The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

December 31, 2008
Governor to eliminate waste board his aides recently defended
Earlier this month, The Bee's editorial board repeated its call for the state to eliminate the Integrated Waste Management Board, calling it a "patronage plum" for termed out legislators, such as former State Sen. Carole Migden.

The editorial triggered a sharp response from the Schwarzenegger administration. The governor's Cal-EPA secretary, Linda Adams, wrote on Dec. 7 that The Bee had "done a disservice to the people of California" by calling for the board's elimination. She also had this to say:

I applaud the board's leadership, legislative and gubernatorial appointees alike, who have worked together and brought bipartisan solutions to our environmental challenges. The work of the board and its staff is an admirable reflection of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's commitment to protect our environment and the people of California.

Apparently the governor's commitment isn't all that strong, at least to the Integrated Waste Management Board. In his budget today, he proposed eliminating the board.

No word yet on whether Linda Adams will now send the governor a letter saying he has "done a disservice to the people of California."

December 30, 2008
Contest: Guess the state deficit on New Year's and win a prize
The budget clock outside the governor's office continues to spin. As I write this, the deficit is $7,424,324,673, and by the end of June, it is expected to hit $14.8 billion.

So can you guess -- or calculate -- where it will be at midnight on New Year's Eve?

Here's a hint: Every minute represents $28,234. So let's check your math skills. Whoever emails me or leaves a comment below with the most correct answer by noon Wednesday gets a signed copy of Daniel Weintraub's book about the governor, "Party of One." Go to it.

December 30, 2008
More misgivings on the No-on-Prop. 8 campaign
A senior volunteer for the No on Proposition 8 campaign has posted some interesting insights on the Daily Kos on why the campaign lost momentum in the final weeks, failing to stop a ban on same-sex marriages despite pre-election polls indicating it would do so.

The volunteer suggests the campaign was too focused on focus groups, was clueless about using the Internet, was too secretive in sharing information and was reluctant to frame any kind of message around the thousands of same-sex couples in California who were already married.

Some of these criticisms we've heard before, but there is a depth of detail in this post mortem that makes it a worthy read. Find it here.
December 29, 2008
Nobel economist again dings Schwarzenegger on state's budget
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who recently won the Nobel Prize for Economics, has a column today about how the states are handling their budget troubles. He had this to say about California:

Are governors responsible for their own predicament? To some extent. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in particular, deserves some jeers. He became governor in the first place because voters were outraged over his predecessor's budget problems, but he did nothing to secure the state's fiscal future -- and he now faces a projected budget deficit bigger than the one that did in Gray Davis.
Krugman's column, although true enough, is lacking in crucial context.  Because California's Legislature is controlled by Democrats, it was impossible for Schwarzenegger to cut spending upon taking office. And with the two-thirds vote requirement, it's been tough for him to get Republican support to raise taxes and cover the current $11.2 billion shortfall.

His column also fails to acknowledge that states, unlike the federal government, can't engage in deficit spending. They have to balance their budgets each year, at least on paper.

Krugman, I suspect, enjoys tangling with Schwarzenegger. He dinged him in this blog entry in November, was ambivalent about his health care reform proposal in 2007 and, of course, called him "Conan the Deceiver" in this piece from 2003.
December 26, 2008
Give Grant Pacers decent competition

Before the glow of the Grant High School Pacers football championship fades away, I have a request for Grant and its legions of loyal fans, my husband among them. Next year, please give this team some decent competition. 

Ever since the powers that be for high school football moved Grant from Division I to Division II at the end of the 2005 season, Grant has been forced to play against not just mediocre but flat out awful teams, against players that should not be on the same field with the Pacers.There's no better proof of that than the series of embarrassingly lopsided scores for Grant's regular season Metro League games. 

Grant beat Sacramento High, 55-0, Kennedy, 61-0 and McClatchy, my alma mater, 89-0. Rosemont got a 58-6 thumping. Hiram Johnson took it on the chin 62-6. The only league game that offered Grant a whiff of  competion was Burbank. Even that score wasn't really close, 35-13.

