4

An early glance at next year’s AD-15 showdown

Quite a battle is shaping up in the 15th Assembly District, where Nancy Skinner will be term-limited out at the end of 2014 and five could-be candidates cover the political spectrum from left to… well, left.

With less than 13 months to go until June 2014’s top-two primary, all five of the candidates who’ve filed statements of intention to run are Democrats, and pretty liberal ones at that – not surprising for this East Bay district, which includes Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont, El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole, Richmond, San Pablo, Kensington and parts of Oakland including Montclair and North Oakland. As of February, the district was registered 64.5 percent Democrat, 7.8 percent Republican and 18.6 percent no-party-preference.

The field appears to include, in alphabetical order:

EcholsElizabeth Echols, 53, of Oakland – regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, appointed by President Obama in 2010, and an Alameda County Democratic Central Committee member. Among her earlier jobs, Echols was Google’s director of policy from 2004 to 2008; executive director of the White House’s E-Commerce Working Group, under Vice President Al Gore, from 1999 to 2001; and a senior advisor at the Clinton administration’s Commerce Department from 1995 to 1999.

KangSam Kang, 34, of Emeryville – general counsel at the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based policy, research, organizing, and leadership nonprofit working for racial and economic justice. A Korean immigrant who says he grew up working in his family’s small business, Kang earlier worked at several non-governmental organizations on issues ranging from Iraqi sanctions enforcement to economic development in New York’s West Harlem neighborhood

KatzAndy Katz, 33, of Berkeley – government relations director for Breathe California, a nonprofit fighting for clean air and public health, and president of the board of the East Bay Municipal Utilities District. Katz has a long record on issues such as renewable energy and climate change and is a former chairman of the Sierra Club California; earlier in his career, he worked at a law center helping injured workers collect unpaid wages and workers’ comp, and as Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson’s community liaison.

MooreMargaret “Peggy” Moore, 49, of Oakland – was California political director for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and a longtime LGBT and political activist. An Oklahoma native, Moore was a 2008 Obama campaign volunteer who became the Northern California field director for Organizing for America, the campaign’s community-organizing successor group. She also was an Oakland City Council candidate in 2005.

ThurmondTony Thurmond, 44, of Richmond – senior director of community relations at the Lincoln Child Center; a West Contra Costa County School Board member from 2008 to 2012; and a Richmond City Council member from 2005 to 2008. His current project at the youth center, CEO Youth, is a high school youth entrepreneur program that applies the lessons students learn in the classroom to conceptualizing and launching a youth-led business venture. Thurmond lost to Skinner in the 2008 primary for what was then the 14th Assembly District.

The field might not turn out to be this big; while Thurmond and Katz have already launched their campaign websites and Kang is collecting contributions via ActBlue, neither Echols nor Moore has taken such overt action yet. (UPDATE @ 4:57 P.M. FRIDAY: Scratch that – Echols clearly is in, per comment #1 below.)

However many candidates actually get into the race, the top two vote-getters in June will advance to November’s general election – meaning candidates will need to muster enough money to survive a year-long campaign. Though all of these are toward the liberal end, it’ll be interesting to see who tries to maneuver toward the middle – and how – in order to attract non-Democrats, or if most of them just try to double-down on the progressive vote.

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Barbara Boxer talks tough for GE food labeling

Undaunted by last year’s defeat of a similar ballot measure, U.S. Barbara Boxer is talking tough in support of her bill to requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Boxer, D-Calif., was at Clif Bar’s Emeryville headquarters Thursday to tout her “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act,” S.809, which she introduced a few weeks ago. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has introduced a companion House bill.

Boxer at Clif Bar 5-2-13“We deserve to have the right to know what’s in the foods we eat,” Boxer said, noting she first introduced a similar bill 13 years ago when public support was far less than it is today. “If these companies believe in their products, they should have nothing to fear.”

Boxer’s said more than 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The Food and Drug Administration now requires labeling of more than 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes, but in a 1992 policy statement allowed genetically engineered foods to be marketed without labeling, claiming that these foods were not “materially” different from other foods because the genetic differences could not be recognized by taste, smell or other senses.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recognized that these foods are materially different and novel for patent purposes, Boxer noted, and more than 1.5 million Americans have filed comments with the FDA urging the agency to label GE foods.

The food industry spent about $46 million last year to defeat California’s Proposition 37, a similar labeling measure, Boxer said Thursday. But she noted the Senate and House bills already have several dozen co-sponsors and around a hundred organizational supporters, and with more than 20 states currently considering their own labeling bills, it would be better to have a single federal standard than a state-by-state patchwork.

“Let’s trust each other to make the right decisions for our families,” she said. “I think we’re on the way to success.”

