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State government transparency at a mouse-click

A new website combining legislative hearing videos and transcripts, information on bills, and data on contributions and gifts to lawmakers in an easy-to-use way was rolled out Wednesday by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee and a passel of good-government advocates.

Digital Democracy not only makes all of this information more accessible and searchable and easier to cross-reference, but also interfaces with social media so users can easily share what they find. The site was created by students at Cal Poly’s Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy – of which Blakeslee, a Republican from San Luis Obispo, is founding director – so not only advocates and journalists but all Californians can get a clearer picture of what government does and why.

“Technology has radically changed the way society interacts but government is on the cutting edge of 1973. All of this only increases the gap between people and government,” Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, said in a news release. “Digital Democracy gives citizens the keys to unlock capitol corridors and assess facts in a way that they can be part of the process of governing again.”

Blakeslee said in the release that his institute developed this “to open up government.

“Right now it is a very closed place and the public is largely not able to see what happens, unless they are attending legislative committee hearings in person,” he said. “The California State Legislature does not produce transcripts or minutes from these hearings. There is no list of who was in the room, influencing decisions that were made. With this powerful new platform, Californians will be able to see exactly what people are saying as state laws are being written.”

Newsom serves on the institute’s advisory board member and is author of the 2013 book Citizenville, which explores civic participation in the digital age.

The institute released a poll last week that found overwhelming support for requiring that all state documents, including the budget, be available online with a Google-like search engine. It also found that nearly all Californians want the Legislature’s public hearings to be captured by video and made available to the public on the Internet within 24 hours.

California’s legislature currently does not produce minutes or transcripts of legislative committee hearings. A recent report from the Public Interest Research Group graded every state on government-spending transparency; California received an “F,” coming in dead last.

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Linking clean-energy laws to economic opportunity

A Bay Area nonprofit has launched a new campaign highlighting how California’s climate-change and clean-energy laws not only protect the environment and public health, but also bring jobs and consumer savings to communities of color and low-income neighborhoods across the state.

UpLiftCAThe Greenlining Institute – a Berkeley based group founded to fight redlining, the practice of denying economic opportunities to people of color – on Monday launched UpLiftCA.org, a site offering stories of real Californians already benefitting from the state’s burgeoning clean-energy economy. More stories will be added in coming months, and a Spanish-language version will be launched in January.

The campaign is being launched even as foes of California’s landmark climate law try to roll back a provision making gasoline subject to carbon-emission penalties starting in 2015, which will causes gas prices to rise somewhat.

“The oil industry and its front groups have shamelessly tried to mislead communities of color about California’s laws to fight global warming, masquerading as consumer advocates when all they want is to protect their own profits,” Greenlining Institute Executive Director Orson Aguilar said in a news release. “We’re going to make sure our communities hear the truth.”

State law requires that a quarter of the money raised by carbon permit sales under California’s cap-and-trade program must go to projects that benefit highly polluted and economically struggling communities. That’s about $272 million in this fiscal year for clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, urban forestry and affordable housing near public transit.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery last month announced a series of grants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste disposal – projects that will bring new jobs and cleaner air to places like Perris, Oakland, Tulare and Fresno.

Leonard Robinson, who chairs the California Black Chamber of Commerce’s Energy and Environment Committee and is a former California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances official under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said California is thinking forward.

“Part of the fees that companies are charged for putting greenhouse gases into the air are being invested in California’s most vulnerable and underserved communities to improve health and create local jobs,” he said. “These jobs are real – California added over 3,500 solar power jobs last year alone.”

Greenlining’s website includes simple explanations of how the laws work, and practical information for people and businesses on energy efficiency, low-cost solar power, rebates for plug-in electric cars, and more.

“For too many decades, low income neighborhoods and communities of color were used as toxic dumping grounds,” said Vien Truong, Greenlining’s environmental equity director. “This is a huge chance to right a historical wrong and bring real benefits to our communities, and community advocates are working closely with the state to make sure these benefits are real and get to where they need to go.”

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SD10: Hayashi launches ‘FrackBob.com’ site

Democratic former assemblywoman Mary Hayashi of Hayward has launched another website against her main rival for the 10th State Senate District seat, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont.

