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Archive for 2009



Flea Market: Budget Bingo, Babs Growls, Meg Ducks

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

navaBudget winners and losers: While it’s hard to say there were any winners in the latest budget debacle, Democratic Assemblyman – and Attorney General wannabe’ – Pedro Nava certainly scored major political points.

Nava, whose Santa Barbara district would have been directly affected by passage of the governor’s proposed approval of the Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil project, led the push-back against it within the Legislature that resulted in its defeat in the Assembly on a vote of 28-to-43.

A leader of the Coastal Caucus, Nava worked furiously over the last few days to help rally more than 50 environmental organizations to pressure Democrats to oppose the measure, despite some complex internecine politics among coastal protection advocates about the project.

When the deal went down, he’d scored an impressive triumph over Arnold that is certain to raise his visibility and his political stature, as he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for AG against San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris and a pack of fellow Assembly members.

California BudgetThe list of political losers, much easier to identify in the battle, was led by Senator Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. They can’t be proud of the front-page photo in Wednesday’s L.A. Times, which pictured them looking almost star-struck, yukking it up with Schwarzenegger as they announced a budget agreement in which he took them to the cleaners. While Steinberg and Bass get all puffed up about how “responsible” and statesmanlike they were in reaching a deal, the plain fact is that they gave away the store in terms of Democratic priorities and values.

Looking at the outcome, it’s hard to believe that the Democrats enjoy huge majorities in both houses; sure the two-thirds vote makes things tough, but the Steinberg-Bass performance of caving in every time the Republicans threaten to hold their breaths until they turn blue strikes Calbuzz as little more than appeasement.

After the shameful spectacle of the Legislature pulling yet another adolescent all-nighter, deciding and disposing of heaps of substantive policy in the dead of night without a pretense of serious deliberation, all Calbuzz can say is: Richie Ross was right. Bring on baseball arbitration.

boxerangry

Babs Blowing It? Politico files an intriguing piece reporting angst, anxiety and concern among Capitol Hill insiders over Sen. Barbara Boxer’s handling of landmark climate change legislation in the Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chairs.

The combination of Boxer’s ideological certainty and personal abrasiveness underscore “the danger of having an outspoken partisan liberal in charge of making the kinds of compromises needed to get cap and trade through the Senate,” write Lisa Lerer and Manu Raju.

“One of the criticisms that comes down on Boxer a great deal is that she takes it to really a very personal level,” said one Democratic staffer.

As a political matter, Boxer’s success or failure in getting a climate change bill through the Senate will have a big impact on her re-election campaign next year. Characteristically, Boxer sees absolutely no merit in the views of those who criticize her performance: “That only revs up my people,” she told Politico.

EGBrown3Mayor Jerry Miracle Worker?: Now that the Chronicle has begun examining Gavin Newsom’s campaign claims about his accomplishments as mayor of San Francisco, the Oakland Tribune, armed with the resources of the mighty Media News chain, will surely want to take a look at what Jerry Brown is saying about his tenure as mayor of that city.

In Brown’s case, his mayoralty is less of a pressing issue since he’s not basing his campaign for governor on his record during those years. Still it’s worthwhile truth testing such statements as, “During his tenure as Oakland mayor, Brown successfully reversed decades of neglect and economic decay and made Oakland one of the top ten green cities in America.”

That’s one of the assertions on the Attorney General’s “Brown 2010” web site.  Other claims: Brown brought “10,000 new residents to the heart of the city” and created “a new urban vitality of art galleries, restaurants and festivals” while “personally” founding the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute.

Oakland: City of Gold? Inquiring minds want to know.

Historic summit falls in forest: With local governments across California lining up to sue the state over the seizure of some $5 billion in the budget, it’s instructive to note that five hundred local officials, representing the cities, counties and school boards hardest hit by California’s budget mess, managed to slip in and out of Sacramento last weekend and  miraculously escape notice by the hyper-vigilant forces of the political press corps.

The state’s first-ever “Local Government Summit,” organized by a coalition of top-rank advocacy groups*, convened at the Hyatt Regency for two days of working meetings aimed at forging a collective strategy for navigating both the current economic mess and the state’s burgeoning movement for political reform.

“It was the first time in history these groups gathered together,” said Santa Barbara county Supervisor Janet Wolf, who flew in for the event. “It was something like I’ve never been to before.”

Among other briefers, the group heard from Fred Silva of California Forward and Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, the two organizations pushing the hardest to fix the state’s broken system of governance; the locals also heard about a new Maslin, Maullin and Associates poll on statewide attitudes toward state and local government.