Asked whether she herself believes genetically engineered foods could be harmful, she said she preferred to answer as a mother and grandmother rather than as a lawmaker. Determining the safety of such foods requires long-term scientific study, and that’s not yet been accomplished, she said: “I’m very conservative when it comes to this.”

UPDATE @ 2:52 P.M.: Actually, genetically engineered crops have been studied and deemed safe hundreds of times in recent decades. And a review of two dozen long-term studies, published last year in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, found genetically modified crops had no effects on the animals that ate them. And the American Association for the Advancement of Science last year issued a statement saying “foods containing ingredients from genetically modified (GM) crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.”

The Boxer and DeFazio bills would require clear labels for genetically engineered whole foods and processed foods, including fish and seafood; the FDA would be directed to write new labeling standards consistent with other U.S. and international standards. So far, 64 nations already require labeling of GE foods, including all the member of the European Union, Russia, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.

Boxer acknowledged Thursday her bill would not cover beef or milk from cows that consume genetically modified corn.

Boxer was flanked at the news conference by Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary; Jessica Lundberg of Richvale, Calif., rice producer Lundberg Family Farms; and restauranteur Charles Phan, best known for the Slanted Door in San Francisco.

“This is very exciting for us,” Lundberg said. “Consumers are concerned about the purity of their food, the nutrition of their food, and how their food is grown.”

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Police chiefs laud those who banned ‘open carry’

The California Police Chiefs Association last night honored two men largely responsible for the new law banning “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places.

During a banquet at their 35th Annual Training Symposium in Sacramento, the chiefs gave their most prestigious award – the Joe Molloy Award – to Emeryville Police Chief Ken James.

“Chief James has served the association as the chair of our Firearms Committee for many years and had tirelessly advocated on our behalf on all of the firearms legislation that has been introduced,” CPCA President and Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard said.

“Additionally, Chief James fought successfully – against great odds – last year to have Cal Chiefs ‘Open Carry’ bill, AB 144, get to the governor’s desk and be signed into law. He led this year’s fight not only on behalf of our members, but on behalf of public safety and the safety of those in our communities. His tenacity on this issue is what enabled the bill to pass. Through it all he has steadfastly stood for what is best for the safety of our communities.”

Named for the late Chief Joe Molloy of Anaheim, the award goes to one who embodies professionalism, leadership, energy, and commitment to the association’s mission.

The chiefs also honored Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, for carrying AB 144. “Getting legislation like this introduced and passed is critical for the safety of our communities and we appreciate Assemblymember Portantino’s leadership,” Maggard said.

Portantino said the recognition means a lot to him, as someone with many relatives in law enforcement.

“I know and respect the dedicated men and women in uniform and the work they do to keep our communities safe and it is a tremendous honor to receive this recognition,” he said. “I have been blessed to have worked closely with the Police Chiefs during my time in office most recently on the bill to ban the open carry of unloaded handguns. California is a safer place because the governor signed our collaborative effort into law.”

AB 144, which took effect Jan. 1, made it illegal to carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street; law enforcement personnel are exempt as are hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under specified licensed circumstances. Supporters had said 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.

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 activists reacted to AB 144’s implementation by organizing public events in which they carried unloaded shotguns or rifles rather than handguns. Portantino now is carrying AB 1527, which would prohibit this as well; the CPCA supports this, too.

0

Voting starts Monday for Nov. 8 election

Voting by mail starts Monday in the handful of East Bay communities holding increasingly rare odd-year elections on Nov. 8.

Voters in San Ramon and Livermore will choose new mayors and council members, while those in Lafayette and Pittsburg will decide on ballot measures.

In addition, Emeryville and Newark have city council and mayor elections. Emeryville also has several ballot measures that would hike the business tax and raise cash for public safety, streets and other city programs.

Solano County voters will also go the polls in Benicia, Fairfield, Vallejo and Vacaville.

Most communities have shifted their elections into even years, largely as a means to spread the costs among more participants and reach more voters.

Campaigns in San Ramon and Livermore have been fierce as the cities’ termed-out mayors attempts to swap their expired terms with those of sitting council members.

San Ramon Councilwoman Carol Rowley is vying for the mayor’s post against former San Ramon Valley School District Trustee Bill Clarkson.

Meanwhile, incumbent San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson is battling for one of the two open seats on the council against incumbent Councilman Scott Perkins and challenger Phil O’Loane.

Livermore Vice Mayor John Marchand hopes to prevail in the mayor’s contest against challengers Barbara Hickman and Minuete McKernan.

Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena is competing for one of two council openings against Laureen Turner, Stewart Gary and Bobby Burger.

On the ballot measure front, Lafayette is asking voters for an $89 annual parcel tax for the next decade to raise money for road repairs and drainage improvements. To pass, it must win two-thirds voter approval.

Pittsburg residents will see two ballot measures.

Measure H asks voters to increase the hotel tax by 4 percentage points to a maximum of 12 percent and eliminate an exemption for federal and state employees traveling on business. The city would use the extra cash on city programs. To pass, it requires a majority voter approval.

