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Posts Tagged ‘California Progress Report’



Excloo: Secret Agreement on T-Ridge Revealed

Monday, January 18th, 2010

platformnewA secret agreement between PXP oil company and a Santa Barbara environmental group sheds new light on aspects of the controversial Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil plan that are central to Governor Schwarzenegger’s latest bid to win approval for the project.

A hard copy (now available in pdf) of the previously undisclosed agreement provided to Calbuzz offers an inside look at the terms of the pact that gained the Houston-based PXP the key political support of the influential Environmental Defense Center, which has been prominent in the decades-long fight against offshore drilling in California.

The group’s endorsement of PXP’s application for a lease to slant drill into state waters, from an  existing platform under federal jurisdiction, more than three miles offshore, has bitterly divided California’s environmental community.

Financially at stake are billions of dollars in new revenue for PXP, plus as much as several billion more for the state treasury from royalties on the lease, which the governor insists are needed to address the state’s budget mess.

Despite Schwarzenegger’s aggressive push for the lease last year, the State Lands Commission rejected PXP’s lease application. After a raucous battle, the Assembly later defeated a bill to overturn that decision. Now, Schwarzenegger is pushing for the lands commission to rehear the lease deal, which is framed by the confidential PXP-EDC agreement.

As a political matter, the environmental issue boils down to this: the EDC and its allies argue that trade-offs made by PXP in the confidential agreement in exchange for environmental support ultimately will end some offshore oil drilling; environmental foes of the deal say it is absurd to attempt to end offshore drilling by allowing more of it, and say the deal inevitably will advance oil industry efforts to expand the practice.

PXP and EDC representatives told Calbuzz they have recently amended their original agreement, reached in April 2008, in order to beat back major arguments used to defeat the deal twice before. A spokesman for PXP and an attorney for EDC both said the revised agreement would be made public if PXP gets a new hearing.

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Linda Krop

Our own review of the original agreement, which was obtained from sources who requested anonymity because of concerns about retribution, meanwhile provides the first definitive look at a host of issues that, for nearly two years, have been the focus of political gossip, rumor, speculation, charges and counter-charges.

Today we’re publishing a post of unusual length and detail because we think the PXP matter, along with the AB32 climate change controversy, represent the most important environmental issues facing California.

Our research for this piece includes the previously secret document, a face-to-face about its terms with Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, who negotiated it, and an email exchange with Scott Winters, PXP spokesman and vice president of corporate communications. Here is a look at key issues, with a major Weed Whacker Alert:

I-Secrecy: “Negotiated behind closed doors” secrecy

PXP and EDC have declined to make their agreement public, saying it contains proprietary information that could aid the company’s competitors. Their insistence on confidentiality was a major factor in the twin defeats of the deal last year.

If granted, the requested lease would be the first by the state since Union Oil’s disastrous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and opponents of the deal successfully argued that it is outrageous even to consider such a change without a full public airing of its conditions.

“The fate of public lands cannot be decided in contracts negotiated behind closed doors,” Controller John Chiang, a lands commission member, said in explaining his vote against it last year.

Our review of the document showed there is no formal confidentiality clause to legally prevent its release to the public. Linda Krop, lead attorney for EDC, who negotiated the agreement, told us in an interview:

PXP asked if the agreement could be confidential because it explains how they do business with their partners and such, and they didn’t want the rest of the industry to see that. We said, ‘sure, that’s not a problem’…That was just the agreement going in (to negotiations).

PXP and EDC said they recently incorporated amendments to the agreement to address criticisms raised at the initial State Lands Commission hearing by strengthening written assurances that the promised benefits of the agreement will materialize.

PXP spokesman Winters said, “We recognize the concern the confidential nature of the agreement generated” and pledged that the revised agreement will be made public — if and when the lands commission schedules a new T-Ridge hearing.

Krop said she was surprised by the vociferousness of the criticism about the lack of transparency, claiming it is not unusual for environmental groups to keep private the legal agreements or settlements it makes with corporations applying for permits or leases before public agencies. Said Krop:

It caught us off guard. The reason we did not think that was an issue (was) because the project was going to be decided at public hearings before the county, the State Lands Commission and the Coastal Commission…Had we known it was going to be an issue, we would have talked about it up front, but it caught us by surprise…If we get a second chance, it will be a public agreement, and we will never have a private agreement again.

II-Money: Who gets what

EDC legally repmoneyresents in the matter two other Santa Barbara non-profits, Citizens Planning Association (CPA) and Get Oil Out! (GOO). Amid the bitter debate within California’s environmental community, one of the charges leveled by T-Ridge foes is the suggestion that the non-profit EDC benefits financially from the agreement, and from its public support of PXP.