Those kind of games are painful not just for the players but for the fans. I think Grant should be moved back into Division I for football so it can play the regional powerhouse teams again - the Nevada Union Miners and the Thundering Herd of Elk Grove, among others.

 Prep sports experts say that's not the answer. OK - then suggest something else. Just don't make Grant play McClatchy again next year. Who wants to watch an 89-0 football game? No one!

December 24, 2008
In Nevada's budget crisis, everything is on the table
As California's budget impasse drags on and on, with Republicans refusing to raise taxes and the governor haggling with Democrats over non-budget policy issues, it's an appropriate time to check in with our neighboring state -- Nevada.

There, with Democrats controlling both houses and Republican Jim Gibbons in the governor's office, Nevada leaders closed a $1.2 billion shortfall in the state's two-year budget by cutting programs, exhausting the state's rainy day fund, shelving building construction, and borrowing money. 

Having made those tough choices, Republican leaders are now acknowledging that higher taxes are inevitable as the governor and lawmakers prepare a new two-year budget for the fiscal year that begins midway in 2009. 

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno had this to say to the Reno Journal Gazette:

"It will be very difficult for the governor to craft a budget that doesn't include any revenue enhancements. Everything has to be on the table."

If low-tax Nevada raises taxes, it will hardly be alone. Several other states are planning to raise fees and taxes to deal with a historic downturn in revenues. One of them is Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, who wants the Legislature to raise vehicle-registration fees, raise the 25-cents-per-gallon gas tax and broaden the sales tax to include rental cars, according to a story Tuesday in the Washington Times.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that California pattern itself after Idaho or Nevada, a state with legal brothels. But at least leaders of those states aren't allowing ideology to get in the way of a budget solution.

December 23, 2008
It could be worse: You could work for Watsonville
Government employees of all stripes are understandably nervous this holiday season as the state, cities and counties consider proposals to cut payroll costs.

And then there's Watsonville.

This city south of Santa Cruz shut down most city services on Monday and won't reopen them until Jan. 5 to deal with a $561,000 budget shortfall for the current year. The temporary layoffs mean no library, no recreation programs, no basic street maintenance and no counter service at the police and fire departments in this city of 51,000 people.

You can read about it here on Watsonville's Web site.
December 23, 2008
Who's the "Secret Santa" for Sacramento's homeless?
It's inspiring to know that someone would want to bequeath $500,000 for a successful program to help the homeless. But it's doubly impressive that such a donor would not crave the recognition that such a gift deserves.

Cottage Housing, a Sacramento non-profit that helps the homeless transition from the streets to self sufficiency, announced today that it it has received half a million dollars from "the estate of a long-time Sacramento community college teacher."

Cottage Housing is not naming the Secret Santa, at the request of the donor's widow. The non-profit is now challenging area residents to expand the gift to help house the growing numbers of local homeless.

Although I can understand the need to honor a donor's request for anonymity, it's too bad we don't know more about this humble Santa, whose untold life story might inspire others to be similarly generous.

Who was this teacher? What drove his concern about the homeless? And are there other Santas out there who will help match this gift?

The Bee's newsroom is working on a story, so we'll have more to share on these questions later.
December 23, 2008
Why California can't fix its budget
Today's page of letters illustrates why California teeters towards insolvency.

Two of the letter writers accuse the governor of picking on state employees with his plan for furloughs, as if every other part of state government -- schools, welfare, etc. -- was going untouched. 

Then you have Jon Coupal, of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers League, defending Proposition 13, the ballot measure that has resulted in wide variation in how residential and commercial properties are taxed. Coupal is now threatening to prepare another ballot measure to overturn the taxes and fees that are part of the budget deal proposed by Democrats.

As long as entrenched interests groups refuse to budge, and as long as lawmakers feel so intimidated by these groups that they won't cross them, California will remain mired in a fiscal nightmare.
December 22, 2008
Schwarzenegger and the Legislature's failure to act

Somebody needs to change the sign outside the governor's office to read:

"Schwarzenegger and the Legislature's failure to act."

