Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

November 13, 2013
California property values took steepest dive in recession

home_values blog.jpgCalifornia's property values dropped far more than those in other states when the housing bubble burst and recession hit, but they remain among the nation's highest, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The report, based on data from the American Community Survey, says that the median value of residential property plunged from $461,400 in 2007-09 to $358,800 in 2010-12, a $102,600 decline that was approached only by the $99,400 drop in Nevada. The national decline was $17,300.

Despite the drop in California, the state's median home value is still the nation's third highest, behind only Hawaii's $503,100 and the District of Columbia's $436,000.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau calculated that California's Silicon Valley — San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara — now has the highest median home value of any metropolitan area at $624,800, followed by the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region's $568,900 and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area at $442,000.

However, the major California metropolitan regions also were among those with the steepest declines during the recession.

PHOTO: Homes were for sale on 11th Ave. in Land Park on May 10, 2011 in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

November 13, 2013
Ron Calderon says FBI asked him to secretly record conversations with Steinberg, de León

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By Jim Miller and Christopher Cadelago

Lashing back at federal officials and Senate colleagues, state Sen. Ron Calderon contended in a federal filing late Wednesday that authorities leaked an FBI affidavit alleging that he took $88,000 in bribes after Calderon refused to participate in a sting operation targeting Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de León.

In Wednesday's filing in Sacramento federal court, Calderon contends that FBI agents and federal prosecutors repeatedly pressured him to wear a wire to secretly record conversations with Steinberg and de León.

The document alleges that agents told Calderon that they were investigating Steinberg's financial ties to Michael Drobt, the former chief executive officer of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.

Calderon, though, said he returned the recording equipment unused. Soon after, on June 4, the filing says, FBI agents raided Calderon's Capitol office.

Steinberg said in a statement that the filing "is pure fantasy." De León declined comment. His office has previously said he was told he is not a target of the investigation.

Late last month, Al Jazeera America posted an FBI affidavit alleging that Calderon took $60,000 in bribes from an FBI agent posing as a film studio owner and $28,000 in bribes from Drobot.

Calderon alleges federal prosecutors attempted to convict him in the press through an orchestrated campaign of "illegal disinformation."

He said in the filing that critical facts regarding the federal government's activities were omitted or misrepresented, including that Steinberg and de León were "main targets of the investigation, for which Sen. Calderon was requested to be the FBI's informant."

Calderon also alleges that leaked sealed records are apparently the "modus operandi" for handling high-profile cases by Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Miller's office, including one involving champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was accused of doping.

"The pattern of illegal leaks in cases handled by the AUSA-CDC has grown more brazen over the years culminating in the most flagrant and prejudicial violations yet with respect to Senator Calderon," the filing says. "There is a systematic and systemic pattern of contempt for secrecy rules in (Miller's) cases resulting in the complete corruption of the legal process and character assassination of his targets. This conduct is deeply disturbing given that (he) purports to represent the public corruption division within the AUSA's office."

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, said "We're not commenting tonight."

Calderon alleges the release of the sealed records has prejudiced any future grand jury and that he's faced irreparable harm. It cites Steinberg's comments at a hearing Tuesday where his rules committee stripped Calderon of his committee assignments as well as multiple instances of Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, calling on him to resign his seat.

"Despite the fact that no charges against Senator Calderon have been filed, Senator
Calderon's reputation has been irreparably damaged by the selective and illegal leak of the fabricated FBI affidavit which was ordered sealed," the filing states. "The presumption of innocence has been turned on its head."

Ronald S. Calderon v US Complaint, Nov. 13, 2013

November 13, 2013
VIDEO: Janet Napolitano says student protesters have the wrong impression

UC Regents.jpgSAN FRANCISCO - University of California President Janet Napolitano only occasionally looked up to watch the students hurling insults at her - "mass deporter," "top cop," "the person responsible for tearing apart families" - or demanding her resignation Wednesday.

After all, it has been like this ever since it was announced in July that Napolitano, President Barack Obama's then-homeland security secretary, would come to California to take over UC.

The Department of Homeland Security deported a record number of undocumented immigrants during Napolitano's tenure, and protesters at a meeting of the UC's governing board Wednesday were not quieted by Napolitano's previous assurances that the UC welcomes undocumented immigrants and that she will push for a change in federal law to prevent the deportation of students brought here illegally as children.

At a news conference held during a break in the meeting Wednesday, a reporter pointed out that "the students really didn't welcome you with open arms."

"Well, some of the students, yeah," Napolitano said.

The Democrat and former Arizona governor suggested the protesters didn't know her.

"I have to say, with all respect, that I think some of the protests were based ... not on knowing me, I mean, just, you know, kind of a paper representation, as it were, that wasn't even complete," Napolitano said. "I think as I continue to work with these students and talk with them, and also with faculty and staff - everybody involved in the educational enterprise of the UC, that's how I'll be judged, not on, you know, some kind of a false impression."