On this point, Section 1.6 of the agreement (“Reimbursement of Expenses of Environmental Parties”) states that:

Upon all Parties’ execution of this Agreement, PXP shall pay $50,000, and upon the State Lands Commission’ approval and PXP’s written acceptance of all the leases necessary for the Tranquillon Ridge Project, PXP shall pay an additional $50,000, for a total of $100,000, to the Environmental Defense Center, as reasonable compensation for work performed by EDC on behalf of GOO! and CPA pertaining to the environmental and permitting review for the Tranquillon Ridge Project, and the negotiations leading up to and implementation of this Agreement.

The oil company also made other financial commitments, in addition to the terms about oil drilling, which are discussed below.

These include ceding for conservation nearly 4,000 acres of onshore lands in Santa Barbara County now used for production and processing of oil yielded by offshore operations. These land transactions, per the agreement, are to be managed primarily through the non-profit Trust for Public Land. The agreement does not state the value of the land.

The company further agreed to a pay a maximum of $298,507, at a rate of $20 per ton, to offset any new greenhouse gas commissions from the T-Ridge project, to the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District. PXP also promised to pay the air quality district $1.5 million, over 14 years, to “administer a transit bus technology program” within the county to help reduce greenhouse emissions.

PXP’s potential royalty payments to the state are estimated at several billion dollars, according to Winters, who said the county of Santa Barbara could receive several hundred million in property tax revenue on oil produced from new T-Ridge operations.

In exchange for these commitments, among others, EDC and its clients made promises of public support for PXP’s efforts to obtain the lease and all necessary approvals, saying they would:

…in a timely manner communicate…support for the granting of all approvals required for the Tranquillon Ridge Project pursuant to the agreement. These communications shall be in writing (with copies contemporaneously delivered to PXP), and include oral testimony at public hearings of Santa Barbara County, the State Lands Commission, and California Coastal Commission…

In the event PXP requests the Environmental Parties to communicate their support…to any other governmental agencies with entitlement jurisdiction, EDC shall do so on behalf of (CPA and GOO!), in which event PXP shall pay EDC’s reasonable fees, together with reimbursement for any of EDC’s reasonable and actual out-of-pocket costs incurred.

Krop termed “ridiculous” the notion that this contractual arrangement could support the perception that EDC was due a $50,000 bonus payment once PXP secured approval from the lands commission. Noting that “every settlement has a reimbursement,” she stated that PXP has now paid the full $100,000 to EDC, which she said actually “shortchanged” the many hours she and her staff devoted to the project. Krop:

For environmentalists, it’s never been about the money, it really has been about ending current oil production and stopping future oil production…We did get paid the full $100,000…because we put twice that (amount of time) by the time we were done…The reason we advocated for this is because we want the end dates (for offshore oil drilling). We want the benefits of the agreement.

As for PXP’s profit, Winters claimed “the state stands to gain as much, or more in all price scenarios, than PXP.” He characterized speculative reports that the company stands to gain upwards of $20 billion from the deal “not even remotely realistic” but declined to say how much increased income the project could mean for PXP.

III-An End to Drilling: How, When, Whether

santa-barbara-view-from-riviera-resize

As a policy matter, the most important issue raised by the PXP agreement is whether or not the negotiated “end dates” — when the company promises to stop drilling both at Tranquillon Ridge and from three other platforms located in coastal waters under federal jurisdiction — can be legally enforced.

(A bit of complicated, but unfortunately relevant, waaay in-the-weeds history:

Coastal waters up to three miles from shore are formally known as “California State Tidelands.

Since 1938, oil leases in them have been under the jurisdiction of the State Lands Commission. The three-member body includes the Lieutenant Governor, the state Controller and a representative of the governor’s Department of Finance.

Until the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which galvanized the start of the global environmental movement, the state had granted 35 leases for tidelands. Since then it has granted none.

In 1994, former state legislator, and current state schools chief, Jack O’Connell of Santa Barbara, successfully passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act, which allows new state leases only under a few conditions. Two of these include: a) areas where oil in state waters drains into federal waters and b) cases in which the lands commission determines it is “in the best interest of the state” to allow such a lease.

The U.S. government has authority over oil leases in Outer Continental Shelf waters beyond three miles from shore. Starting in 1981, there was a federal moratorium on new leases off the California coast, which expired in 2008.

Under an pre-existing federal lease, PXP now operates Platform Irene, just outside the three-mile limit. That operation sucks oil out of the sea at a point near an underwater geological formation known as Tranquillon Ridge, where oil drains from state into federal waters).

Because PXP’s state lease application apparently meets condition a), the key question for the lands commission, in deciding whether to grant a state lease at T-Ridge, is whether the project meets condition b), by being “in the best interest of the state.”

Schwarzenegger says it does, because the state needs the money; project opponents say it does not, because it would set a dangerous political and environmental precedent. The State Lands Commission backed the latter view last year, when it turned down the project, 2-to-1.

