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Posts Tagged ‘UC’



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.

Golden State Green Gurus Get Down

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Matt Kettmann mug shotBy Matt Kettmann
Special to Calbuzz
More than 500 of California’s leading advocates of green just concluded the 8th annual Sustainability Conference, one of the most important environmental conventions in the state. Sponsored jointly by the UC, CSU and Community College systems, the green gaggle spent five days at UCSB hearing from big thinkers, sharing success stories and complaining collaboratively about what’s preventing total world eco-domination. Here’s an on-the-scene review of conference highlights by Calbuzzer Matt Kettmann, senior editor of the Santa Barbara Independent who  writes about the environment for Time, and Indie intern Susannah Lopez.

Sustainability Saves People: Keynoter Dave Newport, director of the environmental center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, provided an alternately funny and grim overview, using color-coded maps to show growing global environmental inequalities, with Africa and India suffering the most.

He also quantified costs of climate change, saying that 300,000 people die each year amid $125 billion in economic losses: “This chunk of rock is going to be just fine,” he said of the earth. “What we’re really doing is killing the people on it.”

The solution lies in “making sustainability social” by making direct connections between eco-movements and immediate human impacts, he added. Example: purchasing organic, locally grown food reduces carbon emissions due to less driving, financially benefits farmers and improves consumer health. “The best way to preserve the environment through sustainability is to focus on people first,” Newport said.

Water, water everywhere: UC San Diego’s Jan Kleissl uses wireless monitors on rooftops and fields to track “evapotranspiration” on campus, where 366,000 gallons of water a day go for landscaping. The idea is to reduce the amount of water wastefully poured into the ground by using data to increase awareness of how much of it quickly leaves the ground.

Josiah Raison Cain, a UC Davis expert on using water flow to “make less-bad cities,” explained that current design methods try “to force water to move through our cities which are inherently out of sync with the way water wants to flow.” This attitude leads to flooding, heat waves, and other manmade problems.

He proposes to “intercept” water through better designs, which include living roofs and living walls. Among other projects: a fancy off-the-grid environmental education institute in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point and the state’s agriculture department building in Sacramento, which uses chicken coops under solar panels on the roof and rotating live walls of greenery to feed resident goats.

Water into wine: It takes six bottles of water to make one bottle of wine, a problem that the planned Robert Mondavi Institute for winemaking, beer brewing, and food sciences at UC Davis will address, by using “cleaning-in-place” systems, according to David Block, vice chair of viticulture at the campus. The systems were pioneered by dairy farmers and pharmaceutical companies, they require less water and chemicals, are faster and more reliable. Plus: guilt-free wine consumption.

Composting Bruins: UCLA’s dorms and dining halls are rapidly reducing waste, in compliance with a UC system goal of zero waste goal by 2020. UCLA emphasized composting in awarding their new waste collection contract to Athens of Los Angeles; the company sponsored tutorials, trained staff in recycling, and organized students to form the Waste Watchers to track tossed foodstuffs – seems the average student throws out more than a cheeseburger’s worth per day. The lesson, according to UCLA’s Rob Gilbert: “You have influence as a large buyer on how the corporations do things.”

What Higher Ed is doing: A panel unfortunately titled “Rethinking Diversion Rates and Innovations in Waste Management,” featured members of UCSB’s Laboratory Research and Technical Staff (LabRATS) who described their web-based surplus inventory program, modeled on eBay and Craigslist, that extends the life of campus resources by connecting those with extra electro junk to those who need said junk. More here.

Santa Monica College Professor Pete Morris said the institution leads the way in community college greening, which they’ve achieved by progressing in an “organic, non-linear way.” They’re working on getting more rigid, though, because hard-fought efforts to formally establish an environmental science/ studies track at the community college level have been shot down, an unfortunate development given the large number of students interested in green majors.

What Higher Ed Isn’t Doing: Chico State’s Scott McNall, who spoke on “institutionalizing sustainability,” said universities should be more aggressive in teaching the next generation a new value system, incorporating ideas about sustainability into all disciplines: “This is not about recycling cans and bottles,” he said. “It’s about recycling our values.”

Halli Bovia, sustainability coordinator at Chico State, called for “a chancellor’s mandate in our system for climate policy.” Unlike the UC system, which has a climate action plan and other sustainability requirements, Bovia said CSUs are lacking such guidance. “We need to have some continuity if we’re going to be effective at all,” she said.

The Hunt for Green Jobs: Los Angeles Trade Tech, which integrates sustainability into courses from green construction, sustainable land-use, and real-estate development to alternate fuel systems technology and sustainable design architecture, was recommended for those seeking green jobs.