The city’s second question, Measure I, would expand Pittsburg’s urban limit line to include 193 acres in the city’s southeast area and zone the land for housing and industrial. It requires a simple majority to pass.

The measure was written by the landowner, West Coast Homebuilders, an affiliate of Concord-based A.D. Seeno Construction.

Here’s contact information for your local election office:

Find your polling place or find the answers to other election questions at the following locations:

  • Contra Costa County Registrar of Voters: 555 Escobar St. in Martinez. Contact the office at 925-335-7800 or www.cocovote.us.
  • Alameda County Registrar of Voters: 1225 Fallon Street G-1 in Oakland. Contact the office at 510 267-8683 or www.acgov.org/rov.
  • Solano County Registrar of Voters: 675 Texas St. in Fairfield. Contact the office at 707-784-6675 or www.solanocounty.com/depts/rov/.
0

LAO, local officials face off on redevelopment plan

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Union City Mayor Mark Green, Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena, Emeryville Mayor Nora Davis, Concord Vice Mayor Ron Leone and other Bay Area elected officials will gather with business, affordable housing and labor leaders tomorrow in Oakland in opposition to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate California’s local redevelopment agencies and use their money to help close the state’s gaping budget deficit.

Brown proposes to end the redevelopment agencies, while giving local governments more power to promote economic development themselves by amending the state constitution so that local voters can approve tax increases and general obligation bonds by a 55 percent majority rather than the two-thirds required now.

Those planning tomorrow’s press event insist this is the kind of state raids of local funds that voters oppose, and will bring little benefit to the state while destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs – including an estimated 29,000 in the East Bay – and billions in local economic activity.

But as these local officials – acting as part of a coalition of local governments and business groups – take their complaints to the street, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report today saying Brown’s plan is the way to go, shifting responsibility for local economic development to local governments with a level of transparency that’s been lacking with the redevelopment agencies:

Given the significant policy shortcomings of California’s redevelopment program, we agree with the Governor’s proposal to end it and to offer local governments alternative tools to finance economic development. Under this approach, cities and counties would have incentives to consider the full range of costs and benefits of economic development proposals.

In contrast with the administration’s proposal, however, we think revenues freed up from the dissolution of redevelopment should be treated as what they are: property taxes. Doing so avoids further complicating the state’s K–14 financing system or providing disproportionate benefits to K–14 districts in those counties where redevelopment was used extensively. Treating the revenues as property taxes also phases out the state’s ongoing costs for this program and provides an ongoing budget solution for the state.

Ordinarily, we would recommend that the state phase out this program over several years or longer to minimize the disruption an abrupt ending likely would engender. Given the state’s extraordinary fiscal difficulties, however, the Legislature will need to weigh the effect of this disruption in comparison with other major and urgent changes that the state would need to make if this budget solution were not adopted.

2

Barbara Lee takes alt-energy tour

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, was up in Berkeley this morning to visit PolyPlus Battery Company, which is developing lightweight, nontoxic lithium batteries that use seawater or air to produce clean energy.

PolyPlus batteryChief Technical Officer and Vice President Steven Visco demonstrated one by dropping a battery attached to an LED light bulb into a glass of water; that light would stay on for two and a half to three months, he said. A bundle of the batteries weighs only 24 grams, he noted, while the dozen or so standard AA batteries required to produce an equivalent amount of energy would weigh 340 grams and a standard lithium cell would weigh 240 grams.

These batteries are going to revolutionize marine energy needs including deep-sea exploration, Visco said; they’re getting close to commercial production techniques for another version of their battery that uses air rather than seawater.

PolyPlus just a few weeks ago landed a grant of almost $5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to develop a rechargeable version of the lithium-air battery for use in electric vehicles.

“It will take time,” Visco cautioned. “Any new battery chemistry is going to take a while to get from small devices – laptops, cell phones – to electric vehicles.”

And there will be applications beyond that, he promised, noting the 35 pounds of batteries U.S. troops often must carry now could be reduced to one-tenth that weight.

PolyPlus, founded in 1991 as a spinoff from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, remains a small firm but has trained people with little or no scientific expertise to undertake the company’s work, Visco said; now they’re seeking venture capital to launch a production facility, also in Berkeley, that could create a host of new jobs.

After PolyPlus, Lee visited the Joint Bio-Energy Institute in Emeryville, a partnership led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that has received $7.6 million in federal funding for development of next generation bio-fuels. And then she visited Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, which has received $24 million in stimulus grants to support its efforts to create renewable fuels and chemicals.

After that, Lee spoke this afternoon at the Alameda County Transgender Health and Resource Conference in Oakland’s Preservation Park, an event is designed to connect the transgender community with community resources outside of the scope of HIV/AIDS testing.