PXP first applied for a state lease in 2004; during the EIR process, EDC opposed that effort. At the suggestion of then-Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, according to attorney Krop, the company came to EDC in 2007 seeking a compromise.

Within a few months, Krop said, they had offered to include in a possible deal three other platform operations now under federal lease, in an area known as the Pt. Arguello Project, south of T-Ridge (if you’re still with us, remember this name). The result of those negotiations was the confidential pact signed in April 2008, under which EDC now supports PXP’s application to the lands commission.

IV- What are “end dates”?

The no-longer confidential agreement calls for PXP, if granted the state lease, to end operations in both federal and state waters near Tranquillon Ridge by the end of 2022. The company also promises to shut down its onshore production facilities connected to those operations, ceding the land for public use. PXP also agrees to remove permanently, not just decommission, the infrastructure known as Platform Irene.

Recall the aforementioned Pt. Arguello Project. PXP operates it through a majority partnership it has with other oil companies.

The EDC pact says PXP will ensure the end of drilling operations from three platforms — known as Harvest, Hermosa and Hidalgo — in that federal project area, within nine years of the company receiving the T-Ridge state lease. The PXP-EDC agreement also calls for turnover for public use of onshore lands where Pt. Arguello-related production facilities now operate.

Caveat: the agreement states that unnamed “third parties are responsible for the abandonment of the three Pt. Arguello platforms.” While PXP promises not to oppose any effort to remove the actual platforms, it does not promise or guarantee they would be removed.

Will it ever end?

The so-called “end dates” for drilling are described in the agreement, variously, as “irrevocable and non-modifiable,” and “pre-determined and absolute.”

As a legal and political matter, however, the key question in the T-Ridge debate is whether these dates would be enforceable. Both the lands commission staff and the attorney general’s office reported to commissioners last year that they were not, a crucial factor in the defeat of the lease application.

Opponents of the deal say there are simply too many future unknowns and unknowables -– market conditions, the price and availability of oil and who controls the state and federal governments, for example — to assure that the promised end dates would be honored.

One key factor here is that federal leases -– including those for platforms Harvest, Hermosa and Hidalgo — are under authority of the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS), which ensures that federal leases generate income for the U.S. government.

In explaining his opposition to a state lease for PXP, Controller Chiang wrote this in a post for the California Progress Report:

My concerns also include the enforceability of ending the Tranquillon Ridge oil drilling operations in 2022 and the Point Arguello operations in 2017. The support of environmentalists for this project would not exist without dates certain on which drilling would stop, but neither the proposed State Lands Commission lease nor the PXP agreement can provide certainty about these end dates.

The federal Minerals Management Service receives royalties from the oil production in federal waters and is compelled by law to encourage drilling until it is no longer economically viable.

The state cannot interfere with the contracts between PXP and MMS. Because the MMS will not agree to the proposed end dates, and because we are continuing to experience severe volatility in the energy market, there is likelihood that market forces in 2022 would dictate whether or not the federal government would continue seeking revenue from this project.

V. The ultimate leverage

leverageBut Krop told Calbuzz the Controller is “not correct” in his statements about the position of the federal government.

She said she met in Washington last fall with federal officials. At that time, MMS officials told her, she said, “we want to make this happen” She added that if and when state lands commissioners rehear PXP’s application, she will present evidence the federal issue should be “off the table.”

“When we met with MMS folks back in D.C. in September, they said, ‘that’s a viable option,’” Krop told us.

Winters said the the scenarios about difficulty enforcing end dates are not realistic, because the onshore facilities to support future drilling at the sites would be removed. He also said the new agreement would make California’ attorney general a party to the pact, to give specific authority over the deal to the state. He also told Calbuzz that in the amended agreement:

…a new provision has been added that requires PXP to forfeit 100% of any profits the project generates if it operates beyond 14 years for any reason.  In addition, the agreement includes a clause that requires PXP to waive its rights to apply for any extension at the end of the life of the project.

As for the other enforceability issues, Krop strenuously argued that the original agreement she negotiated was ironclad:

Under our agreement, those (onshore) facilities cannot be used for production of oil and gas after the end dates…

By everybody’s prediction there’s going to be hardly any oil and gas left in these fields. If (MMS) were to lease them, all the new platforms, pipelines, processing facilities would have to be built. It’s just not going to happen…

You’ve got a .0000001 percent chance, (of offshore drilling taking place on the sites after the end dates). Right now you have a 100 percent chance they’re going to keep producing. That’s what’s frustrating to me, is that people in Sacramento don’t get that…We’re not supporting a new project, we’re supporting a project that is going to shut down production.

