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Bay Area House members laud FAA noise plan

Three Bay Area House members are praising the Federal Aviation Administration for launching an initiative to address concerns about noise from air traffic above San Francsico, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, released the FAA’s action plan to the public.

“My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to engage the FAA’s leadership to take concrete steps to mitigate and address the noise from aircraft in our respective congressional districts,” Eshoo said in a news release. “As a result of our collaboration, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and FAA Regional Director Glen Martin met with local elected officials, community groups and individuals from our congressional districts to discuss the impacts of NextGen and additional issues prior to its implementation, including Surf Air at the San Carlos Airport.

“I welcome this important first step the FAA has developed. The FAA leadership will follow up with community meetings, coordinated through our offices, to explain in detail the FAA’s plan to address the noise problems being experienced in our region.”

Speier said her constituents long have been affected by noise from San Francisco International Airport and more recently from the San Carlos and Half Moon Bay airports. The FAA’s initiative “is a compilation of the ideas that were offered by the public regarding SFO at the FAA’s recent meetings in our three congressional districts, as well as requests made by the SFO Airport Community Roundtable. Some of these ideas may be deemed workable by the FAA and some may not.

“However, having previously been resistant to taking community suggestions, the FAA, for the first time in many years, has committed to studying ideas submitted by the affected communities,” Speier said. “I am gratified that the FAA is rolling up its sleeves to come up with solutions. The health of those who live under constant bombardment of airplane noise is being seriously compromised and the FAA has a responsibility to take action to address it.”

Farr said the action plan “is evidence the FAA is willing to consider the changes proposed by the community. For months, the commercial aircraft noise in Santa Cruz and the surrounding area has been terrible. From the beginning, I have told the FAA that they created this mess so it is up to them to fix it.”

“This is only a first step but it is a good one,” he said. “It shows everyone is committed to developing some real solutions. I hope the FAA will continue to listen to the communities it serves and work with them to solve any problems that arise from the switch to the NextGen flight plan.”

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Proposed measure would drop drinking age to 18

Terrance Lynn doesn’t see himself as the new patron saint of college keggers, but his proposed ballot measure to lower California’s drinking age from 21 to 18 might get him there nonetheless.

Lynn, 42, of Portola Valley, sees it as a civil-rights issue.

out of the shadows“There is no kind of ‘junior citizen’ status – you’re either an adult or you’re not” except when it comes to drinking, he said; 18-year-olds can be held criminally liable as adults and can volunteer or be drafted into the military, yet can’t legally buy a beer.

Alcohol enforcement, like the war on drugs, often has a disproportionate socio-economic impact, Lynn added: A Stanford student caught drinking a beer might get a pass or at least have an easy time clearing his or her record, while a poor kid from East Palo Alto could face more serious repercussions. And making it legal for college-age people to drink could help reduce binge-drinking by bringing campus consumption out of the shadows, he said.

Lynn acknowledged that while 18-to-20-year-olds would “obviously vote their self interest on this,” that age group usually doesn’t go to the polls in great numbers – though if this won’t bring them out, he can’t imagine what will.

This would run afoul of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which punishes states that allow those under 21 to drink by reducing annual federal highway funds by 10 percent. Lynn believes that with California’s clout in D.C. – its huge congressional delegation, and the fact that it pays a lot more in federal taxes than it gets back – “I can’t imagine that situation would last for long.”

Michael Scippa, public affairs director at San Rafael-based Alcohol Justice, said Lynn isn’t the first and won’t be the last to propose reducing the minimum legal drinking age, but “from a public health perspective, it’s extremely foolish and there’s no reason to do it.”

Scippa said there’s “an overwhelming body of scientific evidence… case after case, study after study” showing that barring drinking until age 21 reduces youth drinking and alcohol-related harm, especially on the roads. Reducing the age to 18 would mean “we’d start seeing a spike (in drinking) at 16,” he said. “We don’t want to go backwards here – it’s such a public health and safety success story. The only people who would benefit from this are alcohol producers.”

Lynn, a tech-company chief financial officer making his first foray into public policy, has submitted another proposed measure that would strip party affiliation from ballot designations so that it would be harder to see and vote a straight party line. “This labeling and partisan generalization is really hurting us in the national dialog,” he said. “It’s a tool of the powerful to control the ignorant.”

And he’s working on a third measure that would impose a 1000 percent sales tax on all political advertisements in California, with all revenue going to public schools; Lynn said it’s a way to counter the avalanche of money in politics since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (A true “sin tax,” some might say.)