The L.A. Community College District has a renewable energy and sustainability program, which focuses on reducing energy and water consumption, and reducing our carbon footprint. The district features renewable energy technology studies, including concentrated solar power, wind, bio-mass, geothermal, hydrogen, and electrical energy.

Beware Greenwashers: The new popularity of green products has generated a wave of “greenwashing” scammers, warned Alicia Culver, owner and executive director of the Green Purchasing Institute. She explained a product’s environmental impact is defined in “shades of green,” through factors like amount of recyclable content, bio-based content, or mercury content. She noted the increasing popularity of EPP’s, or Environmentally Preferable Products, which demonstrate a reduced negative or increased positive impact on human health and the environment when compared to competing products.

Car Share Everywhere: After a year of contract negotiations, both the UC and CSU systems have signed contracts with ZipCar for campus ride-sharing programs, one of the larger sustainability programs to bridge the higher ed divide.

Living Roofs – Who Knew? Cain of UC Davis described the “cascading manifests” of living roofs. They’re great places for growing food in a greenhouse, especially for massive-acre-big buildings stores, he said, noting that “two major national (grocery) chains are very interested in this process.” Living roofs cool homes, trap water, and grow food, and also attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and, Cain hopes, migratory bird species; common house cats are decimating the latter, which Cain hopes can find sanctuary on living roofs. Tweet that.

Analysis: How Different are UC and CSU?

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

By Tanya Schevitz
Special to Calbuzzucberkeley

Frustrated with “egregious” executive pay hikes, questionable policy decisions and student fee increases by the University of California, State Sen. Leland Yee has stirred up a controversy with a plan to give legislators more control over the university.

UC leaders object to his proposed constitutional amendment, which would strip the system of the autonomy it has had since 1879, saying it would allow Sacramento politics to disrupt a higher ed system that is the envy of the world.

Yee points to the strife over compensation and disclosure practices which has dogged UC in recent years as evidence the system needs more oversight. But critics of his proposal say financial oversight can be handled through the state budget, while the Legislature exerting more institutsanjosestateionalized control raises the specter of intrusion into academic freedom.

“You make your list of what is working and just simple muffler shop logic is, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” said UC spokesman Peter King.

At the core of the issue is the disparity in oversight of the state’s two public institutions. Both university systems have governing boards (25 trustees at CSU and 26 regents at UC) with the majority chosen by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. In addition, the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the assembly sit on the boards by virtue of their offices.

The key difference is that the Legislature has broad authority over the California State University system, allowing it to enact statutes affecting its policies. But UC’s autonomy, granted in the original state Constitution, means the Legislature can only “urge” the 10-campus UC system to comply with its desires.

lelandyee1Yee’s measure, if placed on the ballot by lawmakers and approved by voters, would give the Legislature the same sway over UC it has over CSU. This could mean affecting changes that range from limiting executive pay to more extreme policies, like deciding what industries should be banned from funding research.

Critics of the plan, arguing that UC already complies with most legislative demands, said his proposal would take one of the state’s more successful enterprises and put it in the hands of state leaders who have run the state into near poverty.

Supporters dismiss that criticism as “sound bite” hysteria. They argue that the Legislature has not abused its oversight authority with CSU. That system’s 23-campuses are overseen by their own governing board, and the Legislature does not interfere in most of its most policies, said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s communications director.

“All we are saying is that there should be some accountability here,” Keigwin told Calbuzz. “Now, if you don’t like something that happens at UC, too bad. We can pass statutes and it applies to CSU but our hands are tied with UC.”

Keigwin insists that the constitutional amendment is not intended to take policy leadership away from the appointed UC Board of Regents, and that any proposed changes would have to pass through the legislative process before being imposed.

However, in a press release announcing his measure, Yee listed “questionable conduct” by UC that included the system’s use of tobacco industry funding for research, exactly the kind of issue that critics say would put UC at the mercy of legislative meddling, and interfere with academic freedom.

The history of the UC system provides some guidance.

Daniel Coit Gilman, UC’s second president, resigned in 1875 stating that “however, well we may build up the University, its foundations are unstable, because dependent on legislative control and popular clamor,” according to a 1977 UCLA Law Review article by Professor Harold Horowitz. Soon after Gilman’s resignation, UC was granted autonomy through the 1879 Constitution.

Some CSU leaders, well familiar with mandated Legislative oversight, say it would be a mistake to impose the same on UC. Because of its required ties with the state, CSU has had to deal, for example, with everything from legislative regulations on what kind of cars to buy its police officers to extra hurdles instituting new academic programs.

Karen Zamarripa, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor for advocacy and state relations, said that legislators are not familiar enough with the institutions to set policy, such as the level of raises that should be allowed. That should be left to the governing boards, which she noted at CSU has members appointed by the governor and approved by two-thirds vote by the state senate. At UC, confirmation of regents requires only a majority vote by the state Senate.