Bruce Varner, the UC's governing board chairman, wasn't asked, but he was standing beside Napolitano and felt compelled to defend her.

"We really are totally confident in her ability to lead the university," he said.

PHOTO: University of California police look out at a group of protesters against new UC President Janet Napolitano outside a UC Board of Regents meeting Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, in San Francisco. Associated Press/Eric Risberg

November 13, 2013
California reports 59,000 health insurance enrollees through Tuesday


More than 59,000 Californians have signed up for coverage since the state launched its health insurance marketplace last month, but the figures showed a significant uptick in activity in the first two weeks of November, officials said Wednesday.

Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee, who sought to tamp down expectations for October, said 30,830 customers enrolled in the exchange in the first month and another 29,000 signed up through Tuesday.

Lee characterized California's numbers as "better than encouraging" even as federal officials struggled to explain lackluster enrollment nationwide.

"This is a proud day for California," Lee said from the agency's headquarters in Sacramento.

"We are very pleased with the numbers," he said. "We are very pleased with the momentum."

The state figures come on the same day the Obama administration said just 106,000 people nationwide selected health plans in the first month of open enrollment by way of insurance marketplaces run by the states and federal government.

The number was significantly lower than the administration was projecting. At the same time millions of customers across the country are complaining about being dropped from plans that don't comply with the Affordable Care Act.

California estimates between 500,000 and 700,000 customers who are eligible for a subsidy will enroll in the marketplace in the first six months. After initial hiccups, the state has largely recovered from technical problems that still plague the federal government's enrollment portal for three dozen states.

About three-quarters of the enrollees came from 14 state-run exchanges -- with just 26,794 signing up through the federal exchange.

In a joint announcement with the Department of Health Care Services, Covered California said 370,000 customers began the application process for a plan through the exchange or coverage through Medi-Cal. Of them, about 72,00 were determined as likely eligible for Medi-Cal.

Lee said he was heartened by an internal survey that found people generally found the enrollment process to be easy.

PHOTO: Enrollment operators take phone calls during the launch of Covered California in Rancho Cordova on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

November 13, 2013
California sentencing commission could be coming, Ammiano says


The prospect of a renewed push for a statewide sentencing commission surfaced during a Wednesday hearing on California's criminal justice system.

Under a federal court order to reduce crowding in California's prisons, Gov. Jerry Brown last year introduced a bill to buy the state time by allocating $315 million for new inmate facilities. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, backed that plan, while Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg rallied his caucus behind an alternate proposal calling for an advisory sentencing commission.

Many lawmakers supported an eventual compromise bill containing the $315 million reluctantly, casting aye votes even as they decried the federal order and questioned the wisdom of pouring more money into incarceration.

Speakers at Wednesday's hearing of the newly created Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment, which grew out of Brown's bill, described less costly alternatives to incarceration, including special courts for drug offenders and the mentally ill. But Cristine Soto DeBerry, chief of staff to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, said the most pressing need is finding a way to even out sentencing practices that can vary dramatically across California.

DeBerry said California should follow the lead of other states and create a sentencing commission, something she said "really goes a long way to help guide the hand of a prosecutor and a judge."

"I am so with you on that," Assembly Public Safety Committee chair Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, replied, "and we will be presenting something like that in January."

In a followup interview with The Bee, Ammiano said that past attempts to launch a sentencing commission have been thwarted by disagreements about who would sit on such a panel. But he said he is determined to try again, and suggested that prison realignment presents an auspicious backdrop.

"There's a lot of fodder here not only in terms of prison overcrowding but the rehabilitative part, which we've neglected for a long time in sentencing," Ammiano said, pointing to "a lot of imbalance around sentencing."

Sentencing reform also entered the discussion on Wednesday as speakers mentioned the possibility of converting more crimes into "wobblers" that can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. Brown this year vetoed a bill that would have made simple drug possession a wobbler, saying in his veto message that the prison spending bill positioned California to "examine in detail California's criminal justice system, including the current sentencing structure."

When Robin Lipetzky of the Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office brought up the governor's veto, Ammiano quickly interjected.

"We're working on him," Ammiano said.

As prison realignment shuttles offenders from the state's bursting prisons to its jails, continuing to rely on sentences that do now allow for treatment and rehabilitation risks replicating California's prison dilemma, said Santa Clara Judge Stephen V. Manley.

"If we just ship this problem to the counties and overcrowd the jails," Manley said, "then we'll have another 58 lawsuits."

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

November 13, 2013
Calderon lashes out at Garcia; says 'all politicians live in glass houses'


As a group of civic leaders from southeast Los Angeles began a press conference this morning to call for Sen. Ron Calderon's resignation, the besieged state senator released a statement blasting Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia for organizing the event and saying "what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office."

"In politics one expects politicians to act in their own interests. But it is still shocking to me when a politician acts out in such an opportunistic way as in the actions taken by Cristina Garcia. Without knowing the full story and waiting to hear all the facts in this case, she has assumed the role of judge and jury by calling for my resignation," says the statement from Calderon, a Montebello Democrat.

Garcia is the only state legislator to call for Calderon's resignation since an FBI affidavit made public last month alleged he's accepted $88,000 in bribes. Today Garcia gathered with the mayors of Norwalk, Montebello, Downey and Pico Rivera, as well as city council members from Bell and Commerce, to again ask Calderon to step down.

Garcia has a long-standing feud with the Calderon family; she beat the senator's brother Tom Calderon in her race for Assembly last year.

"During her campaign for State Assembly she said time and again that she was not a politician. She told the voters that she was going to be different. Soon after her election she confessed to the voters that she lied about having a PhD. She said that she made a mistake and was sorry for misleading the public about her qualifications. She asked the voters to give her the benefit of the doubt and to judge her on her actions as their new Assemblywoman," Calderon's statement today said.

During her campaign for Assembly last year, Garcia told the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that she had finished coursework for a PhD but did not yet have the degree, contrary to the way she had portrayed herself.

"I take full responsibility for using the term PhD instead of PhD candidate in my campaign literature. For that I humbly apologize and ask for the forgiveness and understanding of all the voters of the 58th Assembly District," Garcia said, according to the local newspaper.

Garcia lives in Ron Calderon's 30th Senate District, which means she could run for his seat if he stepped down. But because new district boundaries kick in during next year's Senate elections, Garcia could not run in the November 2014 race to replace him in what will then be labeled the 32nd Senate District. Garcia's chief of staff Tim Reardon has said she has no intention of leaving the Assembly.

Calderon's statement today concluded by saying his current problems could befall "anyone in public office":

"It is now clear that she is a politician after all - quite an ambitious one at that. I would not wish on my worst enemy what I have been going through. But I do hope that Ms. Garcia comes to understand that what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office. Sometimes one is better served to act in kindness than in self-righteousness because all politicians live in glass houses."

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, pauses during session in Assembly chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua.

November 13, 2013
University of California president proposes tuition freeze

USNEWSNAPOLITANO.jpgSAN FRANCISCO - University of California President Janet Napolitano on Wednesday proposed freezing undergraduate tuition for the 2014-15 academic year, a move she said will give officials time to consider overhauling the UC's tuition system.

Napolitano, speaking at her first meeting of the UC regents since becoming president, said administrators will look for a "better way" to set tuition to avoid dramatic price increases in future years.

"We need to figure out, in the real world in which we live, how to bring clarity to, and reduce volatility in, the tuition-setting process," she said. "It's time for this university to collaboratively come up with a better way."

One option she said officials will consider is a so-called "cohort tuition," in which students are assured the tuition they pay when entering college will not dramatically change during their four years in school.

Napolitano's proposal to keep undergraduate tuition steady for a third consecutive year is in line with Gov. Jerry Brown's funding proposals. The Democratic governor has called for moderate annual increases in the UC budget as long as the UC does not raise tuition at least through 2016-17 academic year.

PHOTO: Janet Napolitano, then director of the Department of Homeland Security, shown on April 17, 2013. Abaca Press/ MCT/ Olivier Douliery.

November 13, 2013
AM Alert: California panel weighs state prisons' efficiency

CaliforniaPrisonsHungerStrike.jpgWhen Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his plan earlier this year to expand California's prison capacity, a bid to satisfy federal orders to slim the state's inmate population, he spurred skepticism from critics who said enlarging the state's network of inmate facilities represented a step backwards.

The budget deal allocating $315 million towards more inmate housing also helped birth the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment, which will consider charges that California's corrections system has become unwieldy and inefficient.

Co-chairs Tom Ammiano and Reggie Jones-Sawyer will preside over the hearing, which will feature Jude Litzenberger of San Diego's Veteran's Court; Judge Stephen V. Manley of Santa Clara County Superior Court; Lee Seale, chief probation officer for Sacramento County, Contra Costa Public Defender Robin Lipetzky; Lisa Rodriguez of the San Diego DA's office; and a representative of the San Francisco DA's office. From 10:30 a.m. in room 444.

VIDEO: While Sen. Ron Calderon faced some actions Tuesday connected with his FBI investigation, Dan Walters points out that other lawmakers have no trouble packing their bags for Hawaii.

November 13, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Legislature's selective ethics on display

While Sen. Ron Calderon is under scrutiny for allegedly taking bribes, Dan notes that some lawmakers have had no trouble packing their bags for Hawaii.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.


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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