a roundtable discussion on the problem of big money in politics, at 11 a.m. Friday in Blum Hall B100 at UC-Berkeley. The event, hosted by the California Public Interest Research Group, will address local and federal efforts to curb big money’s influence by amplifying small donors’ voices, as well as the recent push for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter, the Berkeley Forum and others also will take part.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will hold a forum to update the community about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration at 4 p.m. Friday at the School of Arts and Culture in Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave. in San Jose. The event also offers eligibility workshops to prepare families to apply for relief from deportation pending availability of applications this year. Lofgren, Lofgren, the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will be joined by Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez, D-Ill.; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; Santa Clara County supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez; and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.

Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Barbara Lee, California State Senate, campaign finance, Immigration, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Loni Hancock, Mark DeSaulnier, Nora Campos, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 2 Comments »

SD7: Joan Buchanan endorses Susan Bonilla

Former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, who came in third in yesterday’s 7th State Senate District special primary election, emailed supporters Wednesday afternoon with a plea to vote for Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in the May 19 general election.

“While last night’s results weren’t what we were expecting, I am incredibly grateful to all of you for believing in me, your time and all your hard work,” wrote Buchanan, an Alamo Democrat who was term-limited out of the 16th Assembly District seat last year.

“I’m proud of the campaign that we ran; I’m proud that we stuck to our pledge to run a positive-only campaign; and I’m proud of how many of you truly took to heart our shared vision for a better future,” she wrote. “It’s clear that our positive messages of a quality education for every child, protecting our precious environment and creating a better California resounded with tens of thousands of voters.”

With some mail-in ballots yet to be counted, current results show Buchanan got 22.6 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s top-two primary, finishing third behind Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer (32.8 percent) and Bonilla (24.9 percent); Glazer and Bonilla will face off in May, while Buchanan and two others are now eliminated.

Buchanan wrote that she called Bonilla, D-Concord, on Tuesday night to offer congratulations. “I ask you to support her bid to be our next State Senator,” she wrote.

The endorsement is hardly surprising, given that Buchanan and Bonilla didn’t disagree on much. But given the primary results, it’ll take a lot more than this endorsement to help Bonilla best Glazer in May.

Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, Joan Buchanan, Susan Bonilla | 9 Comments »

SD7: Looks like May will be a nail-biter

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla should be starting to sweat right about now.

Steve GlazerMy colleague Matt Artz has the lowdown on yesterday’s 7th State Senate District special primary election. As of Wednesday morning, with some mail-in ballots still to be counted, Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer – the centrist Democrat in this race, backed by entities including the California Chamber of Commerce – topped the list at 32.8 percent, while Bonilla, D-Concord – a more liberal candidate with strong union backing – came in second at 24.9 percent.

They’ll go on to the special general election on May 19. Eliminated in yesterday’s primary were former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, at 22.6 percent; Michaela Hertle, a Republican businesswoman from Pleasanton who dropped out Feb. 2 and endorsed Glazer, at 17 percent; and Concord Democrat Terry Kremin, who barely campaigned at all, at 2.8 percent.

It’s not surprising that Glazer and Bonilla made the cut. Massive independent spending on their behalf caught Buchanan in a crossfire from which there was little chance of escape.

But yesterday’s numbers show a surprisingly tough road ahead for Bonilla. If you figure those who voted for Hertle will now swing toward Glazer, that puts him close to the 50 percent mark. And while it’s hard to imagine many Hertle voters suddenly swinging all the way across the spectrum to support Bonilla, it’s easier to imagine some Buchanan voters choosing Glazer, which could put him over the top.

Democrats hold a 15-point registration edge in this district, but the party’s leftward edge is blunted in low-turnout elections – of which this certainly was one.

