Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 3, 2012
California review group blasts high-speed rail's funding plan

california high speed rail HSRimage1 (1).JPGIn another setback for high-speed rail in California, the project's peer review group told lawmakers today that it could not recommend bond funding for high-speed rail construction until its prospects for long-term funding are clearer.

"The fact that the Funding Plan fails to identify any long term funding commitments is a fundamental flaw in the program," the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group said in a letter to legislative leaders. "Without committed funds, a mega-project of this nature could be forced to halt construction for many years before additional funding could be obtained."

The peer review group, chaired by former Caltrans director Will Kempton, said many of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's projections remain optimistic.

The group said in its report that "we cannot overemphasize the fact that moving ahead on the HSR project without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the State, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the state of California."

The report comes at a crucial time, with high-speed rail proponents planning to ask the Legislature this year to appropriate bond proceeds to start construction in the Central Valley. The Rail Authority last year revised the project's estimated cost to almost $100 billion over 20 years, and public sentiment is turning against it, according to a recent Field Poll.

Gov. Jerry Brown last week reiterated his commitment to the project, and the Rail Authority today blasted the Peer Review Group's report.

Tom Umberg, chairman of the authority board, said in a letter to lawmakers that the report is "deeply flawed, in some areas misleading and its conclusions are unfounded." He appealed to lawmakers to look beyond it as they reconvene for the year on Wednesday.

"As the report presents a narrow, inaccurate and superficial assessment of the HSR program," Umberg wrote, "it does a disservice to policy-makers who must confront these decisions."

Brown spokesman Gil Duran said in an e-mail that the Peer Review Group's report "does not appear to add any arguments that are new or compelling enough to suggest a change in course."

PHOTO CREDIT: A view of a high speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high speed rail network. Newlands & Co. Inc., courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority.

January 3, 2012
Condoleezza Rice: 'I worry' about complex California ballot

Condoleezza Rice.JPGFormer U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is teaching at Stanford University these days, and this afternoon she was just getting back from the Fiesta Bowl, which Stanford lost Monday on two missed field goals by a redshirt freshman, one at the end of regulation and one in overtime.

"I felt so bad for the kid, I really did," Rice said in a telephone interview. "But all in all, it was a wonderful ... this has been a great team."

This afternoon, Rice will turn her attention from football to the Iowa caucuses. She is occasionally mentioned as a potential Republican vice presidential pick, but she said she has no interest.

"I'm a policy person, not a politician," Rice said, "and they really are two different breeds."

Rice is a member of the Think Long Committee for California, which has proposed a ballot initiative to raise tax revenue by extending the state sales tax to services and to effect other tax changes, including reducing personal income tax rates and reducing the corporate tax rate.

The proposal is one of a number of tax proposals that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to clear from the November ballot, believing his own tax plan will have a better chance of success if it is the only option. Former Gov. Gray Davis, who is also a member of the Think Long Committee, said last week that the group is considering a range of options, including delaying the measure or modifying it to accommodate Brown.

Rice declined to opine upon Brown's tax plan. But she had plenty to say about California elections.

"I think the California ballot is confusing enough," she said. "Every time I vote in California, and the whole referendum process, I really have my reservations about it. Because I tell you, I think I'm an informed voter, and I sometimes have to read the measures six or seven times, and then sometimes I still don't understand them. So, I worry about the complexity of the California ballot, yes."

PHOTO CREDIT: In this Jan. 16, 2009, file photo, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiles during her last briefing at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/ Lauren Victoria Burke, File)

January 3, 2012
Rival union group wants probe into peace officers' site hacking

A California law enforcement group called Tuesday for a legislative investigation into the hacking of a statewide peace officers union website by a shadowy international group calling itself Anonymous.

The request by the Peace Officers of California was sent to leaders of the Senate and Assembly public safety committees on the eve of the Legislature's return to the Capitol for 2012.

The issue was sparked by a New Year's Day story on KXTV-Channel 10, which reported that the Anonymous group had released names, addresses and phone numbers of various members, plus credit card information from the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association's online gift store.

Anonymous claims to have gained access to information regarding more than 2,500 CSLEA members, according to the report.

Officials of the union could not be reached immediately for comment Tuesday by The Bee.

The group that called Tuesday for a legislative investigation, Peace Officers of California, is a rival subset of the CSLEA that has expressed its desire to split from the union.

Peace Officers of California has expressed concern that the hacking occurred in November and that many members never were informed of it.

CSLEA sent a letter in November to members that it concluded were affected by the security breach, but Peace Officers of California said that every CSLEA member should have been contacted, but were not.

"One must conclude that every CSLEA member's confidential information may be in jeopardy, as well as the inter-departmental mail for every state employer of CSLEA members," the letter said.

Peace Officers of California said the hacking could have affected websites or e-mail systems of the California Department of Justice, Department of Motor Vechicles, Department of Insurance, Cal-Fire and other state agencies.

January 3, 2012
California campaign finance site returns after technical troubles

California's campaign finance and lobbying disclosure database got back up and running in time for the New Year.

Cal-Access went back online at 5:54 p.m. on Friday, according to a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen, ending a month of technical troubles that had blocked online filings and public access to the reporting database for all but 30 hours since November 30.