In this exchange during the interview, however, Krop acknowledged that if unforeseen circumstances led to leasing arrangements and drilling past the end dates, enforcement of the EDC-PXP essentially would be left to her group, by filing a lawsuit:

Calbuzz: So what you’re saying is, the enforceability is ultimately the legal leverage that you would have as one of the parties to this agreement.
Krop: Right.
Calbuzz: In other words, if they violated this agreement, you would have to go to court to sue to enforce it.
Krop: Right. We would go to court, (Trust for Public Lands) would go to court…

As for the political argument by opponents that granting PXP a state lease would send a powerful political message that California’s long-held consensus opposing offshore drilling is crumbling, the EDC attorney claimed that any such perception “is based on people telling untruths.”

The politics is the truth. If everyone would stick to the facts, I’m saying, if everyone would quit twisting the truth, the perception would be the truth. The truth is, the drilling’s happening and we’re shutting it down.

VI. And Now, a Word from Your Sponsors

wagging-finger

We’ve done our best to present the facts of this as fairly as possible, but figuring out who’s right among environmentalists on this one requires an ability to foresee and forecast the future — about the oil market and shifts in government leadership, among other things — which we admit we lack.

Amid the passion and strained relationships within the environmental community,  it seems to us that some people on both sides of this complicated issue share the same policy goal — to protect California’s precious coastal environment. It’s sad to watch them attack each other’s motives.

That said, as innovative, perhaps visionary, as the EDC proposal may be as an environmental policy matter, the group’s appreciation for hardball politics in Sacramento and Washington seems to us at times naive. Moreover, four decades of principled opposition to new offshore oil drilling is precedent we’d be loathe to see California forfeit on a risky bet that oil companies would willingly stop drilling for oil.

Bill Cavala, RIP

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

cavalaCalbuzz was saddened to learn of the death on Dec. 26 of Bill Cavala, and extends our sincere condolences to his family and his countless friends in California’s political community.

The dean of the Capitol’s consulting corps, the 66-year old Cavala was old-school, a warrior who played politics as a contact sport, and with honor.

In our dealings with him, Cavala inevitably shunned the limelight but was always direct, honest and straight. At once a fierce partisan and an urbane professional, he combined the instincts of a street fighter, the policy smarts of a poli sci professor and the war game wisdom of a Jedi knight.

As LAT columnist George Skelton told Calbuzz:

Cavala was all-politics, all the time and a fun, bright, candid guy to bounce ideas off and argue with, who never got emotional about any of it, a consummate, movie character pro whose deep belief was in electing Democrats. And he had an encyclopedic memory of the last 45 years in Sacramento. He’s one person who truly will be “‘truly missed.”

In recent years Cavala enjoyed a busman’s holiday, offering insightful analysis over at California Progress Report. In one of his last posts, “Bored Pundits Seek To Stir Up More Competition In Contest For Governor,” Cavala used trademark plainspokenness and unalloyed candor in jibing at the silliness of some political writers spinning speculations about increasingly unlikely late-entry gubernatorial candidacies:

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor of California has forced the state’s pundits to face the uncomfortable fact that they are stuck with a field of Poizner, Whitman, Campbell and Jerry Brown. “Stuck with” because most observers find these people uninteresting as a group.

Poizner and Whitman are “moderates” on social issues (that means they are pro-choice) and hard-line and coo-coos on economic interests. Not satisfied with opposing tax hikes, both have taken extremist positions in an effort to attract support from the dominant conservative wing of the GOP…

The bankruptcy of their positions – the two frontrunners for the GOP nomination – has been well documented by the older pundits of the state. But having said that, and called them liars to boot, what more is there to say?

It’s notable that despite his hard core partisanship, Cavala was the rare  operative whose passing brought authentic expressions of respect and sorrow from friends, allies and political foes alike.

“Although we were on opposite sides of most issues, Bill Cavala was always a professional,” former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte told Capitol Alert. “He was a fierce adversary, but a polite and honorable man.”

Fellow Democrat Richie Ross recalled not only Cavala’s professional skill but also his personal discretion, and his non-political passions: “Bill taught me a lot about campaigning, he knew a lot about baseball, and he was good at keeping secrets.”

Gale Kaufman, one of a generation of consultants who learned from Cavala, summed it up best:

Bill was the consummate pol. He loved what he did, shared his knowledge with anyone who asked for help, and did it with an incomparable style all his own. I loved him, he was a true mentor and friend.

Rest in peace, man.

.

Items: eMeg Yaks, Choice Threatened, Trees Die

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

meghandsWhile Calbuzz patiently awaits eMeg’s callback, letting us know what time to pick her up for dinner, we’re whiling away the time reading the transcript of her sit-down with old friend Teddy Davis of ABC News.

When Davis asked Her Megness why she was a better choice than Jerry Brown 2.0, we were surprised that her response was basically: “I’m not a career politician.” Weak sauce: Neither was Arnold Schwarzenegger and look how well that turned out. Polls show voters want a change. From what? How, exactly, does yet another outsider from the private sector represent change? Maybe eMeg’s good  pal President Mitt Romney can explain.