With 97,104 votes counted so far and an estimated 13,432 ballots still left to count as of Wednesday morning, it seems that about 110,536 voters actually bothered to turn out for this special primary. In a district with 488,596 voters, that’s an abysmal 22.6 percent turnout. Maybe that will improve in May’s general election, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Susan BonillaUnions now will double down to mobilize voters for Bonilla, but that doesn’t always lead to a win – consider how Republican attorney Catharine Baker beat Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, a union darling, by 3.2 points in last November’s low-turnout election in the 16th Assembly District, despite a 7-point Democratic registration advantage.

And Glazer can almost certainly count on more support from his own deep-pocketed independent spenders, most notable the Chamber of Commerce’s JobsPAC and southern California Republican-turned-independent businessman Bill Bloomfield.

If 7th District residents think they’ve been inundated with mail and calls so far, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, Joan Buchanan, Susan Bonilla | 4 Comments »

GOP senators demand hearing on firearms program

California State Senate Republicans want to know why Attorney General Kamala Harris hasn’t cracked down harder on convicts and mentally ill people with guns – but Harris’ office says it’s making progress and can’t do the task overnight.

The GOP caucus wrote a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León on Tuesday to request an oversight hearing on why the state still has a huge backlog in its Armed and Prohibited Persons program (APPS), a database that cross-references California firearm owners with domestic violence restraining orders, mental health records and criminal histories to identify people who can’t legally own firearms.

Harris’ office reported to the Legislature this month that the 21,249-entry backlog that existed at 2014’s start grew by 7,031 more names last year due to new firearms prohibitions.

But 3,922 names were cleared from the database due to warrants being cleared, restraining orders being vacated by judges, or deaths, and 6,879 more names were cleared after investigation. Harris reported her agents investigated 7,573 cases, resulting in the seizure of 3,286 firearms and 137 arrests.

That still leaves 17,479 prohibited persons on the list, holding up to about 35,000 firearms and 1,419 assault weapons, Harris’ report said.

Lawmakers passed and Gov. Jerry Brown in May 2013 signed SB 140, authorizing $24 million more for the state Justice Department to put toward APPS over the following three years. Harris said in a news release at the time that this would 36 more agents for the program, which she and staffers said was a high priority. But Republicans say only half that many have been hired so far.

Now the GOP lawmakers want a joint oversight hearing by the Senate Public Safety Committee and the relevant budget subcommittee to review the APPS program. Specifically, they want to know how 40 percent of the SB 140 money was spent without hiring all the staff needed to erase the backlog; Harris’ plan for future spending to actually erase the backlog; and why Harris’ report left out information – which they say is required under SB 140 – regarding the breakdown of why each person in the APPS is prohibited from having a firearm.

Kristin Ford, Harris’ press secretary, responded Tuesday that “removing guns from dangerous, violent individuals who are prohibited by law from owning them has been a top priority of the California Department of Justice.”

“Upon taking office Attorney General Harris hired agents and urged the legislature to fund efforts to eliminate a backlog that was created ten years ago,” Ford said. “This funding has allowed agents to reduce the backlog for the first time in the program’s history and doubled the average number of guns seized per year.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
Under: Attorney General, California State Senate, gun control, Kamala Harris | 3 Comments »

Dianne Feinstein endorses CA’s assisted-suicide bill

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has endorsed California’s assisted-suicide bill.

“The right to die with dignity is an option that should be available for every chronically suffering terminally ill consenting adult in California,” Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to the authors of SB 128, the End of Life Option Act. “I share your concern that terminally ill California residents currently do not have the option to obtain end-of-life medication if their suffering becomes unbearable.”

State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, one of the bill’s authors, said Feinstein’s support “is a big boost for our effort, sending a strong signal that the political momentum has shifted. When one of California’s most respected, thoughtful, and longest serving political leaders takes the unusual step of speaking out in strong support of a bill like this you know you are on the right track.”

The bill’s other authors are state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton. They released a list Tuesday of 70 current and former lawmakers who support the legislation, including 19 current lawmakers who have signed on as co-authors.

