Archive for 2015

Op-Ed: Republicans, We Need a New Platform

Friday, April 10th, 2015

sadelephantcropBy David Naggar
Special to Calbuzz

On election day, many Californians are more concerned with jobs, the economy and healthcare than they are with gay marriage, abortion or immigration. Yet the perception of the Republican Party as the anti-Party is a burden Republican-identified candidates carry with them.

Many of California’s voters view Republicans as anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-gay, anti-environment and so on. Fair or not, perception becomes reality. Because of this overhanging burden, many Californians will simply not listen to a Republican candidate on any topic, no matter what the candidate actually stands for. It’s as if Republican candidates aren’t invited to a job interview, which, of course, precludes any hope of receiving a job offer.

In practice, the refusal to interview Republican candidates by so many voters in California means this: They do not consider voting for the Republican over the Democrat when reviewing a ballot that has two lesser-known candidates. They vote for the D by default. This is why, as Republicans, we lose more of California’s districts than we win, year after year, in favorable and unfavorable environments.

Altering Popular Views How can this perception be changed?

teapartyhatConsider the California Republican Party platform that will be adopted in advance of the 2016 election. Many Party leaders believe the platform serves little purpose because few people other than GOP convention delegates ever look at it. Party leaders treat the adoption of a platform as a process to be managed – to keep the current Party activists happy, while avoiding intra-party fights and bruised egos. The text of the platform itself is secondary. It is not written with the outside world in mind. Republican candidates never read the platform, never endorse the platform, and never run on the platform.

Yet the platform does surface from time to time. And invariably when it surfaces, the platform reinforces voters’ negative perception of the Republican Party and Republican identified candidates. Recently, the State GOP overwhelmingly recognized the LGBT Republican organization, Log Cabin Republicans, as an official affiliate of the Party. The next day, reporters throughout the State pointed out that recognition was in stark contrast to the official California GOP platform that denies the LGBT community equality on series of issues.

Even if the platform was invisible to the media, or shortened to a single page of feel-good platitudes, that wouldn’t change how Republican candidates are perceived in the eyes of voters. The perceptions exist. They must be transformed.

Rewrite the Platform I believe a well-crafted platform could serve as a pivotal document that promotes the California Republican Party. A fresh platform could serve as the resumé that leads voters to interview down-ticket Republicans rather than simply dismissing Republicans without an interview, without a hearing.

equalopportunityIn that spirit, I have offered California Party leaders a draft platform. The purpose of the draft is to start a conversation and find consensus within the Party. Ultimately, the larger purpose is to connect the Republican message to voters. For example, in the plank entitled Equal Opportunity For All, the Republican philosophy of individual liberty and equality of opportunity is explained.

Simply stating that we support equal opportunity isn’t enough. An explanation is necessary because many voters have come to see our position of a color-blind society as code to hide racism. Overcoming this negative perception is a necessary precondition to earning Republican candidates an interview with these voters.

This draft also contains two noteworthy planks on which consensus is yet to be solidified in the Republican Party: The Family & Marriage plank and the The Right To Life/Abortion plank.

The Family & Marriage plank attempts to balance the rights of religious institutions and individuals to refrain from recognizing same-sex marriage, against the right of LGBT individuals to pursue happiness, and to have their marriages civilly recognized by the State.

abortion-debate-1The Right To Life/Abortion plank affirms the consensus Party position that there are too many abortions in the U.S. and calls for the reduction of abortions through pro-active means. Yet the plank also incorporates the majority view among California’s Republicans – whether they are personally pro-life or pro-choice – “that the difficult and painful decision to have an abortion in the first months of pregnancy is best left as a private personal and family matter.

Other planks speak to the topics of immigration, education, healthcare, jobs, the environment, private property rights, collective bargaining and the right to bear arms. The entire draft platform can be found here. Please have a look, and let me know what you think at dnaggar@gmail.com.

In the end, we need Californians to take a fresh look at the Party that stands for the ideals of personal freedom and wants to limit government intrusion in people’s daily lives. One way to do this is to draft a California Republican Party Platform meant to be read outside the halls of GOP conventions – our resumé – one that helps our candidates get invited to voters’ interviews – to be heard.

David Naggar is an attorney and investor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mr. Naggar is the author of The Music Business (Explained in Plain English), Sharing the Middle East, and You, God & The Universe.

Op-Ed: Drought Management Needs Data Science

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

a leaking tap on whiteBy Patrick Atwater
Special to Calbuzz

Gov. Jerry Brown just instituted mandatory rationing for the first time in the state’s history.  We’re in unprecedented territory, and this drought demands the “pioneering spirit” the governor has invoked again and again.

For starters, California needs to starting collecting and using data about its water in a manner more “pioneering” of the digital 21st century than the industrial 19th.

Consider a fundamental task with which the governor charged the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB): gathering basic information on water usage and actions, in order to help improve conservation efforts by local water utilities throughout the state.

The board has been collecting urban and agricultural water usage data since late last year; incredibly, most of the conservation actions are recorded in the form of machine illegible text comments, rather than as a detailed categorization of public outreach, water rate changes, and rebates like the $100+ million the Metropolitan Water District is spending to tear out laws in southern California.

Data Matters That matters, because there’s a wealth of information already contained in those comments – including 15 districts using apps — that doesn’t make it into the official summary statistics and graphs (You can see my (ugly) text parse counting the utilities that mention an “app” and my deeper dive into the SWRCB data in all its gory detail here).

There’s also basic information from other departments that doesn’t get synthesized with the ongoing usage data collection.  The Department of Water Resources (DWR) oversaw urban utilities setting water usage reduction targets for 2015 and 2020 off of long term historical water usage – far more robust than the year-over-year SWRCB usage comparisons.