Shared sacrifice? Shared responsibility.

December 18, 2008
Meeting the new poor in line at welfare offices

Here's my advice to Republicans who are anxious to make deeper cuts in social services and welfare. Visit a welfare office in your home district as I did in Sacramento the other day.

You'll likely found what I did. First time needy, people who have worked hard all their lives and paid the taxes to fund legislators' salaries and  programs for the poor that they now need to access themselves for the first time in their lives.

 I met Jason, a 28 year old who was laid off from a sign making shop a few months ago. He's sleeping on a friend's couch and hasn't had a decent meal for days. He needs food stamps.

  I met Fernando, a laid off pressman with a wife and two kids and a mortgage living on unemployment. His savings have run out and he and his wife need help too. Heather, is 21 and lost her job at a coffee shop in Folsom when she moved to escape a difficult dometic situation.  Unable to find work, she's been sleeping in her car. 

There were more like that, hundreds of them in this one office on one afternnon in Sacramento. Legislators who want to cut benefits to the poor should take time away from their cozy offices at the capitol and talk to these new poor. It will be illuminating for them. It was for me.

December 18, 2008
What to do about prison overcrowding?

Prison overcrowding.  How did California get to historic highs in incarceration rates in the 1990s and 2000s? How did the state get numbers of prisoners way beyond current prison capacity?  What role does California's Three Strikes law play? What can the state do to reduce overcrowding?  The courts are about to hand down decisions. Capitol Public Radio's Jeffrey Callison interviewed several guests on today's Insight program:  Scott Kernan, Undersecretary of the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ; Michael Vitiello, Professor, McGeorge School of Law; Mike Jimenez, President, CA Correctional Peace Officers Association; Mike Reynolds, "Three Strikes" advocate; and  Rose Braz, Campaign Director, Critical Resistance.  I was also part of the discussion.  Click here to listen to the program.

December 17, 2008
Real estate lawyers dominate Kevin Johnson's list of advisers
In his scramble to get up to speed on issues, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has assembled a transition team of advisors that "literally is hundreds of people," according to spokesman Steve Maviglio.

For the last week, The Swarm has been seeking a list of these advisers. Maviglio claims that a full list hasn't been assembled, but after a little prodding, he released the people Johnson has tapped to lead the transition teams.

So, for the first time, here is the list of the mayor's top advisers, with links to their biographies.
December 16, 2008
Maloofs goofed, again!
Thumbnail image for SED_G0510_3BABIN0510.jpg
How much you want to bet the Maloof brothers are wishing they could have Rick Adelman back?  Eight years in a row in the playoffs looks pretty good right about now.  But two wrongs don't make a right.  Right?
Reggie Theus' young team at times showed promise but was inconsistent.  Does that come as a surprise to anyone?  Giving any coach the daunting task of rebuilding a young team and not giving that coach time to do the job is a mistake.  Getting rid of Reggie Theus was another Maloof goof.


May 10, 2006 cartoon blast from the past!

December 15, 2008
City debates whether K.J. "hid the ball" on city charter revision
Not surprisingly, Kevin Johnson's plan to change the Sacramento city charter is generating both heat and smoke.

Several city council members, bloggers and on-line commentators are calling the mayor's bid a "power play," which it is. But are some are going farther by claiming that Johnson deliberately misled voters about his intentions prior to taking office.

December 14, 2008
Are churches enjoying a boom with the downturn?
With sweeping assurance, the New York Times reports today that bad times are drawing bigger crowds to churches, particularly evangelical churches. The story includes some anecdotes to support this conclusion, and reports that ministers are dropping their traditional sermons to offer practical advice to people who have lost jobs and homes.

I'm sure there's some truth to this, based on past recessions and reports from Britain and elsewhere. But I'm wondering if the real picture is more mixed for churches.

December 12, 2008
Tent city for the homeless - Where should it be?

Bob Slobe, the North Sacramento businessman and long-time critic of the way the city deals with its homelss population, and a friend of mine, says location will be the biggest issue if the city sanctions a tent city for the homeless.