The group concluded by identifying four key reforms on which there was broad agreement – changing term limits, reducing the two-thirds vote requirement for local taxes, requiring ballot initiatives to identify funding sources and protecting local funds from raids by the state, that last an issue that gained considerable importance with the new budget agreement, which seizes some $2 billion in local redevelopment funds, property and gas taxes.

Despite the high stakes for local government in both the budget crisis and reform movement, the summit was blacked out in the media; except for one brief advancer in the Bee’s Capitol Alert feed, the only media coverage we found was in a few small, community papers.**

* (The summit was organized by the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and the California School Boards Association).

** Timm (Old School) Herdt, the indefatigable Capitol correspondent for the Ventura County Star, notes that he reported the conference, folding his stuff into a Monday situationer on local government outrage about the budget. Calbuzz regrets the oversight.

Hold that line: We’re gushingly grateful to our friends over at Flashreport for their links to our stuff, but respectfully object to the teaser they attached to our recent post about governor wannabe Meg Whitman kicking another gazillion dollars into her campaign: “Clearly these guys don’t like eMeg. LOL.” We like the LOL part all right, but where in the name of Zeus did they ever get the notion we don’t like Her Megness?

mother-teresa

Fact is, we don’t know enough about Whitman to like her or dislike her. She could be the incarnation of Mother Teresa for all we know, since her handlers have spent months rebuffing our efforts to interview their candidate, treating the broken down old newspaper hacks at Calbuzz like the second coming of Woodward and Bernstein. Their stance leads us to employ a journalistic shibboleth straight from the editorial writers handbook: What does Whitman have to hide?

Sure, we’ve proferred eMeg a few gentle love taps, not because of who she is or what she stands for, but precisely because she hasn’t provided enough information about herself or what she stands for so that a reasonable person can make an informed judgment about her. Meg Checchi instead seems determined to float about the gritty give-and-take of politics, air months of ads picturing her with her horse and then parachute into the governor’s mansion as the natural-born heiress to Ronald Reagan.

Press Clips: Chronicle Climbs Back in the Ring

Friday, July 24th, 2009

2gavinsNewsom vs. Newsom: Mega-kudos to Chronicler Carla Marinucci for leading the charge in her own newsroom to pull together a Page One takeout on Gavin Newsom’s exaggerated campaign claims about his record as San Francisco’s mayor.

The Wednesday piece occupied a big chunk of front page real estate, carried three bylines –-  political scribbler Joe Garofoli and City Hall beat pounder Heather Knight teamed with the hardest working woman in show business –- and served as a marker to establish the fact that Newsom routinely overblows his accomplishments on the trail.

Most notably, the paper knocked down Prince Gavin’s oft-repeated claims that he balanced the city budget without tax increases and that every high school graduate in town is “guaranteed a college education.”

On other issues, however, the piece was hardly dispositive in its overreliance on he-said-he-said equivocation and the spin of Newsom handler Eric Jaye; a too-brief examination of Newsom’s signature health care program, for example, did establish that he tries to hog credit for it, but didn’t address the substantive question of whether or how well the damn thing works. Where’s the low-wage bus boy who can tell whether he now gets medical care or the restaurant owner who says what it’s doing to his business?

Hopefully, this is just the first of a series of “Newsom Watch” pieces that will drill down in detail on his record; like it or not, other California media, not to mention the voters, will rely on the paper to vet their guy as he tries to claim the governorship. In the same way that the L.A. Times would have been expected to perform a scorched earth number on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s record had he decided to run, the Chron has front-line responsibility for holding Newsom accountable for his words and actions.

guardian

On Guard: Those seeking a fiercer test of Newsom’s campaign claims against his record are directed to a 4,147 word opus published by the weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Granted, the Guardian is not exactly the Christian Science Monitor when it comes to unbiased journalism; editor and publisher Bruce Brugmann is famous for bragging on the advocacy stances of his paper’s “Print the news and raise hell” journalism. And its lefty agenda on issues from pot to public power may not be shared by the millions of mainstream California voters Newsom is out trying to woo.

Beyond the paper’s disagreements with Newsom over specific issues, however, city editor Steven T. Jones reported and wrote a helluva’ piece that also deals with more fundamental qualities of leadership –- political relations with the legislative branch,  calculations about risking political capital and issues of transparency and secrecy, for example.

