Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 28, 2012
Latino Legislative Caucus elects Ricardo Lara as chairman

The Latino Legislative Caucus elected Assemblyman Ricardo Lara as its new chairman today, replacing Assemblyman Tony Mendoza.

A leadership transition involving the two Assembly Democrats will begin immediately, with Mendoza, of Artesia, officially stepping down March 9, said Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Montebello.

Calderon declined to discuss reasons for the caucus' decision to replace Mendoza with Lara, saying only that "the chairman and the body of the caucus were just going in two different directions."

Mendoza said he was stepping down as caucus leader to run in June for a seat on the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

But dissatisfaction with Mendoza's leadership contributed to the change in caucus leadership, other legislative sources said.

Some of the caucus's 23 Latino members had been concerned about Mendoza's performance in matters ranging from fundraising to a controversy last year involving the caucus' failure to identify donors to its nonprofit foundation. Mendoza ultimately reported donors to the charitable group after Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez requested that he do so.

More recently, controversy was sparked by machinations surrounding a caucus vote to endorse former Assemblyman Tom Calderon - brother of incumbent lawmakers Charles and Ronald Calderon - in his current race for the Assembly, sources said.

Mendoza, in a written statement, characterized himself as an independent politician "who does not go along to get along," qualities that he says can serve the water district well in years ahead.

"I know I have ruffled a few feathers as I fought for my constituents rather than doing what was easy," he said. "I want to take that same questioning of the status quo to the water district."

Lara, of Bell Gardens, is a former legislative staff member who was elected to the Assembly in 2010. He currently is running for the state Senate.

Lara declined to discuss any past caucus friction.

"We want to look forward," he said. "I'm definitely humbled and honored to have the support of my colleagues and have the united support of the caucus behind my chairmanship."

* Updated at 2:30 p.m. to add quote from Assemblyman Tony Mendoza. Updated at 3:30 p.m. to add reaction from Assemblyman Ricardo Lara.

February 28, 2012
Competing forces line up on California water bill

On the eve of Wednesday debate over a big California water bill, the pros and cons were being lined up.

The Obama administration, in a formal Statement of Administration Policy, declared late Tuesday afternoon that it "strongly opposes" the bill authored by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. The administration said the bill's ending of a San Joaquin River restoration program, and replacing it with a less ambitious plan, would "likely result in the resumption of costly litigation, creating an uncertain future for river restoration and water delivery operations for all water users on the San Joaquin River."

In a similar vein, the states of Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming weighed in against the bill, citing in part fears about the federal government tromping on state water rights.

On the other side, Nunes unveiled a list of 200-plus supporters, ranging from the Westlands Water District to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

February 28, 2012
California foundations show big growth from 1999 to 2009

California's nonprofit, charitable foundations boomed both in number and assets between 1999 and 2009, according to a new study by the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California.

The study, a followup to one done in 2001, concludes that during the 10-year period, the number of foundations in California grew by 71 percent, topping 7,100, contributions to them more than doubled to $6 billion, and foundation assets grew by more than one-third to $93.3 billion. After adjustment for inflation, however, contributions increased by 55 percent and assets by 2.6 percent.

The state's deteriorating economy late in the decade took its toll on foundation growth, however. "While the number of foundations grew throughout the period," the study says, "the robust growth in 2000 and 2001 gave way to a tapering off by the end of the period. On the other hand, foundation giving and assets exhibited peaks and valleys over the 10 years with the swings in assets more pronounced than the swings in giving."

Growth in the number of California foundations, contributions and assets all outpaced national trends during the 10-year period. There are 14 California foundations with assets over $1 billion, up from nine in 1999. They account for 52 percent of all assets and 53 percent of all foundation giving.

Speaking of which, giving by California foundations also has gone up and down during the decade, peaking in 2008 at $4.9 billion, just before a severe recession struck the state.

The thrust of foundation grant-making has also changed. Health care was the largest single category of giving in 1999 but by 2009 education had emerged as the foundations' top priority, garnering nearly a quarter of all grant money.

The J. Paul Getty Trust, endowed by the late Los Angeles oilman, is California's wealthiest foundation with $9.3 billion in assets, but when it comes to spending, Getty was fairly stingy at just $14.8 million in 2009.

The second biggest foundation at $6.9 billion, named for computer pioneer William Hewlett and his wife, Flora, was the biggest spender at $342.5 million. It was followed by the Genentech Access to Care Foundation at $292 million and a $5.9 billion foundation endowed by Hewlett's partner, David Packard, and his wife, Lucille, at $282.8 million.

February 28, 2012
AM Alert: U.S. attorney talks pot dispensary crackdown

The federal Justice Department's recent crackdown on medicinal marijuana dispensaries is expected to be the topic of heated debate at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon today.

Benjamin Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, is scheduled to address the issue today at a luncheon sponsored by the Sacramento Press Club.

Medicinal marijuana growers and dispensaries have been hit with raids, property seizures and criminal charges since the Justice Department signaled a push to pursue enforcement of federal drug laws even in states where medicinal marijuana is legal.

Wagner and California's other U.S. Attorneys have argued that California's voter-approved law legalizing the use, cultivation and possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been "hijacked by profiteers." Supporters of the state's 16-year-old medical marijuana law say the move is putting dispensaries out of business and undermining the voter-approved Proposition 215.

The Press Club's Kathy Beasley said the group is expecting "high turnout" for today's lunch, with at least 90 tickets sold as of Monday afternoon. Unlike most monthly lunches, about 40 of the reservations are from non-members.

"This time there's quite a lot of outside interest in this," she said.

Tickets for the 12 p.m. lunch at The Broiler Steakhouse on 12th and K streets are $25 for members and $30 for non-members. Check for coverage of the discussion from Peter Hecht of The Bee's Weed Wars blog.

Check out The Bee's new, improved state worker pay database at this link.

Think you know how the electoral college vote will go in November's presidential election? Predict the vote at The Bee's new interactive map.

Under the dome, lawmakers are convening committee hearings on several other burning issues.

The joint conference committee on pensions meets at 9:30 a.m. to look at the impact of proposals to raise the retirement age for state employees.

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee will hear an update on plans for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta from Delta Stewardship Council Chair Phil Isenberg, Natural Resources Agency's Jery Meral, Delta Protection Commission Executive Director Mike Machado and Delta Conservancy Executive Officer Campbell Ignram.

Over in the Assembly, both the Higher Education and Veterans' Affairs committees and the Budget Subcommittee No. 4 on State Administration are meeting on issues related to veterans.

HEALTH CARE: Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, is one of several speakers expected to attend a Capitol briefing on the importance of working with communities of color in implementing the federal health care overhaul. The briefing, which is sponsored by the Greenlining Institute, starts at 2 p.m. in Room 447 of the state Capitol.

BURTON GOES TO ROSEVILLE: California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton will address the Democrats of Sun City at the group's 10 a.m. meeting at Roseville's Sierra Pines Recreation Center. Check back on Capitol Alert for coverage of the quotable party leader's talk.


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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