He's right about that. Slobe suggests Land Park or Curtis Park for the location. Someone else mentioned Capitol Park, all, enclaves of the rich and powerful. The suggestions are obvious digs at people who recommend solutions that don't impact where they live. Slobe has a point but not a very useful one. Any camp set up must be in walking distance of Loaves & Fishes, the social service complex north of downtown which serves the homelss now.  To work, the tent cities can't just push the homeless to other neighborhoods. They need to be served when they live now. Like it or not, north of downtown is where a huge bulk of the homeless live.

December 11, 2008
Schwarzenegger and his solar-powered Jacuzzis
Today's lead editorial takes a deserved shot at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's claims that Californians can lead the fight against global warming while still enjoying their SUVs, Jacuzzis and big-screen TVs. We've been challenging the governor on his "green with no sacrifices" claims for two years, to little effect. In a recent speech, he had this to say:

It's all about technology, because we all know that the guilt trip that we have put on people has not worked, to tell them that they should not use the Jacuzzi, or the big, large plasma TV, or to drive with a big SUV, a Hummer or something like that. (Laughter) Or to fly with a plane. All of those things did not work because the fact of the matter is the people should use a big television set but it should be powered by solar. They should go and sit in the Jacuzzi, in the biggest Jacuzzi in the world but it should be powered by solar. They should fly their airplane whenever they want but it should have maybe a different kind of designed engine so we don't use fossil fuel. Or they should go and stay in their SUVs and in their Hummers but maybe have that Hummer be powered by electric motors or something like that. So it's technology that really needs to be changing, not that we're driving a car or taking a Jacuzzi or any of those things. God forbid we would stop the Jacuzzi.
Yes, he actually said this. You can read a full version of the speech here.

As our editorial noted, the Air Resources Board has taken a similarly rosy view on the economic impacts of its plan to implement the state's global warming law. It's a law, we feel, that needs to be aggressively implemented, but with some candor about the economic impacts.
December 11, 2008
A visit from UC President Mark Yudof

NM_27YudofMarkMug_43727.jpgUniversity of California President Mark Yudof met with The Bee's editorial board for the first time since taking office in June.


Here are some tidbits:


On accountability:  He notes that some things you can't measure, like the kid who's turned on to Shakespeare, but "the fact that you can't measure everything doesn't mean you measure nothing." 


On UC's management style:  He sees the system as akin to "a museum without a deacquisition policy" - it has kept adding, but never subtracts anything.  He's changing that - sending some functions out to the campuses - such as the continuing legal education program that makes more sense at a campus with a law school than at the central office in Oakland.  He's also eliminated functions.  He notes: "I've cut out $60 million in a year.  What other state agency has done that?"


On budget cuts:  He sees it as his job to ensure that Californians understand that these cuts are like "a fire station closing."  He believes California is living off the 1950s and 1960s legacy of Gov. Pat Brown and UC President Clark Kerr, who championed the notion that every student should be entitled to a college education regardless of ability to pay. "I'm worried about it," Yudof said.


On how to find more money for universities: Yudof said a "high-fee, high-financial-aid" model is "not the preferred course." He noted that he'd press for the usual sources of funding: the Legislature; exposure, telling people what the UC does to improve life in California; philanthropy, federal research grants; fees; efficiencies and business savings.  Beyond that, "If we don't get some relief within five years...we'll have to reexamine the educational delivery model."  The  university may have to consider more use of technology for intro classes, not just the traditional model of a teacher in front of a classroom of students.


He's smoked cigars with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "a hoot," he said, and finds him supportive of higher education.


We'll have more to say as an editorial board on Yudof's larger vision for higher education and the UC mission in California. Watch for an editorial on Monday.
December 11, 2008
Homeless camps - should they be legalized?

The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board is considering endorsing the creation of a legally sanctioned campground for the homeless.

The problem of illegal camps and the futility of closing them down, only to see them pop up somewhere else days later is obvious as a recent story in The Bee  by Cynthia Hubert illustrates.