"Thank you for your patience during the outage," Nicole Winger wrote in an email. "Although Secretary of State staff were able to serve reporters, filers and researchers in many ways while CAL-ACCESS was offline, we understand Internet availability of this system is extremely important and the inconvenience was frustrating. "

Staff at the secretary of state's office had been working since mid-December on three separate routes for restoring access to 12-year-old system. Winger was not immediately available for comment on which approach brought the site back online.

The secretary of state's office has cautioned that a permanent fix would require more funding to build a replacement from scratch. Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said last month that he will introduce legislation this year to increase filing fees for lobbyists to raise money for the electronic filing system.


California website's glitches block online tracking of campaign donations

MEMO: Secretary of state staff tries three fixes for Cal-Access

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the site went back online at 5:45. It went live at 5:54.

January 3, 2012
California Supreme Court to meet Jan. 10 on Senate maps

The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week to consider which district lines will be used in this year's state Senate elections if a referendum challenging newly drawn districts qualifies for the ballot.

The session will be held Tuesday, Jan. 10, in the Supreme Court Courtroom at 350 McAllister St., San Francisco.

The high court announced recently that it expects to rule "as early as the end of January" on the issue.

A Republican-backed group, Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR), sparked the judicial review by gathering more than 700,000 signatures in an effort to let voters decide the fate of Senate maps drawn by the state's citizens redistricting commission.

If 504,760 of the signatures are from valid voters, the group's referendum will qualify for the November ballot.

To prepare for that possibility, the state Supreme Court must decide which state Senate districts would be used in upcoming primary and general elections while a statewide vote on the referendum is pending. Twenty of the state's 40 Senate seats will be up for grabs ithis year, those from odd-numbered districts.

FAIR contends that the commission-drawn maps dilute Latino voting clout in parts of the state and violate criteria established by voters in a 2008 ballot measure that created the redistricting commission.

Commission officials consistently have defended the new Senate maps, and the California Supreme Court rejected a FAIR lawsuit challenging the legality of the lines drawn.

Many political analysts have said the new districts give Democrats a strong chance of gaining two additional seats in the Senate, enough to gain the two-thirds supermajority needed to raise taxes or fees.

January 3, 2012
San Diego Union-Tribune becomes "U-T San Diego"

California has a new daily newspaper - sort of.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, which was recently acquired by local hotelier Doug Manchester, became "U-T San Diego" Tuesday, a name change that also affected its website.

As the newspaper's employees adjust to a new name, they also must adjust to new management decrees that they must dress in "sharp business attire" - a major change for those who live and work in a city known for its casual lifestyle - and must work a regular schedule of 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with an hour for lunch. That translates into a 40-hour work week, rather than the 371/2 hours that had been standard.

Manchester purchased the newspaper from Platinum Equity, an investment firm, which had acquired it in 2009 from David Copley, the last in a long string of Copley family owners.

The Union-Tribune and its Copley News Service once had as many as five reporters covering the state Capitol but the new U-T San Diego has just one, Michael Gardner.

January 3, 2012
Redevelopment decree will touch off political frenzy

The Supreme Court's decree that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature legally abolished redevelopment will touch off a political feeding frenzy.

While city officials who control more than 400 local redevelopment agencies push Brown and the Legislature to keep them alive, a convoluted process for winding down the agencies will begin, as Bill Fulton, publisher of the California Planning and Development Report newsletter, lays out in a lengthy blog entry.

"The Supreme Court's redevelopment ruling...didn't just kill redevelopment agencies," Fulton, an expert on local development issues, writes. "By upholding...the kill-redevelopment bill...the court ruling also triggered an entire funeral procession that will shut the agencies down and transition their debt and their assets to other agencies.

"That process is sure to trigger more controversy - and probably lots more litigation - as cities try to protect assets they transferred away from RDAs last year and other agencies - the state, counties, and school districts - try to grab hold of them. It also puts each county's auditor-controller in the middle of this process. But AB 1x 26 essentially represents a state takeover of tax-increment funds that are not required to pay debt by giving enormous power in the process to the Department of Finance."

Fulton goes on to speculate how a newly created "oversight board" for each of the redevelopment agencies will be formed and operate, with the state controller and the state director of finance overseeing them.

January 3, 2012
Wife of former California Assemblyman Tom Calderon dies

The wife of former Assemblyman Tom Calderon died on New Year's Day after a long bout with cancer. She was 52.

Marcella Calderon, of Montebello, was the first Latina to serve as president of the Montebello Unified School District board, Tom Calderon said in a brief statement announcing his wife's death.

Calderon said his wife will be remembered as a "committed community leader, relentless advocate for education, and a loving wife and mother."

The Calderons established a political and governmental relations firm in 1986, Calderon & Associates, that helped to elect more than 75 local and state officials from throughout Southern California, according to Tom.

A "public celebration" of Marcella's life will be held, but details have not yet been completed, he said.

Tom Calderon, 57, served in the Assembly from 1998 until 2002, when he ran unsuccessfully for state insurance commissioner.

Calderon, D-Montebello, is running to return to the Assembly from the San Gabriel Valley's 58th Assembly District, stretching from Montebello to Cerritos.

Besides her husband, Marcella Calderon is survived by their two children, Cameron and Victoria.

Editor's note: This post was updated to reflect that Marcella Calderon was from Montebello. Updated 9:55 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2012.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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