So finding this sort of thing an enjoyable afternoon adventure, my friend Varun and I mashed up those two data sources to create an interactive dashboard of a geographic map side-by-side with a time series of how much utilities are over or under their 2015 targets.

The broader issue: Last year, the Delta Stewardship Council convened a wide range of California’s water data best and brightest and articulated a key barrier: “Spreadsheets are circulated with calculations performed manually, producing unnecessary cost, opaque processes, and additional risk of error.” Translation: using Excel for everything. (It’s a useful tool but not a database folks!)

droughtThe drought demands more from us. Consider some basic questions that will be critical in managing California’s water supplies.

— What’s the average price of water charged in California?  How has that changed in the last month?  In this day and age, why can’t that question be a simple database query rather than a five+ figure survey billed out to some overpriced consulting firm that doesn’t even gather a comprehensive dataset?

— What conservation actions are working and where?  The SWRCB data on mandatory restrictions is a start, although we really need to standardize those machine illegible comments on public education and rebates.

— How does the effectiveness of those actions vary across income, education, geography and other key characteristics?  What’s the best way to reach different demographics?  Maybe some groups respond better to a mailer showing how much water their neighbor uses and others like to be engaged digitally.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel None of this is new. It’s what tech companies like Facebook do to spam you with ads or Obama’s famous data driven campaigns did to personalize outreach.  Why shouldn’t we aspire to the same level of technical excellence in dealing with the drought?

That will require integrating data collected by California’s many, many government agencies that deal with the drought and getting beyond the tribal turf battles that too often stymie progress.  Hopefully the governor’s leadership and the realities we face will be enough to shake stodgy bureaucracies out of complacency.

There’s a distinct possibility this drought won’t just go on for another year but could be the start of a new normal.  Or more accurately the reversion to the historical mean (the 20th century was abnormally wet, even before you start talking about what climate change means for the future).  Faced with that distinct possibility, we need all the water efficiency we can get.


Again we’re in uncharted territory. Data science might sound like something out of propeller-head geekdom, and asking public utilities with turf conflicts to share data might seem idealistic.  Yet ultimately that’s what just what needs to be done.  So let’s find a way to do it.

patrickatwaterSince his comeback as governor in 2010, Jerry Brown has talked repeatedly about how our public challenges demand California’s famous pioneering spirit and “show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.” That’s never been more true than today with the drought.

Let’s have the courage to administer the governor’s directive to the level of excellence California deserves.

Political writer Patrick Atwater is an author, entrepreneur and frequent Calbuzz commentator. He is a graduate student the Center for Urban Science and Progress.

Labor’s Shameful Smears of Glazer’s Independence

Monday, April 6th, 2015

steveglazer1If you are a voter in Walnut Creek or Concord, San Ramon, Livermore or Pleasanton, you might not want to support Democrat Steve Glazer for state Senate. Maybe you support the right of transit workers to strike, or you don’t want to reform teacher tenure or government pensions. Maybe you just want to support the candidate who will always vote labor’s position on every issue.

Those are valid reasons to oppose Glazer, Orinda mayor and Gov. Jerry Brown’s longtime political strategist, and to support Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, the other Democrat in the May 19 run-off election in Senate District 7.

What, however, are utterly fabricated, hogwash “reasons” to do so are that Glazer has “sold out” to big tobacco, “sold out” on women’s rights or that he “says one thing and does another” – all lies being told to smear Glazer by a group of labor unions determined to punish him for being an independent Democrat.

Sludge Bucket Charges The principal (fabricated) charges against Glazer are based on the fact that he – like a number of other Democratic consultants  – worked for the California Chamber of Commerce in support of business-friendly Democrats that ran in primaries against union-backed Democrats.

susanbonillaGlazer hasn’t taken money from tobacco companies; they did contribute to the Chamber. Glazer has always been vehemently pro-choice on abortion and a supporter of women’s rights; some of the candidates the Chamber has backed aren’t. And, sin of sins, he’s received financial support from individuals and organizations that prefer him as a business-friendly Democrat to candidates seen as in the pocket of labor unions.

Moreover, if being backed by “special interests” is the charge – and Glazer benefited from nearly $600,000 in spending from various interests — Bonilla has a lot to answer for, too. In addition to nearly $240,000 in direct support from labor unions (not to mention independent expenditures), she’s pulled in more than $276,000 from business and corporate interests including the healthcare, big pharma, oil and gas, development and gambling industries.

Glazer has pledged to accept no gifts, meals or beverages from lobbyists; to disclose his answers to any special interests questionnaires; not to pay family members from campaigns contributions; to refuse tax-free per diem expenses or Senate work on weekends and holidays, and to eschew campaign contributions in the final 60 days of the legislative session.

That would make him one of the squeakiest clean legislators in Sacramento. But he would not necessarily vote with the teachers, prison guards or public employees on every measure that comes before the Legislature. If that’s the kind of Democrat you want, Glazer is not your guy.

Insiders and Outsiders For a long time in California, there have been two kinds of Democrats: those who labor unions can count on for support on any issue; and those who don’t vote the union line every time. Most insider Democrats in Sacramento, sadly, are captives of Big Labor. Most outside Democrats in California support labor most, but not all, of the time.

Merit pay for teachers, limits on pay and retirement benefits for prison guards, restrictions on public transportation employees’ right to strike and controlled growth policies limiting new construction in cities and counties are just a few issues where a strong, independent Democrat might have principled differences with unions representing various workers.

Steve Glazer is a lifelong progressive, pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-working class, Jerry Brown Democrat. The campaign to brand him as a traitor to Democratic values is beyond scurrilous.