We liked this question: “How is the Meg Whitman Republican Party different or similar to a Sarah Palin Republican Party?” which she not very courageously deflected:

“You know, I like to think that I will subscribe very much to the core Republican principles of small government. Making a small number of rules and getting out of the way. Keeping taxes low. Creating an environment for small businesses to grow and thrive.”

Pressed on whether she’d support a constitutional convention, Meg made one thing overwhelming clear: she won’t support anything that even opens the possibility of reducing the two-thirds majority needed either to pass the budget or to raise taxes.

“We can’t have a constitutional convention as a Trojan Horse to undo the two-thirds majority,” she said.

Teddy is more informed than most national reporters about California, having worked for the Gray Davis campaign and as a speech writer in his administration before leaving to go to law school and then on to ABC. Still the Whitman camp’s decision to go with him reflects an ongoing media strategy of focusing on out-of-state and national outlets. Can’t wait to see how she does in the New York Republican primary.

Add NutMeg: Whitman is getting whacked pretty good around the blogosphere for her latest knuckleheaded comment, in response to a Wall Street Journal (more national press!) question about the media:

The aggressive coverage also contrasts with the fawning profiles she received while at eBay, and Ms. Whitman can sound thin of skin about the press. Asked how she plans to improve media relations, she says, ‘Some of these newspapers, as you know better than I, will not be around in the near term.’ Given her high-tech background, Ms. Whitman says her campaign plans to get her message out through the Web better than any previous candidate.

Clearly, bashing newspapers and talking up the web is a tactical move by eMeg to prepare the ground for an exclusive interview with Calbuzz. Hey, is that the phone?

taliban.jpgCan the Taliban be far behind? As Susan Rose reported in this space last week, the House vote approving a health care bill that includes anti-abortion language poses a major potential threat to women’s access to reproductive health services which goes far beyond the ranks of those enrolled in a  “public option” insurance program.

Now, as first posted by Talking Points Memo David Dayen at firedoglake, a new study by the George Washington University School of Public Health has concluded that the anti-abortion amendment could eventually eliminate abortion as an elective procedure in the country altogether.

We conclude that the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange…

(The Stupak Amendment) can be expected to move the industry away from current norms of coverage for medically indicated abortions. In combination with the Hyde Amendment, Stupak/Pitts will impose a coverage exclusion for medically indicated abortions on such a widespread basis that the health benefit services industry can be expected to recalibrate product design downward across the board in order to accommodate the exclusion in selected markets.

You can read the full study here.

sinkhole

As the state sinks slowly in the West: If you can read only one story about the latest horror show study of California’s budget sinkhole – and why would you want to read more? – check out Greg Lucas’s take on the new Legislative Analyst report over at California’s Capitol:

The first term of California’s next governor will be a fiscal nightmare with a cumulative budget shortfall over four years of nearly $83 billion, according to the fiscal forecast released November 18 by the Legislative Analyst.

Lucas quotes Leg analyst Mac Taylor thusly:

The scale of the deficits is so vast that we know of no way that the Legislature, the governor and voters can avoid making additional, very difficult choices about state priorities,” the report says. “In the coming years, major state spending programs will have to be significantly reduced. Policymakers will also need to add revenues to the mix (emph. ours).

Waste, fraud and abuse, indeed.

Press Clips: Best line of the week honors to NYT’s Gail Collins, who riffed  on the  news about revised medical conventional wisdom about mammograms with a reminder of the weird weltanschung of newspaper columnists:

I had breast cancer back in 2000, and I am trying to come up with a way that I can use that experience to shed some light on these new findings. I have never believed that everything happens for a reason. But I do feel very strongly that everything happens so that it can be turned into a column.

More felicitous phrasing turned up in a smack that the Chron’s editorial page delivered to the nose of the puppy-eyed Gavin Newsom, opining enough already with his “illusion of delusion” following his withdrawal from the governor’s race and instructing him to grow up and start acting like a mayor instead of a whiny adolescent engaged in a “sulkathon.”

GimmeRewriteInquiring minds want to know how editors at the B- let this sloppy wet kiss to the nether cheeks of Sacramento super-consultant firm California Strategies get into the paper…Memo to copy desk: next time you decide to use the words “No surprise” in a headline over an item about a “completely predictable” report, save yourself some time and just make it: “Don’t read this.”

Deep Throat call home: Love the sourcing on this item, about Schwarzmuscle chief of staff Susan Kennedy getting ready to jump ship, by the otherwise reliable Josh Richman of the Coco Times, who sets things up with a blind quote:

“I was told by a good source – a very senior person from inside the horseshoe – six, seven weeks ago that once she got water done, she’d go to Mercury to make some money off the campaign,” one source said, asking not to be identified.”