Zamarripa said that she has seen very few instances where UC has not complied with legislative requests. Although the state’s share of UC’s budget has shrunk dramatically – to about 15 percent of its overall $19 billion budget – the system still depends on legislative-approved state funds. This means that lawmakers can simply pull on those purse strings, if they want something done.

“What they really want to do is get into the micromanagement of the organization, and that has not been helpful for us,” Zamarripa said. “I’m not sure what they get here except to interfere in areas that are not appropriate. They have control of UC’s budget and they can publicly pressure them.”

UC’s autonomy has concrete impacts in recruiting academic and research talent, as well. Instead of being part of the state retirement program, UC has its own retirement system, which has been a major tool in recruitment and retention.

The controversial bill, SCA 21, is authored by Senators Yee, (D-San Francisco), Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), and introduced in the assembly as ACA 24 by Assembly members Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) and Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge). It faces a long road, requiring approval of two-thirds of the Legislature and then a vote of the people. So its passage is uncertain.

However, former UC Regent Velma Montoya predicted that, “UC likely will learn how much it has fallen in favor with legislators, and by extension with voters, by not sufficiently cleaning house.”

California Economy Will Slide Without Huge Boost in College Grads

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

By Tanya Schevitz
Calbuzz Education Correspondent

California faces a shortage of nearly one million college-educated workers by 2025 that will further devastate its economy unless education leaders act quickly to boost college graduation rates, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California report. Without these workers, employers will abandon the state in large numbers while start-ups will shun the state, the researchers said.

The report, “Closing the Gap: Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates,” notes that California already ranks low nationally in the percentage of its population with college degrees. The state is likely to slip further, at a time when well-educated Baby Boomers are retiring and populations of demographic groups with traditionally low college attendance rates are soaring, PPIC researchers Hans Johnson and Ria Sengupta reported.

Doom and gloom reports about California’s education system are a dime a dozen, but what makes this one different is that Johnson set forth a series of reasonable and measured steps to address it.

Far from the usual white paper call for huge new spending initiatives in education, the PPIC report offers a practical agenda for chipping away at a major problem, while acknowledging that sweeping new investments are unlikely at a time of economic turmoil, budget shortfalls and ever-increasing costs, with public universities and colleges already increasing class sizes and slashing student support systems.

Some of the state’s most skeptical education policy experts applauded the proposals in the report.

“None of this is rocket science,” Steve Boilard, director of higher education for the Legislative Analyst’s office, told Calbuzz, adding that he was uncharacteristically impressed by the report and its suggestions. “What we have to do is have a more productive education system.”

For example, the researchers said, raising the state’s college attendance rates slightly, from 56 to 61 percent, and modestly increasing transfer rates to four year universities would boost the number of college educated workers by 500,000 a year by 2025. Even more importantly, universities must improve their success rates with students they already have; raising the graduation rates of current students would yield major results to help head off the migration of jobs elsewhere, Johnson said.

In another recommendation, PPIC found that many students accepted into the 23-campus California State University are simply unprepared for college study. As a result, CSU in recent years has given an early placement exam to provide students a heads-up that they need more preparation before enrolling. This and related programs could help boost CSU’s graduation rate enough to yield an additional 200,000 graduates by 2025, benefiting employers and California’s battered economy.

Noting there are 1.6 million students in the community college system, researcher Johnson said even a modest increase in transfer rates could make a big difference. After years of hand wringing and little action in this area, and against a backdrop of steady reductions in transfer slots and cuts in programs like counseling, there are signs that higher ed officials are beginning to address the problem:

Although UC reduced overall freshman enrollment this year, the system added 500 seats earmarked for transfer students, while CSU has worked to bring more rationality to its confusing system of determining which community college courses are eligible for CSU credit. Also, all three higher ed systems recently established a taskforce to craft strategies for increasing the numbers of transfer students.

While the policy prescriptions seem relatively easy and straightforward, getting them enacted is quite a different matter.

Said the analyst Boilard: “It really just is having the political will.”

Tanya Schevitz is a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter who uncovered widespread abuse in the University of California’s compensation and disclosure practices while on the higher education beat. Her investigative reporting resulted in significant changes in university policies and practices.

Seven Key Questions the Candidates for Governor Should Answer

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

It’s way early in spring training season in the California governor’s campaign: 442 days until next year’s June 8 primaries, to be exact. But it’s never too soon to start assessing the political talent that’s on the field.

With California facing 10.5 percent unemployment, a growing mountain of debt amid a global credit crunch and a political system in Sacramento that is way beyond dysfunctional, the people of the state simply cannot stand for candidates who try to con them with phony umbrage, personal attacks, focus-tested, superficial stances and trumped-up polarizing issues.