“The central persona being pushed by the Newsom campaign — that of a post partisan progressive who has united fractious San Francisco around innovative, common sense solutions to the most vexing problems using his considerable courage and political skills –- seems like pure fiction to most City Hall watchers,” Jones wrote.

“Newsom’s platform and persona are what voters want to hear right now — and they’re just believable enough to be an easy sell for modern media manipulators.”

Which is a good reason why the San Francisco media should keep chipping away at this key California political story.

gay_marriage_210Delay for gay marriage? Over at Politics Blog Chronster Garofoli  has been closely tracking the debate within the gay community on whether to push a repeal-Prop. 8 initiative next year, or wait until the bigger turnout 2012 national election. As he reports here and here the advantage seems to rest with those in favor of holding off.

As a political matter, it’s an important decision that carries implications for next year’s campaign for governor, especially for Prince Gavin. He faces steep hill to climb in overcoming Attorney General Jerry Brown, and needs all the toe-holds he can find to do it; a 2010 gay marriage campaign could give a nice boost of passion to the Prince’s primary effort, allowing him to, um, marry his own effort to the energy and enthusiasm of a Prop. 8 repeal bid.

Notwithstanding Brown’s no-on-8 stand before California’s  Supreme Court, despite the statewide vote in favor of the measure, Gavin’s out-of-left-field blessing of gay weddings in San Francisco set off the national debate of same-sex marriage, an historic and iconic action that trump’s General Jerry’s late-to-the-party stance. Whether you like it or not.

Counterpoint: Why A Conservative Backs Term Limits

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Afterfleischman Calbuzz posted Bob Naylor’s piece last week on why conservatives ought to oppose term limits, our friend Jon Fleischman at the Flashreport asked for an opportunity to tell Calbuzzers why a conservative might want to be for them. Although we’ve argued that term limits are one of the structural impediments to making California governable, we thought we’d give Jon a chance to argue otherwise to our readers.

By Jon Fleischman
Special to Calbuzz

When I first got involved in politics, at the age of nearly 20, I remember traveling to the Capitol and meeting and seeing a lot of state legislators.  The most overwhelming thought that I carried away from that first trip was the realization that a whole lot of them had been serving in the Legislature since before I was born.  I remember, along with so many others, looking with awe at Speaker Willie Brown, who was as close to king as you could get in California.  And I remember being repulsed at a political process that could place so much power in the hands of one of 80 members of the California Assembly.

As I became a little more seasoned politico, it became obvious to me that the Legislature was completely out of touch with the “real people” of California.  And while I knew term-limits would not solve all of those problems, I supported Proposition 140 in 1990 because there should never be a phenomenon like we had with Willie Brown again – California royalty.

I certainly agree with Bob Naylor who penned a column for CalBuzz last week, that there are a lot of problems with the state Legislature. But I disagree entirely that these problems are as a result of term limits.

If you want to look to some of the reasons why our Legislature is broken I suggest we look a few of the major contributors to that dysfunction.

•    The legislature should be part-time, not full-time.  There would likely be less allure to serving for decades in the legislature if serving were not a full-time job.  In addition, the full-time legislature becomes “the Devil’s workshop” as so many politicians justify their full-time salaries through the creation of thousands and thousands of unnecessary pieces of legislation every year, over-legislating and over-regulating our state.

•    The gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts to advantage the majority party is nothing short of scandalous, and certainly has led to a Legislature that is out of touch with the people of the state (witness this last May’s rejection of more taxes as a recent example).

•    With the massive population of California, legislative districts have become too large.  California State Senators represent substantially larger districts than members of Congress!  With districts so large, it makes it that much more difficult for legislators to be held accountable to their constituents.

•    Then there is the issue of the insane money advantage for incumbents.  On an overwhelming level, the money that is contributed for candidates running for the Legislature comes not from average citizens with a strong interest in seeing good, ordinary people like themselves represent them in Sacramento. Instead the money that funds campaigns for Democrats and Republicans alike mostly comes from special interest groups that seek to manipulate state laws and regulations to their advantage –- interests ranging from public employee union and trial lawyers to major corporations.  Add to this that the major political parties routinely support incumbents of their party for re-election, supplying even more resources contributed to the parties by those same special interests.

Clearly term limits alone as a reform cannot offset these four major problems plaguing the Legislature. But I would submit they play a positive role in ensuring that power in Sacramento does not become centralized in the hands of career politicians like some of the people that Bob holds out in his piece as examples of great legislators – such as “King” Willie Brown himself.