So does it make sense for local governments in this region to designate "high tolerance" quasi-legal campgrounds where the homeless can set up their tents and shanties  without fear of being arrested or rousted by police? 

What are your ideas? If you oppose the notion, what would be a better alternative, something more humane and effective than the endless homeless chase authorities are engaged in now?

December 10, 2008
Maviglio re-emerges as Mayor Kevin Johnson's official spokesman
The Swarm was surprised to see Steve Maviglio's name as the contact person on a city press release yesterday regarding the outside accounting firm that Mayor Kevin Johnson wants the city council to hire.

Why? Because Maviglio doesn't work for the city.

Maviglio had served as Johnson's spokesman during the campaign, doing double duty as Assembly Speaker Karen Bass' spokesman. But following the election, Maviglio slipped off to Italy for some R&R, and Johnson announced a staff that included Kunal Merchant as chief of staff but no mention of Maviglio.

I reached the omnipresent Maviglio this morning. He told me is working without pay. The city isn't paying him. Nor is anyone else, he said. He's also ended his employment with Speaker Bass after the election.

It's hard what to make of this. Signs of transitional stress in City Hall? Signs of Maviglio answering the mayor's call for more philanthropic efforts? What do you think?.

December 10, 2008
Linkbox: Clarity on the state's budget calamity
Today's editorial examines the upshot of Monday's joint session of the Senate and Assembly on California's deteriorating finances.

As promised, here are some links to presentations and statements by the state's top financial officials, who testified at the hearing.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor

Treasurer Bill Lockyer

Controller John Chiang

State Finance Director Mike Genest

Response from Senate Republicans

December 9, 2008
Blagojevich arrest: Firing editorial writers "a thing of value"
Here's some vindication (kinda) for the hard work of being an editorial writer. Federal authorities listed the attempted firing of editorial writers as "a thing of value" in the criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

As you may have read, Blagojevich and his chief of staff were arrested today on various charges, including soliciting bribes in exchange for the selection of Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

The criminal complaint also alleges that Blagojevich tried to get certain Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired in exchange for helping the Tribune Company receive state aid in the sale of a baseball stadium owned by the company. It doesn't name the editorial writers, but says they wrote "widely circulated editorials" critical of the governor. Blagojevich in turn "corruptly solicited and demanded a thing of value, namely, the firing of certain Chicago Tribune editorial members."

You can read the full complaint here.
December 8, 2008
Budget standoff: The cost of doing nothing
State Finance Director Mike Genest prepared an interesting power point for today's joint legislative session: What will happen if lawmakers doing nothing about the current revenue shortfall?

Without cuts or new taxes in the current fiscal year, the state will have just $300 million in cash by February and will be $2.4 billion in the red by March, Genest reported. With budget solutions, we'll get down to a nervously low $1.8 billion in March but then things will turn around.

You can watch a Web cast of the joint hearing now, right here, on the California Channel. 

December 5, 2008
Will Carole Midgen help clean up the tire dumps?
Now that it's official, the public is justifiably livid about the governor appointing former senator Carole Migden to a high-paying job on the state Integrated Waste Management Board. Just read the comments on this story on Capitol Alert.

But amid all the fuss about the governor and Darrell Steinberg securing this appointment, I'm wondering if Midgen will actually prove to be an environmental advocate, particularly when it comes to cleaning up tire dumps and junk heaps in the Central Valley.

Back in 2002, Midgen tried to fend off efforts to regulate smog in the Bay Area that was wafting into the Central Valley. Speaking on a radio show, she blamed the valley's air pollution on "tires burning down there and a lot of problems with junk heaps."

Now she's in a prime position to do something about those tire dumps and junk heaps. Will she seize the opportunity?
December 3, 2008
Has Mary Nichols talked to Obama about EPA? Her lips are sealed
AOC_MNIchols_044w.JPGLoose lips sink ships. Perhaps that's why Mary Nichols is being coy about reports that President-elect Barack Obama is vetting her to be the next secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, met with the Sacramento Bee's editorial board today to discuss the state's climate change policies and upcoming rules on truck pollution.