For those keeping score at home, make that one 6-4-3.

Clint’s crystal ball: Carly Fiorina’s camp didn’t waste any time eblasting around an intriguing piece by Clint Reilly over at California Progress Report,  in which he makes the case that iCarly is going to be a lot tougher Senate candidate than the political class expects. Dismissing out of the hand the GOP primary challenge of Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, Reilly notes Willie Brown’s Boxer-is-the-luckiest-politician-in-California meme and opines that Hurricane Carly will give Babs all she can handle in a “bare knuckles…donnybrook.”

“Political handicappers have underestimated Fiorina’s chances,” the Great Man sez.

chronbldg-246x300-whtElegy for the Chron: We’re a little late getting to this one, but “Final Edition: Twilight of the American Newspaper” by Richard Rodriguez in the November issue of Harper’s is by far the smartest and most elegantly written piece we’ve read on the decline of ink-on-trees journalism

At a time when the Hearst-owned Chronicle is reduced to hawking itself on the basis of its shiny newsprint, Rodriguez traces the rich and romantic history of the Chronicle from its Civil War start by the de Young brothers, who arrived from St. Louis in San Francisco and promptly “invented themselves as descendants of French aristocracy.”

From its inception, the San Francisco Chronicle borrowed a tone of merriment and swagger from the city it daily invented – on one occasion with fatal consequences: in 1879 the Chronicle ran an expose of the Rev. Isaac Smith Kalloch, a recent arrival to the city (“driven forth from Boston like an Unclean Leper”) who had put himself up as a candidate for mayor.

The Chronicle recounted Kalloch’s trial for adultery in Massachusetts (“his escapade with one of the Tremont Temple choristers”). Kalloch responded by denouncing the “bawdy house breeding” of the de Young boys, implying that Charles and Michael’s mother kept a whorehouse in St. Louis. Charles rose immediately to his mother’s defense; he shot Kalloch, who recovered and won City Hall. De Young never served jail time. A year later, in 1800, Kalloch’s son shot and killed Charles de Young in the offices of the Chronicle.

‘Hatred of de Young is the first and best test of a gentleman,’ Ambrose Bierce later remarked of Michael, the surviving brother. However just or unjust Bierce’s estimation, the de Young brothers lived and died according to this notion of a newspaper’s purpose – that it should entertain and incite the population.

Rodriguez weaves the story of the paper deeply into the texture of the history of the city (as well as his own biography as a Sacramentan seeking “a connection with a gray maritime city at odds with the postwar California suburbs”). Starting with the refreshing premise that the collapse of newspapers is not merely the result of disruptive technologies, he offers an extended, not-a-wasted word reflection on the loss of civic community in an age of disintermediation and virtual atomized niche markets.

When a newspaper dies in America, it is not simply that a commercial enterprise has failed; a sense of place has failed. If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death – and why else would the editors celebrate its 144th anniversary? And why else would the editors devote a week to feature articles on fog? – it is because San Francisco’s sense of itself as a city is perishing.

Great stuff. There’s a pay wall in front of the piece, but it’s worth figuring a way to get around it, or even buying a ticket for admission.

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Finally: While Calbuzz was buzy slapping around the Jerry Brown uncampaign operation for squandering Crusty’s dominant position in the governor’s race, Keith Esparros at NBC Bay Area had an entirely different take: That Jerry is getting great publicity as the peoples’ crime fighter while keeping his ass out of the fire fight.

That’d be fine if the strategy also allowed Brown to maintain his lead in the polls and buzz about him which — by the way — he’s going to need to keep independents interested enough to vote in a no-action Democratic primary, or risk losing them in November.

Weekend Swap Meet: Taxes, Death & Sarah Palin

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

carbontaxA bump for Keeley: One largely overlooked finding in news coverage of this week’s much-discussed PPIC poll was evidence of strong statewide support for a pollution tax on carbon-based fuels.

As a political matter, the finding is significant because the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy – aka the Parsky Commission - is considering such a levy as part of a package of liberal proposals, as the group works towards a formal recommendation for reforming state tax policy.

In the poll, 56 percent of those surveyed said they support a carbon tax, with 35 percent opposed. Democrats – 73-to-20 percent – and independents – 52-to-39 percent – both back the idea, while Republicans oppose it 60-to-33 percent.

The carbon tax question was one in a series that PPIC asked to test public attitudes about global warming. Six in 10 Californians believe that the effects of global warming have already begun, while 75 percent say immediate steps are needed to counter its effects.

The poll-takers also asked whether people favor a “cap and trade” system of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Although Californians also favor such a plan, they do with only a plurality of 49-to-40 percent, with both Democrats and independents backing it by smaller margins than the carbon tax; Republicans oppose it, but like it slightly more than the carbon tax.

fred keeley_0102A tax on carbon-based fuels is one element of a plan for overhauling the state’s tax system that has been presented to the Parsky Commission by Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley, a former Assemblyman, who leads the commission’s liberal faction. Keeley’s proposal calls for the “pollution tax” to move inversely with the price of crude oil, in order to put a floor under the price of gasoline.