The new “FrackBob.com” site calls attention to Wieckowski’s opposition to a moratorium on fracking, or hydraulic fracturing – the use of pressurized water to break rock formations and free the oil or gas within.

It goes hand-in-hand with a mailer that landed in district voters’ mailboxes this week, and coincides with the failure of a state Senate bill that would’ve imposed just such a moratorium.

Hayashi fracking mailer_1

Hayashi fracking mailer_2

Hayashi’s website features an embedded, brief video clip of Wieckowski, at the Bay Area News Group’s editorial board meeting, saying he doesn’t support a moratorium. But here’s Wieckowski’s full answer to the question:

“I do not support the ban on fracking. As everyone knows, I introduced the first bill to bring transparency to the issue of what was going on with fracking. I spent three years of my life working on two bills that were defeated by a combination of the oil companies and the environmentalists.

“And what we have now as a result of that work, we have regulations that were promulgated that will provide for pre-notification to landowners, disclosure of how much water is being used, disclosure of where the water is going, monitoring of the wellheads after, a website that goes up, complete disclosure of the chemicals that are used in the frack, and also – if you claim ‘trade secret’ – we created a private right of action for any citizen that would be affected by that, if the executive director of DOGGR [Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources] did not challenge the trade secret claim.

“Those are the regulations. That brings transparency so we know what is going on. I’m proud of that.”

Hayashi’s website and mailer say Wieckowski “supports fracking in the Bay Area.” I don’t see that he ever has said anything about this specific region, so I assume Hayashi is concluding that if he doesn’t support a fracking moratorium, he by extension must support fracking anywhere.

“The reality is, there is no oil in the Bay Area, so fracking in the Bay Area would not be happening,” Wieckowski campaign consultant Lisa Tucker said Thursday, adding that California now has the “toughest disclosure law in the country” as a result of Wieckowski’s earlier legislation. “Like all of their communications against Bob, it’s disingenuous and it’s just part of the story.”

The website also features a sound file of a robocall from “Theresa, a longtime Sierra Club member and a lifetime environmentalist” who criticizes Wieckowski’s position. Michelle Myers, director of the club’s Bay Area chapter, said Thursday she has heard from some members who were confused by or concerned about the call.

“We did not make an endorsement in that race,” Myers said, describing the caller’s self-identification “a tactic used by the campaign to identify themselves with the Sierra Club brand, and that is not appropriate.”

At least this website and mailer deal with a real issue on which the candidates have a real difference of opinion. Most of the nasty mailers, ads and websites in this race have either been about Hayashi’s 2012 shoplifting conviction, for which she remains on probation, or Hayashi’s claim that Wieckowski “protected rapists” by voting against a certain bill in committee in 2012, even though he later voted for an amended version on the Assembly floor.

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Neel Kashkari goes on the offensive

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, lagging in the polls, has launched his big pre-election push with his first TV ad, a $500,000 personal investment in his campaign, and an attack website targeting GOP rival Tim Donnelly.

The 30-second ad, which will air statewide, presents Kashkari “as a fiscal conservative with the right background and the right vision to turn the state around,” his news release says. Its launch coincides with today’s mailing of vote-by-mail ballots.

“Thanks to Gov. Brown’s failed leadership, California today ranks 46th in education, 47th in jobs and first in poverty, and millions of middle-class families are struggling as a result. It’s clearly time for new, fiscally conservative leadership in Sacramento that knows what it takes to unleash the private sector,” Kashkari campaign manager Pat Melton said in the release. “With this ad – along with our direct mail program and other ongoing voter outreach efforts – we’re introducing Neel Kashkari to voters as the candidate with the experience and the plan to turn California around and to help rebuild the Republican Party around an inclusive economic message.”

The ad comes on the heels of a week-long roll out of endorsements by big Republican names including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and many others. The ad also comes alongside Kashkari’s announcement that he’s putting half a million of his own money into the campaign – a significant boost, given that he had only about $900,000 banked by mid-March, more than Donnelly but far behind Gov. Jerry Brown’s $19.7 million.

“Since launching his campaign in January, Neel has earned the support of many people who share his vision for California and for the Republican Party, and his contribution only adds to the momentum building behind his campaign,” Melton said. “As our campaign continues our voter outreach effort and as Californians get to know Neel better, we’re confident they’ll support his candidacy and cast their ballots for him.”