I agree that the more time spent in the Legislature, the more experience one has. But this advantage is more than offset by the growing detachment of career politicians from the “real world,”  and the absence of a need to live under the laws they create.

In his column, Bob Naylor asserts that, “If a legislator has mastered the political art well enough to deserve another term, the people of that district should have the right to grant it.”

That sounds nice in print, but as a practical matter, because of all of the factors I outlined above, it is almost impossible, short of a scandal, to find examples of incumbent officeholders losing their campaigns for re-election.  In fact, if it were not for term-limits, we would return right back to the pre-Proposition 140 era – with legislators serving for more than 30, 30 or even 40 years – safely ensconced in taxpayer supplied jobs, never having to worry about the impacts of the laws their create on the economy in which they would need to find a job after leaving the Legislature.

The challenger to an incumbent officeholder faces almost an impossible task in a general election. And good luck trying to unseat a legislator in a primary.  It is only the existence of term limits that ensures that every eight years in the Senate, and every six years in the Assembly, there will be an open seat and an opportunity for the voters to have a real impact on their representation in Sacramento.

Term limits exist today because the people do not want a state Legislature that is “above them” – but rather they want elected officials that are “from them” – their co-workers, their neighbors, their friends from church or temple.  It was the era of full-time legislators that brought us campaign slush funds, lavish pensions and the trappings of “royalty” that made it clear that those long-time politicians had lost touch with the people they were supposed to represent.

Bob says that he would favor returning to a system without any term limits – invoking the model of the Founding Fathers.  I have no doubt that if those brave first Americans could have seen that our federal government would grow so grotesquely in size and scope, and that serving in the Congress would become a lifetime career with great pay and outrageous benefits, they would have instituted term limits in the United States Constitution.

When California has a part-time legislature, smaller and fairly drawn legislative districts, and we have figured out how to increase the political giving of regular citizens to a degree that it severely reduces the terrible influence of those seeking advantage from government – then I will entertain a serious discussion about whether the need for term limits remains.  Until then, I would much prefer a steady flow of citizen-politicians in and out of the Legislature than a return to the days of elected California royalty.  Based on the failure of all of the attempts to eliminate or weaken California’s legislative term-limits, apparently I am not alone.

Jon Fleishman is publisher of the FlashReport website on California politics and vice chairman (South) of the California Republican Party

Garamendi Leads Charge Against Offshore Deal

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

garamendiUPDATED 7/23 — SEE BELOW

John Garamendi was on the phone, sounding like his head was about to explode.

“The governor has just put the coastline up for sale,” he thundered. “Big oil has been sitting at the governor’s right hand throughout this administration.”

The object of the Lite Gov’s ire was the oft-discussed PXP/Tranquillon Ridge oil drilling project off the coast of Santa Barbara, one puzzle piece in the M.C. Escher budget agreement negotiated between Governor Arnold and legislative leaders.

oil_platformWhile Garamendi ticked off a half-dozen specific objections to the deal, which will be presented to the Legislature as a budget trailer bill,  there are three crucial political questions at stake, beyond the details of the specific proposal, that seem likely to reignite the long-settled debate about offshore drilling in the state:

1. Is the end date of the offshore project enforceable? Schwarzenegger insists that the PXP energy company, which would get a lease to slant drill into state waters from an existing platform in federal waters, would be required to stop drilling in 2022 under terms of the agreement. But Garamendi and his allies say there is no legal way for California to ensure this happens, because the federal government’s jurisdiction over the original federal lease on Platform Irene will trump the state’s.

2. How strong a signal is the state sending by awarding this lease? The governor and his allies insist that the PXP lease, the first that would be awarded by the state in four decades, is a one-time deal that applies to the existing site and no other. Garamendi counters that if California, long the nation’s strongest outpost of anti-drilling fervor, blinks now, it will set a powerful precedent that will make it open season for new offshore leases everywhere.

3. Is the environmental tradeoff worth the money? In exchange for the lease, the state is supposed to collect about $1.8 billion in royalties over the life of the lease, with a $100 million advance on that amount flowing in the current fiscal year. Garamendi and the anti-drilling brigade say this is chump change; far preferable would be to slap a severance tax on all oil production in California, as every other state does, which would generate many more billions without any new leases.

That the PXP deal has much broad political implications well beyond this lease was quickly demonstrated, when our friends at California Weekly obtained a copy of a memo about the overall budget deal, prepared by Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth for his caucus, telling them that it was essential that the GOP prevent Kip Lipper, key aide to Democratic Senate president Darrell Steinberg from drafting the language for the trailer bill authorizing the Tranquillon Ridge deal: “T-ridge is in (we have to keep Kip [Lipper] from writing it so it’s impossible [to stop]).”