SB 128, modeled on Oregon’s law, will have its first hearing next Wednesday, March 25 in the Senate Health Committee. The bill would let a terminally ill competent person get a prescription for drugs to hasten and make painless his or her death. The authors say it has “numerous protections to prevent abuse” and “all participation is voluntary;” they note Oregon’s law has been in place for 17 years with no reported cases of abuse. Last year, 155 Oregonians used the law to help end their lives.

Posted on Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
Under: Bill Monning, California State Senate, Dianne Feinstein, Lois Wolk, U.S. Senate | 5 Comments »

Senate candidate Rocky Chávez coming to East Bay

2016 U.S. Senate candidate Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, will be at a campaign event Monday in the East Bay – but not for his campaign.

Rocky ChávezChávez will be the “VIP guest” at a fundraiser this Monday, March 16 for Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, the Bay Area’s only Republican in Sacramento. Tickets for the pre-St. Patrick’s Day reception – “heavy hors d’ouevres, no host bar, green beer complimentary for the first 30 lucky guests!” – at The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon cost from $150 (“shamrock”) to $4,200 (“pot o’gold”).

Chávez declared candidacy March 5 for the senate seat from which Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will retire next year. The only other prominent candidate in the race so far is California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat whom a recent Field Poll showed to be a frontrunner.

Catharine BakerTwo little-known Republicans, John Estrada of Fresno and Mark Hardie of Whittier, say they’re running too, though Hardie has yet to form a campaign committee. And former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette has formed an exploratory committee for the race.

Baker is wise to be raising money as soon as possible. She won her 16th Assembly District seat by a 3.2-point margin in November, but she should expect a much tougher fight in 2016 when heavier turnout drawn by the presidential election will help Democrats flex their 7-point voter registration advantage.

Posted on Friday, March 13th, 2015
Under: Assembly, campaign finance, Catharine Baker, Kamala Harris | 4 Comments »

Florida Gov. Rick Scott aims to poach CA jobs

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is taking a page from Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s playbook – coming to California to try to poach some of the Golden State’s businesses, and take some potshots at Gov. Jerry Brown in the process.

Rick ScottScott will visit Los Angeles on April 12 and 13, leading a trade delegation and hosting a reception for shipping industry professionals. He sent a letter Thursday to shipping companies urging them to shift their business to Florida after a contract dispute disrupted labor recently at California’s ports. Florida is “on a mission to be the number one destination in the world for jobs,” he wrote.

“Our investment in port infrastructure means Florida’s ports are ready and have the capacity to immediately handle increased cargo that could come to Florida as a result of port congestion on the other side of the country,” he wrote, with more projects under way to increase container-handling capabilities.

“Florida’s low-tax, business friendly climate and our commitment to investing in our transportation infrastructure are great reasons for you to consider shipping your goods through Florida ports,” Scott continued. “In comparison, under Governor Jerry Brown’s tax and spend administration, California has the nation’s highest personal income tax, highest state sales tax, second highest gas tax, and has more than double the state debt per capita than Florida. And for ten straight years, CEOs have ranked California dead last for its business climate.”

Florida has no personal income tax, has paid down $7.5 billion in state debt in the last four years, and is second-ranked in the same business-climate index, he noted. “We’ve made job creation a priority while Governor Brown idly watches businesses flee California, which has the second highest unemployment rate of any state, only behind Mississippi.”

Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said it’s easy to understand why Scott wants to visit California.

“California has the 7th largest economy in the world, we lead the nation in manufacturing, technology and life sciences and we’re at the top of the Fortune 500 rankings,” Westrup said. “Our budget is balanced, our credit rating is up and we created more than a quarter of the nation’s jobs in January. We also believe in climate change. As one of the 60 million tourists expected to visit California this year, we hope the governor’s stay is both enjoyable and educational.”

Hmmm. Well, maybe there are some good opportunities at the Port of Orlando. What, Orlando is landlocked, you say? Maybe not for long! But don’t tell Rick Scott that – he doesn’t like hearing the words “cl—– ch—-.”

Sea Level Rise 6 meters

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2015
Under: economy, Global warming, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 3 Comments »