But in case positivity doesn’t work, Kashkari also is going heavily negative on Donnelly, who has been way ahead in the polls.

Kashkari’s campaign has launched a “Tim Donnelly: You Can’t Be Serious” website that takes the conservative Assemblyman to task for his 2012 gun conviction, for allegedly flip-flopping on property rights, for allegedly living high on the taxpayers’ hog, for having a tax lien against one of his former businesses, and more.

The GIF-laden site (seriously, guys, it’s an awful lot) claims Donnelly has zero chance of beating Brown, and so Democrats would be “partying in the streets” if he turns out to be the only challenger left standing after June’s top-two primary.

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Mirkarimi is asked to resign, but recall is on hold

Activists who had discussed a recall of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who was convicted earlier this year of a domestic violence-related crime, instead have launched a website to gather petition signatures urging him to resign.

Fat chance.

Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi early this year after he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment related to a New Year’s Eve altercation that left a bruise on the arm of his wife, Venezuelan former telenovela star Eliana Lopez.

Mirkarimi spent much of 2012 fighting Lee’s effort to permanently remove him from office, through a lengthy series of San Francisco Ethics Commission hearings. The commission ultimately voted 4-1 that he had committed official misconduct, but four members of the Board of Supervisors voted October 9 to reinstate him. (Removing him would’ve required nine votes from the 11-member board.) After fighting that fight, it’s unlikely a petition will convince him to quit.

Nonetheless, political consultant Andrea Shorter today unveiled a website at which San Franciscans can add their names to a call for the sheriff to step down voluntarily.

Shorter, a member of the city’s Commission on the Status of Women since 2001 and a longtime advocate for women’s issues, last month had been talking about a recall campaign, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and require organizers to support from more than 50,000 San Franciscans in order to get on the ballot.

Though the website sets a goal of 50,000 petition signatures, Shorter made it clear Wednesday that this is merely a means of building and gauging support, and not yet an actual recall effort.

“We’re interested in him hearing clearly what the interests are of San Franciscans right now,” she told reporters on a conference call, specifying that many city residents believe it’s inappropriate for someone who’s on criminal probation to lead a law enforcement agency. “Maybe he will heed that particular call, we will know in due time.”

Shorter had spoken at the Aug. 16 session of the San Francisco Ethics Commission’s hearing, calling for Mirkarimi’s removal. “This is an issue of governance, this is an issue of public turst and our ability as a city to make sure we provide every single citizen the utmost trust and confidence in all of our officials,” she said at the time:

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Barbara Lee’s news blitz on AIDS, climate, war

The always communicative Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is setting a new bar in news-release volume today, with five statements issued by midday.

In order, though not in their entirety:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee commemorates World Aids Day. “”In the spirit of World AIDS Day and this year’s theme of Universal Access and Human Rights, I call on my colleagues to take advantage of this moment and come together in a bipartisan manner with the administration to find the will and the funding necessary to stop this disease.”

Lee comments on the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Cancun, Mexico. “I urge President Obama and our international counterparts to recommit to the international negotiation process and cooperative efforts to ensure science-based reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions are accomplished in an equitable and verifiable manner.”

Lee, on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaks in support of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. “It is unfortunate that in order to pass The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act it comes at the expense of future Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program funding. As more Americans slip into poverty and unemployment remains at painfully high levels, we should not have to choose between feeding poor children or their parents at a time that some in Congress argue for a $700 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.”

Lee announces the launch of her newly redesigned website, featuring a homepage newsflash rotator, an interactive map of the 9th Congressional District and a more user-friendly design.. “I hope everyone will take a moment to explore my website to learn about my work on key issues and discover how to take advantage of the constituent services my office can provide.”

Lee calls for a change of course in Afghanistan, one year after President Obama announced his troop surge there. “There is no end in sight in to the war in Afghanistan and no military solution. The President’s recent decision to extend the timeframe for the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces to at least 2014 has put us on the path to another decade of costly and counterproductive military occupation in Afghanistan. Enough is enough. This war is not in the national interest of the United States, nor is it supported by the majority of the American people.”

Let’s all give a shout-out to Communications Director Nicole Williams and Deputy District Director Ricci Graham, perhaps the Bay Area’s hardest-working House communications team. A few more this afternoon, maybe?