There’s little chance of any of these making it onto 2016’s ballot. Lynn said he can’t spend much money on them beyond fees for filing and website-hosting: “Nothing beyond the bare minimum… I don’t have the wherewithal to do it, and I wouldn’t be inclined to if I did.” He’s hoping they’ll catch fire on social media and, once he’s cleared to start circulating petitions, will become a true grassroots signature-gathering campaign.

The public-comment periods for Lynn’s drinking-age measure and the party-affiliation measure last through Sept. 24.

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Pot measures seek signatures at Miley Cyrus show

Proponents of a San Jose medical marijuana initiative will gather signatures outside San Jose’s SAP Center on Tuesday night as Miley Cyrus brings her “Bangerz” tour to town.

Miley CyrusKnow thy demographic: The first rule of ballot measures.

The Medical Marijuana Regulation for San Jose Act (MMRSJ) was created in response to what proponents say was the city’s failure to provide workable regulations for its cannabis clubs. It’s supported by the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition, Americans for Policy Reform, Control & Regulate San Jose, and most cannabis clubs in the city, they say.

“MMRSJ puts in place reasonable regulations and creates a commission to address any impact to the community. For the past 5 years, without regulations, we have had the wild-west in San Jose. That needs to stop,” proponent Dave Hodges founder of the All American Cannabis Club, said in a news release. “It is crucial that we collect enough signatures to make the San Jose ballot. We have been here before with the city, and the regulations they proposed forced us to do a referendum. We must put reasonable regulations in place to stop the city council from creating something we cannot live with.”

Proponent John Lee, founder of Americans for Policy Reform, said closure of cannabis clubs shouldn’t be indiscriminate. “It should be based on the community needs. If a cannabis club is disturbing the neighborhood and creating a nuisance, then of course it should be shut down. On the other hand, a well run cannabis club can have a positive impact and enhance their community.”

They’re hoping to finish their signature drive by April 20. 4/20. Of course.

Lee and Hodges also are proponents for a statewide marijuana legalization measure – the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act – that’s struggling to gather signatures by mid-April in order to qualify for this November’s ballot.

“Don’t worry, we will be collecting signatures for the 2014 statewide legalization at the show as well,” Hodges said.

We weren’t worried.

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California GOP to pursue a voter ID initiative

The California Republican Party is rolling out a push for a voter ID initiative in California, chairman Tom Del Beccaro announced this morning.

To kick off that push for the next election cycle, the party has added a new speaker to the schedule for its upcoming fall convention, Aug. 10-12 in Burbank: conservative columnist John Fund, co-author of the forthcoming book, “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.”

California is one of 20 states without any law requiring voters to show identification at polling places, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. There’s a hot national debate afoot about whether there’s any significant fraud to merit enacting such laws, or whether the laws are intended to make it harder to vote and so suppress voter turnout – usually to Republican advantage.

Fund – national affairs columnist for the National Review, senior editor for the American Spectator, and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and Fox News – worked as a research analyst for the California Legislature in Sacramento before beginning his journalism career.

Del Beccaro said Fund’s new book “focuses on the problems that weaken our election processes, from voter fraud to a slipshod system of vote counting … And it proposes solutions.”

“While Americans frequently demand fair play in other countries’ elections, we often are blind to the need to scrutinize our own,” Del Beccaro said. “We may pay the consequences in November, if a close race leads to pitched partisan battles, and court fights that could dwarf the Bush-Gore recount wars.”

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Should it be harder to amend state constitution?

A measure that would make it considerably harder to amend California’s constitution passed its first big hurdle this week.

ACA 10 by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, was approved by the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting on a 4-1 vote; it now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Ultimately, two-thirds of the Assembly and state Senate would have to approve putting this to voters as a ballot measure.

The legislation would require that the signatures needed to put constitutional amendments on the ballot come from at least 27 of the state’s 40 state Senate districts, reducing the chance that a few population centers can change the whole state’s guiding document. It also would require a 55 percent majority to approve a new constitutional amendment at the ballot box, rather than the simple 50-percent-plus-one majority now required; however, a simple majority would still be enough to repeal constitutional amendments already enacted.

In a news release, Gatto noted the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times in 223 years, whereas California’s Constitution has been amended 521 times in roughly half the time.

“I would submit that one of the reasons our country has not been torn apart by strife is that, to amend our governing document, you need consensus,” he said. “California’s Constitution has been treated by special interests as just another statute, subject to the temporary whims of the majority of voters who show up and vote in any given year.”

Of the 24 states that have an initiative process, half have geographic-distribution requirements; a few require that votes cast far surpass the simple majority mark; and six have actually forbidden amending their constitutions by initiative, Gatto said.