“As proposed, the fuel tax will help to stabilize state revenues and reduce volatility by providing a steady source of revenue,” Keeley said in a presentation to fellow commissioners. “By supporting the clean energy and transportation industry, which many investors view as the next growth industry, this proposed tax reform will advance California’s role as a leader in the clean energy sector.”

(Memo to Fred: Hey, clean out your cell phone voice mail, man – how are we supposed to get a fresh quote?)

milton-friedman

Shock doctrine: threat or menace? Calbuzz bets that Tom Campbell, the Dudley Do-Right of  California politics, is the only candidate in America to issue a press release in which he gets all misty on the occasion of the, uh, third anniversary of the death of Milton Friedman.

“This Friday would have been Milton Friedman’s 97th birthday,” Campbell announced to the state’s political press corps, many of whose members, remarkably, might have remained otherwise oblivious to the occasion (we name no names). “He passed away in November, 2006, vibrant and insightful to the very end of his life.”

Ah, Milton, we hardly know ye’.

Nothing if not terminally earnest, the Republican wannabe’ governor recounted his long, personal history with the hard line conservative economist, who served as Campbell’s faculty adviser at the University of Chicago, before finally getting around to the political pandering: “On his birthday, it is an appropriate moment…to take a warning from his life’s work about current attempts to inject government regulation more and more into our country’s economy.”

Indeed.

Coincidentally, a very different view of the late Professor Friedman was propounded yesterday by state labor leader Willie Pelote over at California Progress Report.

“…economic shock therapy is based on the theories of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, who strongly believed that governments should play no role in the economic sphere other than to protect the rights of property owners…(S)ocieties in which these policies have been enacted are generally characterized by increased poverty, an ever widening gap between rich and poor, and a widespread host of social and economic problems most commonly associated with Third World countries.”

Boy, we just can’t wait for that constitutional convention to Bring Us All Together.

SarahPalinWavingGoodbyePalin Redux: As Politico was reporting Friday that Sarah Palin has decided to stiff  the Simi Valley Republican Women by backing out of her previously announced speech at the Reagan Library (Palin let them know via Facebook), Calbuzz was still trying to get our heads around the erstwhile Alaska’s governor farewell address.

To us, she mostly sounded like your teenager, who wrecks the family car, then insists you should loan it to her again because if she thought she was going to wreck twice, would she even ask?

“It is because I love Alaska this much, sir, that I feel it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical, politics-as-usual, lame-duck session in one’s last year in office. How does that benefit you? With this decision now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right and for truth.”

What…evvverrr…

Fishwrap: Jerry Flip Flop and Flip Out; See Carly Run

Friday, July 10th, 2009

EGBrown1EGBrown Flip Floppery: Calbuzz notes with distaste Jerry Brown’s weasley response to Insurance Commish Steve Poizner’s demand that Brown return $52,500 in campaign contributions he had received from an investment firm and relatives of two California businessmen he is investigating in a public pension fund corruption probe.

We scoffed last month when the insurance commissioner called on the AG to give back the money. “What’s the problem?” we asked.

Brown had taken $48,000 in contributions from relatives of Sacramento lobbyist Darius Anderson and another $4,500 from a company run by LA fundraiser Daniel Weinstein, according to the Sacramento Bee. Later, it became known that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was investigating Anderson’s Gold Bridge Capital and Weinstein’s Wetherly Capital for their roles in helping money management firms secure multimillion-dollar investments from public pension funds in several states.

Since Brown was just doing his job, why in the world should he have to give the money back, we wondered. The AG himself called the demand from Poizner “the silliest thing I’ve heard of.”

But on Wednesday, we learned from Peter Hecht in the Sacramento B- that Brown is giving the money back “so that the contributions would not distract from the work of the attorney general’s office,” according to  Rubeena Singh, treasurer of Jerry Brown 2010.

Which sounded to Calbuzz like Brown was weasling.

So of course Poizner jumped in and claimed victory with a press release declaring: “In Case You Missed It: Jerry Brown Returns Campaign Contributions After Pressure From Steve Poizner”

We tracked down Brown on vacation at the Russian River but he wouldn’t explain himself beyond the Singh statement. “This is not a court of law here. We’re just trying to be practical,” he said.

So apparently Brown had an epiphany and decided that returning the contributions would cause him less political grief than keeping them. What a shichen chit move. Is he now going to go through every campaign contribution he’s ever received and return the money from anyone who might “distract from the work of the attorney general’s office?”