“There’s going to be considerable opposition” to the trailer bill, Garamendi said. “We’re going to do everything we can to forestall it.”

UPDATE: 5 PM

John Burton, Democratic state party chair, considerably raised the political stakes on the Tranquillon Ridge drilling deal by sending out an email urging Democrats to pressure legislators to vote against the “sweetheart deal.”

“This proposal is an affront to all Californians and we must urge lawmakers to vote it down,” Burton write. “This sweetheart deal for one oil company was negotiated behind closed doors, without any legislative hearings to allow public comment.”

Beyond the key political points about the deal enumerated above, Burton also says it’s crucial for Democrats to oppose the project to prevent the governor from hijacking the authority of the State Lands Commission over offshore leases, and puts in a plug for overturning the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget.

“The offshore drilling plan does not solve either this year’s budget problems or systemic problems,” he says. Burton’s full statement is HERE.

UPDATE: 5 PM 7/23

As coastal protection groups increased the political pressure on legislators to vote against the offshore project, Environment California, an L.A.-based organization, put together a cool online ad on the subject, featuring a montage of Gov. Arnold’s past statements in opposition to drilling. It’s here.

Ting: Split the Property Tax Rolls to Increase Fairness

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

philtingFew issues in California politics are as incendiary as Proposition 13, so when San Francisco Assessor Recorder Phil Ting said he wanted to make the case on Calbuzz for altering how the famous tax cut initiative handles commercial and residential assessments, we said go for it. Here’s his offering — one in an occasional series of discussions about reform in California.

By Phil Ting
Special to Calbuzz

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about the need for substantial change in dealing with California’s budget.  And while I am a strong proponent of improving efficiency and accountability in government, I also recognize that fundamental reform only comes when we confront the sacred cows of our political system.

Now is the time to reconsider the most sacred cow in California politics — Proposition 13 — the 30-year-old taxation scheme that has handicapped our state’s revenue stream and forced draconian cuts to some of our most vital state services.

Some people aren’t ready for this. Certain Proposition 13 defenders have argued against reform, noting that property tax revenues have risen 800 percent since the time of Proposition 13’s passage. But this figure is misleading: it fails to account for 30 years’ of inflation and a 63-percent growth in California’s population.

Using a similar metric, the cost of tuition at the University of California has risen by 1,000 percent in the same time period, from $720 to $8,020, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission. It’s clear that when put into context, a rise in property tax dollars flowing to the state since the 1970s is hardly sound reasoning for dismissing a discussion about substantial reform.

A good reason to discuss reform is that when first passed, the proponents of Proposition 13 touted the protections it offered California homeowners. But today, the biggest beneficiaries of Proposition 13 are large companies and corporate landowners.

Proposition 13 actually opened up vast loopholes for corporate landowners to evade property taxes and shifted the tax burden to individual homeowners. This shift also brought about a dramatic decline in overall revenue stream from property taxation.

For example, 30 years ago in San Francisco, commercial property owners contributed 59 percent of property tax revenues and residential property owners contributed 41 percent. Today, we see a virtual flip: commercial property owners contributed just 43 percent of property taxes in 2008 while residential property owners contributed 57 percent.

As corporate property owners contribute less to revenue, dollars lost through Proposition 13′s tax loopholes handicap our ability as a state to educate our children, keep our streets safe and invest in important infrastructure projects.

To begin to address this problem, I have begun to organize a grassroots campaign of Californians who are behind a split roll system. Thousands have already been mobilized. Our group, “Close the Loophole” would split the property tax rolls — assigning unique tax levels to corporations and homeowners and leveling the property-tax playing field.

According to a recent analysis by the State Board of Equalization, taxing commercial properties at market rate would result in $7.5 billion dollars a year in additional revenue.  This reform would continue to keep homeowners in their homes but would also make corporate land owners pay their fair share and bring needed revenue into the state.

While instituting a split roll is not an immediate panacea for our state’s $26 billion deficit, it would certainly help close the gap. Californians are fed up with an education system that is one of the worst in the country, cities and counties that are struggling to provide even the most basic services and political gridlock in Sacramento that has forced our state to the brink of insolvency.

We deserve better. If we are serious about moving California out of this economic and political morass, we need to consider reforming all the sacred cows, including Proposition 13.