“A constitution should be a sacred, hallowed document that contains fundamental governing principles and rights. I expect to have the support of my colleagues, who believe in the sanctity of the federal Constitution and the wisdom of our founding fathers, to support taking these steps to ensure California’s Constitution is similarly protected,” he said. “No right is permanent, and no reform has any teeth, if it can be repealed at the very next election.”

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Mercury Insurance chair puts $8 mil into initiative

Ready for a redux of last year’s narrowly unsuccessful Proposition 17, Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph has just dumped almost $8.1 million into a nascent ballot measure campaign.

The Secretary of State’s campaign finance database shows a $8,077,126.97 contribution from Joseph to the 2012 Auto Insurance Discount Act was made with an Aug. 26 transaction date and a Sept. 9 filing date. That’s atop $150,000 Joseph had given earlier.

That means this proposed ballot measure already has half the funding that was raised in total to support Prop. 17. Joseph appears to be the only donor to the committee so far.

Like Prop. 17, this measure would repeal state law’s prohibition – enacted under Proposition 103 of 1988 – on insurance companies from considering a driver’s coverage history when a motorist applies for insurance. Here’s the Attorney General’s official title and summary:

CHANGES LAW TO ALLOW AUTO INSURANCE COMPANIES TO SET PRICES BASED ON A DRIVER’S HISTORY OF INSURANCE COVERAGE. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Changes current law to permit insurance companies to set prices based on whether the driver previously carried auto insurance with any insurance company. Allows insurance companies to give proportional discounts to drivers with some prior insurance coverage. Will allow insurance companies to increase cost of insurance to drivers who have not maintained continuous coverage. Treats drivers with lapse as continuously covered if lapse is due to military service or loss of employment, or if lapse is less than 90 days. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Probably no significant fiscal effect on state insurance premium tax revenues. (11-0013.)

Mercury Insurance, which bankrolled Prop. 17, has said such a measure would let insurers give “persistency discounts” to new customers who have had continuous or nearly continuous auto insurance coverage in the past. Current law lets insurers offer such discounts to its own customers but not to new customers who had continuous coverage for some period of time but from a different auto insurance company.

But there’s a flip side, consumer advocates opposing such measures warn: higher rates for customers without a history of continuous insurance. They say Mercury Insurance already levies surcharges on customers in other states who have had a lapse in their coverage – perhaps including students who went away to college, mass-transit commuters and the long-term unemployed – and so can be expected to do the same in California if such a measure passes.

Prop. 17 was defeated in June 2010, 51.9 percent “yes” to 48.1 percent “no.”

“Mercury Chairman George Joseph does not care that voters already rejected his deceptive campaign in 2010. He is determined to destroy consumer protections that have saved California drivers over $62 billion,” Brian Stedge of Consumer Watchdog said in a news release. “The question is simple, would an insurance chairman spend over $8 million to give drivers a discount? The truth is that Mercury will spend tens of millions of dollars in order to raise prices, not lower them.”

The new ballot measure is sponsored “by the American Agents Alliance with support from California Insurance Providers for Competitive Prices and Consumer Discounts,” according to the Secretary of State’s office. Consumer Watchdog says the alliance is run by the person who served as spokesman for Prop. 17 last year, and most members of its board of directors are Mercury agents.

Supporters have until Jan. 9 to gather valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to put the measure on next year’s ballot.

UPDATE @ 4:26 P.M.: I got a call this afternoon from Rachel Pitts of Sacramento-based Marketplace Communications, representing the committee behind this ballot measure. She said she wanted to make it clear that Joseph’s contribution was out of his personal fortune, and that Mercury Insurance itself isn’t funding the measure; she went on to give me a thumbnail profile of Joseph as a spry 90-year-old California native and World War II combat veteran who still walks to work every day, “a true California success story.”

Pitts knocked Consumer Watchdog as a special-interest group that has gotten rich from the insurance intervenor fees it created under Prop. 103, and she said it’s dirty politics for such a group to go after someone like Joseph who has done so much for California.

Perhaps more relevantly, she said this measure is significantly different than Prop. 17. For one thing, it deems continuous coverage to have existed if there was a lapse due to a person’s active military service – a change that brought servicemembers’ and veterans’ insurer USAA, which had opposed Prop. 17, into the fold for this one.

Pitts said the new measure also deems continuous coverage to have existed even if there was a lapse in coverage of up to 18 months in the last five years due to loss of employment resulting from a layoff or furlough. Young, new drivers get the same rate as their parents, she said, and drivers get a discount proportional to the amount of full years they have had insurance in the previous five years.