At the end of our meeting, I asked Nichols if she had talked with President-elect Barack Obama about the U.S. EPA job.

Nichols' response: "I'm not talking about that. I've been asked not to talk about it."

Asked not to talk about it? Hmm. Does that sounds like a "yes" to you?

Sacramento Bee Photo/ Autumn Cruz  Dec. 3, 2008

December 3, 2008
Mr. McClintock goes to Washington

In the close race in the open seat to replace Congressman John Doolittle in the 4th Congressional District, Democrat Charlie Brown has conceded:

Thanks to the extraordinary work of our local elections officials, I am pleased to report that the high standards of fairness, accuracy, and transparency have been met.  And with the counts and recounts across district four complete, and more than 370,000 votes tallied, the outcome of this election is no longer in question.  Unfortunately, we've come up less than one half of one percent---just under 1,800 votes---short of victory  So a short time ago, I called Senator Tom McClintock to congratulate him on a hard fought victory, and to wish him well in Congress.


Republican Tom McClintock goes to Washington as one of 176 Republicans in the 435-member House (down from 199 currently). He'll be operating in a caucus that comprises 40 percent of the membership.  But he's used to that, coming from the California Legislature.  Here's hoping he's able to balance working with the majority while achieving his stated goal of offering an alternative vision of governance. Washington certainly doesn't need the obstruction and gridlock that characterizes the California Legislature..

December 2, 2008
Hapless Cavala hits Bee for reporting on legislative staff pay hikes
Bill Cavala, former deputy director of the Assembly Speaker's Office of Member Services,  is shocked -- shocked -- that the Bee would run a story the other day highlighting pay hikes for legislative staff in the midst of a state fiscal crisis.

Cavala penned an item in the California Progress Report defending these "hapless" staff, suggesting they are being targeted by "underpaid reporters who face an insecure future in a business slowly going out of business."

Yes, that is what we do here at The Bee. Angered at our low pay and modest benefits, we spend our waning hours figuring out how we can lash out at "hapless" state employees who make more money than us.

Give me a break. I'll acknowledge there are many underpaid legislative staffers who are dedicated workers and shouldn't be held responsible for the disaster known as the Legislature. But there are also veteran staff who are far from hapless. Because of term limits, these "staffers" are become increasingly powerful. They write the bills and design the budget gimmicks that lawmakers enact every year, and then some get plumb jobs as lobbyists.

Hapless? Hardly.

December 2, 2008
Steinberg taps Pavley to head Senate Natural Resources Committee
In a previous item, I noted how Northern California water interests were butting heads with Southern California interests over who should head the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which handles all water legislation, including any bills related to a peripheral canal.

Guess who emerged victorious? Senate leader Darrell Steinberg today tapped Southern California Sen. Fran Pavley to chair this key committee. That was a setback for Sen Lois Wolk of Davis, who has water expertise and sought the seat but ended up getting appointed to the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
December 1, 2008
Remote islands filled with California foxes? My kind of story
SBZpair-723256.jpgAs a reporter who's covered the environment for more than 20 years, I am always on the lookout for feel-good stories. They are hard to find.

Here's one. On the Channel Islands of California, biologists for the National Parks Service and other agencies have saved an endangered species, the island fox, in a mere decade. The foxes' numbers dwindled to roughly 100 ten years ago. Now there are 650 foxes and the numbers are steadily increasing.

How did they do it? First, the parks service eradicated feral hogs and other invasive creatures on these stunningly scenic islands. They also rounded up foxes and established a captive breeding program for them.

The return of the bald eagle has also helped. That displaced golden eagles, who moved to the isles and aggressively fed on the island fox after bald eagles died off due to DDT and other threats.

NBC News had a nice story on the foxes tonight, which may have been based on a piece The Ventura County Reporter ran a few weeks ago. But if you really want to chase after foxes, go to this site, run by Friends of the Island Fox.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Island Fox. 

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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