A couple of things we know from our own experience: A moderate –- which you have to be to win statewide –- will be bedeviled by the left-wing (for a Democrat) or the right-wing (for a Republican) of his or her party. And California can’t afford another politician who just wants to BE governor; it needs someone who wants to actually govern.

But the powers of California’s chief executive have been dramatically curtailed and constricted over the past four decades, to wit:
— A series of sweeping and often contradictory ballot measures have stunted and distorted the governor’s fiscal policy-making authority.
— The seas of red ink and billions in annual interest payments in which state government is drowning have sapped the governor’s strength in launching or sustaining new initiatives.
— Term limits have created a constant game of political musical chairs that puts top priority on partisan positioning in the Capitol. Assembly speakers are a dime a dozen and legislators have little reason to fear the governor, regardless of who he or she may be.

Given these limits as table stakes, any candidate who promises and presumes to be effective in the job not only needs the economic smarts to understand California’s financial morass, but also should possess a sure and subtle political talent for managing the wackiness and whims of 120 legislators — not to mention the stones to confront and face down entrenched unions and other special interests long used to getting their own way.

It’s a tall order for any politician, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to Sacramento equipped with little more than easy bromides and breezy pronouncements, has learned the hard way that the day-to-day practice of politics is more art than science, and not as simple as it looks.

Whether or not anyone in the 2010 field can actually govern California in an effective and serious way, is of course, an unknown. What is known is that with the state clearly in decline at a time when the world economy is in turmoil, the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Between now and November 2010, calbuzz will focus closely on the gubernatorial campaign and its candidates.

Today, however, we start with a set of meta political and policy questions, and some follow-ups, that we think are important.

1. Do you have a serious plan to address the structural deficit in California’s budget?

What combination of tax increases, spending cuts and borrowing do you think is required? Which taxes, which programs? What is the proper level of debt for the state to carry? If California’s debt level is too high, what are you going to do to reduce it? Does your plan have a prayer of winning support from enough of the opposition party to actually be implemented? What ideas do you have, beyond tired platitudes and knee jerk ideological sheep dip, for reclaiming control of the budget?

2. Do you have a serious plan to help create jobs in California?

How would you use the executive levers of state government to encourage and align with private business to generate economic development for green industries and building, alternative fuel sources and uses, digital, bio and nano technologies? What role should the University of California play in economic development? How important is state support of K-12 education, and what level of funding for public schools will you absolutely commit to? Should students who receive state aid to attend UCs and CSUs have a public service requirement? What is the role of the non-profit community in helping to grow the economy, and what relationship should the state have these groups?

3. What life experience do you have that proves your ability to work with a Legislature representing the breadth and depth of California?

What have you learned from watching Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger try and fail to force lawmakers to fall in line behind an agenda? What have you done that has prepared you for a job requiring an outsize ability to cajole, bully, stroke and persuade 120 raging egos who are accountable to small geopolitical units? Explain how your political skills have developed and candidly measure them against the non-stop cacophonous, complex and conflicting demands of being governor?

4. What is your plan for changing the dysfunctional structure of state government and what reforms will you fight for?

Should the state dump the two-thirds vote required to pass a budget? How about the two-thirds needed to approve tax measures? Should the standard be a 55 percent vote, or a simple majority? If you think we should keep the two-thirds standard, what is your political strategy for overcoming gridlock and getting to two-thirds? Do you think term limits have worked for California? If not how would you get rid of them? Do you support or oppose the open primary measure that will be on the June 2010 ballot?

5. Would amending Proposition 13 be on or off the table in your administration?

Do you think Prop. 13 should be amended to allow a split roll assessment system that taxes commercial property at higher rates than residential? What about the problem of neighbors with similar houses who pay wildly different tax bills because of when they bought their homes? Do you think this inequity should be addressed or not? If he or she is not willing to advocate a change, what significant income source can the candidate point to that will even begin to generate enough income to meet the state’s needs?

6. What actions, or inactions, do you propose to take on polarizing hot button issues?

How will you use the power and influence of the governor’s office to affect same sex marriage, abortion rights, offshore oil drilling and illegal immigrations, including the questions of drivers’ licenses, publicly financed health and education for undocumented workers and their families?

7. What kind of administration will you run in regards to special interests and the media, and what values and qualities will you seek in assembling a staff and making appointments?

How will you relate to the media and voters in terms of transparency, open government laws and documents? In your professional life, have you been open and accessible or closed, protected and isolated? Explain your past associations and future intentions regarding the California Teachers Association, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Business Roundtable, the California Chamber of Commerce and other big interests in the Capitol? Who do you consult with and listen to? Why should voters trust these people in and around the Horseshoe?

Let us know what you think of these questions, and send us your suggestions for others the candidates should be required to answer.

Send email to calbuzzer@gmail.com.