We bet that’s a long list that some op researcher will serve up on a silver platter.

jerry_brownPaddle to the left, paddle to the right: Shortly after talking to Calbuzz, General Jerry took another break from vacation to pick a politically intriguing fight with Peter Schrag over at California Progress Report.

Schrag, former longtime pundit for the B-, had posted a CPR piece attacking Mark Leubovich and his Sunday New York Times takeout on California’s governor’s race, as a once-over lightly gloss job overly focused on personalities and not enough on policy substance and ordinary people afflicted by the budget mess.

Along the way, Schrag took some j’accuse shots at Brown, pointing the finger at his sophomoric style during his first reign as governor as being partly responsible for the passage of Prop. 13 and all that has followed.  Schrag wrote:

“And while Jerry Brown, in his prior tenure as governor was indeed labeled “Governor Moonbeam” (by a Chicago columnist) for his space proposals, as Leibovich says, the label applied much more broadly to his inattention to the daily duties of his office and, most particularly to his dithering while the forces that produced Proposition 13 began to roll.

“Brown later acknowledged that he didn’t have the attention span to focus on the property tax reforms that were then so urgently needed to avert the revolt of 1978. But to this day, almost no one has said much of Brown’s role in creating the anti-government climate and resentments that helped fuel the Proposition 13 drive.

“It was Brown, echoing much of the 1970s counter-culture, who, as much as anyone, was poor-mouthing the schools and universities as failing their students and who threatened to cut their funding if they didn’t shape up. It is Brown who spent most of his political career savaging politics and politicians, even as he ran for yet another office. Now this is the guy who wants to be governor again…”

Whereupon Brown leaped from his Russian River mud bath to post a riposte taking sharp and serious issue with Schrag’s analysis, memory and motivations, if not his ancestry:

“Mr. Schrag’s latest screed is a good example of why politics in Sacramento is so dis-functional…In recent years, Schrag has become increasingly bitter…That’s very sad because he once was an open-minded person with real insight into the predicaments of modern society. Finally, his memory is not serving him well regarding Proposition 13 and the factors that constituted the ethos of that period. In fact, there was a long and hard fought battle to get property tax relief that got all the way to the state Senate but foundered just short of the necessary two thirds vote…”

Ad hominems aside, the exchange carries significance for the 2010 race because it marks the start of what is likely to be an extended struggle to frame and define Brown’s role and responsibility in the lead-up, passage and aftermath of Prop. 13.

At a time when California teeters on the abyss of financial failure, and when reformers across the state are urging amendment of Prop. 13 as a crucial first-step for fixing the broken machinery of government, Brown’s blog-burst demonstrates both his extreme sensitivity on the subject, and his determination to shape the historic narrative.

Our own, occasionally fallible, off-the-top recollections lean towards Schrag’s version of history, but it’s an extremely important subject for another day that deserves a full airing of the Calbuzz Dustbin of History files.

For now, we’ll offer one scene from June 29, 1978; three weeks after Prop. 13 passed, Gov. Brown faced an angry crowd of state employees, demonstrating in Capitol Park in support of a pay raise – opposed by Brown – notwithstanding  billions in local government tax cuts the governor and legislative leaders were seeking to backfill through bail-out legislation.

As loud cries of “Bullshit!” repeatedly interrupted his speech, Brown said that “100,000 citizens of our state are facing layoffs” by cities, counties and special districts in the wake of Prop. 13.

To a roar of disapproval for Brown, one heckler shouted: “Whose fault is that?!”

carly_fiorina_630x

But which one gets to drive? Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is quietly stepping up preparations to enter the Republican primary race for the right to face off against Senator Barbara Boxer next year, says a dispatch from ace L.A. Timesman Michael Finnegan, who reports Fiorina is winning her battle against cancer and spending her days phoning up key GOPers to enlist their support.

A Fiorina candidacy raises the astonishing scenario that she and Meg Whitman, who both served as surrogates for John McCain last year, could give California Republicans the chance to make party history by putting forth two legitimate, high-profile women candidates for statewide office in the same election, should eMeg triumph in her nomination bid for governor.

Shades of 1992, when Democrats Boxer and Dianne Feinstein both won election to the Senate in what the late, great political reporter Susan Yoachum dubbed the “Thelma and Louise campaign.” Who says the Republicans aren’t cutting edge?

dr-hackenflackPaging Dr. Hackenflack:

Dear Dr. H,
Re: Your web site’s recent attack on the Chronicle. I  understand that you think the paper’s giving the San Francisco mayor a free pass on his record, but I thought saying that Gavin Newsom is “peddling swill” was an overly personal, over-the-top attack. What gives?
E.J. South, Garry, Ind.

Clearly you’ve never heard of the legendary Chronicle editor Scott Newhall; in the future, please do not read Calbuzz unless you’re wearing your Dr. Hackenflack Decoder Ring.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine