The Conversation

A weekly discussion of a topic important to Californians

August 30, 2008
The Budget: Assessing the governor's middle way

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Today's Conversation topic: the state budget impasse, and Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposal to end it it.

Schwarzenegger has proposed a temporary, one-cent increase in the sales tax to be followed by a quarter-cent cut in that same levy. He also proposes $2 billion less in spending than the Democrats who control the Legislature. And he wants an expanded rainy day fund that he says would smooth the ups and downs in the state's budget cycle by banking money in boom years and then drawing it down when the economy slows.

You can read my take on that plan here. My bottom line: Yes, it's a compromise, but it wouldn't solve the state's ongoing fiscal problems because much of it rests on temporary solutions.

Read Schwarzenegger's take on his own plan here.

Schwarzenegger's proposal is opposed by all four leaders in the Legislature. The Democrats say it spends too little, the Republicans say it spends too much. The Democrats say it taxes too little, the Republicans say it taxes too much. And the Democrats don't like the rainy day fund because, they say, it restrains the growth of government too much. The Republicans don't like it because, they say, it doesn't restrain government enough.

Here is Senate Leader Don Perata's take.

Here is Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill's opinion.

Here is Assembly Speaker Karen Bass on the governor's plan.

And here is Assembly Republican leader Mike Villenes.


August 29, 2008
Sunday topic: Guv's latest budget plan
This Sunday's Conversation will focus on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget plan. We'll parse the plan and its potential impact, then let the four legislative leaders go at it. Please come back Sunday morning and join the Conversation.
August 27, 2008
Juvenile crime in California -- less than meets the eye?
I have been corresponding with Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, who believes the public is probably unaware of the general trend toward a reduction in juvenile crime over the past couple of decades. Here is his latest email to me with some new numbers that are pretty startling:

The state Department of Justice just sent me the new, 2007 crime statistics, and here is what they show:
--235 juveniles were arrested for murder, 5.0 per 100,000 population age 10-17, the same rate as in 1958 (and lower than any year in between).
--241 juveniles were arrested for rape, the lowest level since that offense was first tabulated in 1957 (when 331 juveniles were arrested for rape in a population less than one-third today's).
--6,880 juveniles were arrested for robbery, the lowest rate since 1968.
--10,607 juveniles were arrested for aggravated assault, about the same rate as in 1973, when assault was defined much more narrowly.
--66,191 juveniles were arrested for felonies, the lowest rate since the first statewide crime report in 1954.
--200,820 juveniles were arrested for all criminal offenses, the lowest rate since 1966, when many fewer juvenile offenses were subject to criminal arrest (most were then defined as "status" offenses)
Are readers and viewers of California's news media aware that juvenile crime, especially serious crime, is at an historic low? You can ask around, but I'm betting that the answer is "no." In fact, I'd bet that far more think juvenile crime, violence, and murder are rising to record peaks. Isn't that the impression many interest groups and the news media constantly present?
Suppose the news media were to present these facts, easily documented and checked, to citizens. Imagine the impact of the statements: "Youths today are no more likely to commit murder and other serious crime than youths of the 1950s...In fact, middle-aged crime rates have skyrocketed to the point that 40-agers actually present a bigger crime problem now than juveniles do..."
If believed--a big if--California's entire crime debate would be turned upside down. Which, if I may be cynical, is exactly why the truth about crime trends will not be presented in the media. There are too many interest groups invested in lending the opposite impression, and the news media simply goes along.
best regards,
Mike Males
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

August 24, 2008
Gang violence: Is a tax hike necessary?

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This week's topic: gang violence.

San Jose has found some success with a community-based program focused on reaching kids where they live, go to school and hang out. The city awards about $4 million in grants each year to two dozen or more non-profit community groups that offer counseling, education and intervention programs.

The program might be an alternative to the $50-million a year tax increase proposed by some Sacramento leaders, or it could be a model for how to spend a big chunk of that money.

You can read my piece on this program here.

A Sacramento youth organizer and a drug and alcohol counselor offer their views here.

For what it's worth: San Jose, while twice the size of Sacramento, is a far safer place:


UPDATE. I just got this response from Don Meyer, the president-elect of the Calfiornia Probation Officers Assn:

The Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) has supported and continues to support rehabilitative programs that work effectively to reduce re-offense.  So it was with great appreciation that we read your August 24, 2008 article, Gang Violence and the way in San Jose, which acknowledges our collective experience:  evidence based programs with measurable outcomes, delivered with fidelity and fiscal accountability reduces recidivism.

Of particular interest was the data supplied in the article "About 20 percent of the youths served were gang members, an additional 31 percent were gang supporters and the rest were described as 'high risk'."  There is ample scientific evidence that several programs, when delivered with fidelity, reduce recidivism in both delinquents and adult offenders. Some examples are Aggression Replacement Training (ART) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT), to name a few. A great deal of research on correctional programs has been conducted over the past thirty years that validates effectiveness of some programs and destructiveness of others.  Significant and encouraging information can be reviewed at the Washington State Information of Public Policy website (WSIPP), which confirms my previous statements. 


We know the following:  Risk to reoffend is directly related to at least eight criminogenic indicators.  These include a history of anti-social behavior, anti-social personality pattern, anti-social attitudes, anti-social associates, family/marital issues, education/employment issues, substance abuse, unproductive use of leisure/recreation time. 

For a community to address crime (including gang issues), research indicates you must adhere to three principles.  Risk principle:  To maximize effect on recidivism, treatment should be targeted toward higher risk, rather than lower risk offenders and the population of treatment groups should not be aggregated by risk (one size does not fit all).  Need Principle:  Treatment should be targeted toward dynamic risk factors, also known as criminogenic needs.  These are risk factors that can be changed (e.g. substance abuse, gang involvement, anti-social thinking) as opposed to those that are static (e.g., prior record) Responsivity Principle:  Treatment should use behavioral and structured social learning rather than unstructured, nondirective, or "getting tough" approaches. 

One of the ongoing sources of frustration for community corrections has been the lack of a dependable revenue source, funds that are held hostage by budget crises, and a general lack of understanding about how to address crime reduction scientifically and effectively.  It is clear that consistent funding needs to be provided to local community corrections which includes probation, community-based organizations, treatment providers, jails, juvenile institutions and the entire law enforcement component. 


What is also increasingly clear is that the community and the taxpayers should demand accountability and results for the funding it provides. 





August 22, 2008
Sunday's Conversation: street gangs

This week's Conversation topic will be street gangs. I'll be taking  a look at a program in San Jose that emphasizes community action to help kids stay out of trouble. The San Jose approach uses grants to community-based nonprofit groups to reach troubled kids where they live, go to school and hang out.

That $4 million program stands in contrast to the the $50 million-a-year anti-gang program that some Sacramento leaders propose, which would be financed by a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax.

Please return to this space Sunday for links to my piece and other comments on this topic, and to join the conversation.






August 17, 2008
Think Globally, eat locally: is food grown nearby always best?

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Include your name and hometown if you would like your comment to be included in next Sunday's print edition. 

This week's Conversation is about local food -- and why so little of what we eat is grown near where we live.


The Bee's Stuart Leavenworth writes the main piece.

Other views include:

UC Davis Professor Daniel Sumner, who says eating locally is not necessarily best for the environment, the poor or the farmers.

Shawn Harrison, co-founder of Soil Born Farms, an urban farming operation in Sacramento that promotes local and urban agriculture.

Jennifer Cliff, publisher of Edible Sacramento, who says she has devoted herself to increasing public awareness of the need to eat locally.


Some food for thought:

31,900- Number of jobs involved with food production, processing, support and distribution in the Sacramento region as of 2004.

1,300 - Number of jobs lost in these industries since 2001.

2.5 million - Number of acres of farmland in the Sacramento region, as of 2005.

277,226 - Number of acres lost to development and other uses since 1988.

2.2 million - Tons of rice produced in the Sacramento Valley in 2007.

242,000 - Estimated tonnage of California rice sold to California consumers each year.

Sources: California Economic Strategy Panel; Sacramento Area Council of Governments; California Rice Commission.

Here are some links to other sources of information on this topic.

SacBee interactive link to local farmer's markets 

Sacramento Area Council of Governments Rural-Urban Connections Strategy 

Community Alliance with Family Farmers 

Slow Food Sacramento 

100 Mile Diet 

Ecovian -- Resource for local food and products 


August 15, 2008

The local foods movement will be the topic of this week's Conversation. Come back starting Sunday to discuss the benefits and potential drawbacks of the movement to encourage everyone to buy as much of their food locally as possible.


August 10, 2008
Where would you cut?

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In this week's Conversation, we want to know where, if anywhere, you'd cut state spending.

Over the past five years, California's population has grown by 7 percent, and inflation has been 17 percent. But general fund spending has increased by about $26 billion, or 33 percent during that same period.

Here is some additional background, and the views of four citizen-observers.

Join the Conversation by commenting below. Let us know where you would cut, or if you'd cut at all. Thanks!


UPDATE. Here is a graphic I produced for an earlier column showing the growth in state spending by category during the past five years.



August 7, 2008
Bringing out the knives

This week's Conversation will ask our readers where they would cut the state budget if they were given the opportuhity, or if they were forced to do so.

We'll provide a little background on the growth in state spending over the past five years, overall and by major category.

We'll share some one-line descriptions of spending cuts that are already on the table, and offer the ideas of four citizen-observers from around the state to get the discussion going.

And then we'll turn it over to the readers and ask, Where would you cut?

See you Sunday.






August 3, 2008
The Demonization of suburbia


Click here to comment on this week's topic.


UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who has commented so far! We at the Bee are still finding our way with this new undertaking, and it's pretty evident that our packaging this morning was not conducive to getting a conversation started. People are commenting on each of the pieces, which is great, but those comments are then segregated from each other rather than part of one big discussion. So I have gone into those pieces and copied the comments to the bottom of the blog here. I hope that helps. --Daniel

Are Sacramento planners trying too hard to force the region's residents to live in small homes in densely populated neighborhoods? What's your vision for the way the region should grow in the years ahead? Comment below.

In this week's Conversation, urbanist Joel Kotkin suggests that Sacramento's regional planners are too focused on forcing suburban residents out of their single-family homes and into smaller houses or condos in densely packed urban neighborhoods

An excerpt:

Although a healthier downtown with reasonable density is good for the entire region, the high-density focus does not make a good fit for a predominately middle class, family-oriented region such as Sacramento. Unlike an elite city like San Francisco, Sacramento's growth has been fueled by an influx of educated, family-oriented residents - the populations that have been fleeing such high-priced places where the housing supply is constrained.

Long-term demographic trends, and perhaps common sense, suggest that most people do not move to Sacramento to indulge in a "hip and cool" urban lifestyle. If someone craves the excitement, bright lights and glamorous industries of a dense city, River City pales compared with places like San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles.

The fact Sacramento has fared far better than these cities over the past 15 years suggests the region's recent problems lie not in a lack of downtown condos and nightlife, but with a housing market that, as in much of California, has been totally out of whack. Once a consistently affordable locale, by the mid-1990s Sacramento's housing prices jumped almost nine times income growth, an unsustainable pace seen in a few areas such as Riverside, Miami and Los Angeles.

As a result, the refugees from the coastal counties who had been coming to Sacramento for affordable housing stopped arriving. Net migration to the region, more than 36,000 in 2001, fell to less than 1,000 in 2006.

Ultimately only a housing market correction will again lure the people who have come to Sacramento seeking single-family houses - the type of home favored by about 80 percent of Californians - back to the region. Evidence that these people, or current suburbanites, might flock back to the core city is thin at best. The failures of such high-profile projects as The Towers and the region's stagnant rental market do not suggest a seismic shift toward denser living.

Developer Levi Benkert, meanwhile, says the region should have a strict urban growth limit to create an open-space buffer and force new housing and commercial development to fill the spaces closest to the urban core.

Mike McKeever, director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, writes that the  region's Blueprint for growth encourages dense development around the core of existing population concentrations in Sacramento, Roseville-Rocklin and Rancho-Cordova-Folsom.

Barbara Hayes, who recruits businesses to bring their operations to the Sacramento region, says employers look at taxes and fees but also affordable housing, transportation issues, education and parks before deciding whether to move to this area.

Please join The Conversation by using the comments function below.
Here are the stories this week:

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About The Conversation

Welcome to The Conversation, where our goal is to provoke and sustain spirited and civil debate on issues central to life in California. I'll offer a topic and starting point for a discussion each week, but we need you to carry it forward from there. Please dive in and join the conversation.
-- Daniel Weintraub

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