The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

March 31, 2009
Balance the budget yourself
Next 10 has updated its California Budget Challenge, the online game where you can try your hand at balancing the budget with a selection of cuts and tax hikes...As always, it really brings home the tough choices that legislators, and the public face in trying to close the budget gap. Find it here.
March 30, 2009
Do SacBee commenters reflect broader opinion re budget package?

The Bee's readers, or at least those who comment on line, are in a foul mood about the May 19 ballot package, anyone connected to it and the Bee's commentary about both. Our editorial endorsement Sunday -- backing the spending limit/tax extension compromise and the suspension of ballot box budgeting from Props 10 and 63 while opposing the new funding guarantee for education -- has brought near universal online condemnation from readers who see it as an endorsement of a tax and spend status quo. My column on Steinberg showing leadership by backing a spending limit (and supporting changes to Prop. 63, which he authored) was similarly roasted. This despite the fact that our position is to the right of the Republican leadership in the Legislature, which supported the Prop. 98 revision as part of the package.

Some will say that these readers have blinders on, don't care about the facts and represent such a tiny portion of the potential electorate that they can and should be ignored. I am not so sure. I have a hunch that most people out there have no idea how the spending limit would work and what effect it would have had in reducing deficits had it been in place over the past 10 years.

Linking the tax increases and the spending limit made perfect sense in the Capitol, and it was the only way to get a compromise done. But it might backfire if the campaign in support of the package does not figure out a way to explain it, or a good way to build support for the package without explaining it.

Dan Schnur suggests scaring people into voting yes. I don't like that idea, and I don't think it would work. I am picturing gauzy endorsements from teachers, cops, firefighters and business owners saying it's about time the warring parties put down their weapons and agreed to a common sense solution to start fixing the budget. Let's back this effort and put something into the constitution to make sure the politicians can't mess it all up again....





March 30, 2009
Paul Hawken: Hard times can mean a reawakening for U.S.

My editorial notebook today ( features visionary Paul Hawken, co-founder of the Smith & Hawken garden supply company who went on to found software firms, write books such as "Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution," and head the Natural Capital Institute. He says America has choices for two ways to go: toward demogoguery or toward a coming together again to build a society that "pays forward."


Here's where he talks about how the downturn provides an opportunity to look at the country's "shadow" side:



Here's where he talks about how we're "losing a bad life" in the downturn:




Here's where he talks about money as not a measurement of people or nature:


March 27, 2009
Deficit? What deficit? Sac County purchases a new logo

Sacramento County is $168 million in the hole. No matter. Somehow, it had an extra $79,000 lying around to replace the county's old logo, which was created in 1961. Here is the new one:


When asked about the expenditure, Supervisor Roger Dickinson told a local television reporter: "You never have a second chance to make a first impression."

March 24, 2009
CA congressional delegation sizzles even as state Leg fizzles

California's economy may be down and out and state legislators may struggle to pass a budget, but the state is still tops in political power in the nation's capitol.


No other state comes close to California in congressional power, according to Roll Call newspaper's latest rankings: "Hill Clout: California is Still Golden"


California ranks No. 1 by far:


The Golden State boasts the Speaker and two Senate committee chairmen (and they're all women), as well as the chairmen of the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Foreign Affairs and Veterans' Affairs committees. Lots and lots of people in the state. And lots and lots of Democrats in the House delegation -- more Democrats, in fact, than any other state has Members. The Big Enchilada. 'Nuff said.


Roll Call gives points to each state based on several factors, including: size of the delegation; number of full committee chairmen and ranking members; number of Members on the most influential committees; top leadership posts; number of Members in the majority party; per capita federal spending received; seniority; and, power rating of the opponents.


California received 1,343 points; the next state received only 775.
March 24, 2009
What to do with two Sac City Unified middle schools?

From my emails, phone calls and the crowds that show up at Sacramento City Unified school district board meetings, I can see that one proposal is causing the most conversation:

Interim Superintendent Susan Miller's idea for two Grade 7-8 schools that are 27 blocks apart (2 miles).  She wants the school board to "consider alternative program delivery model" for Kit Carson Middle and Sutter Middle: "one school program, 1 leadership focus, blending of staff."

Much of the consternation has been because of the utter lack of detail.  What, exactly, does Miller mean by this proposal?  The Editorial Board of the Sacramento Bee does yet not have a position on this proposal, nor do I as an individual.  We need much more detail -- and so does the public.

But I'd like to raise some issues.

The main problem to be addressed seems to be Kit Carson.  The building has a capacity for 1,256 students.  It peaked out at 728 students in 2003-04 and has been declining precipitously since then.  This year it has enrollment of 478 -- and that is expected to drop again next year.  It had been in Year 4 of Program Improvement (one year away from drastic action) in 2005, but exited in 2006; unfortunately, this year, it's back in Program Improvement status, not a good place to be.

If you close that school, then you have to figure out what to do with 400 to 450 students.


If you keep it open, you have to find new ways to attract students -- i.e., you have to put a successful program in there.


Interim Superintendent Miller believes, apparently, that the Sutter program can be replicated -- not by creating a whole new program from scratch, but by utilizing the leadership and staff that have made that program successful.  Why do Sutter parents think that's not possible? 


Could the existing Sutter campus do more with students if it had two smaller campuses of 800 students?  Why is working with 1,200 students in one building better than working with 800 students in two buildings?  Recall that Sutter had 800 students only a decade ago.  It is only since the 2001 school year that the school has had 1,200 or more students.  Is 1,200-plus really the right size for that school?  Why wouldn't you want to go smaller? 


Expanding Sutter's program to include Kit Carson (even if in 2 separate buildings that are 2 miles apart, 27 blocks) could benefit Sutter -- because it would create smaller class sizes.


For example, Sutter has 61 teachers for 1,294 students (an average of 21 students per teacher).  Kit Carson has 28 teachers for 478 students (an average of 17 students per teacher, and is expected to decline again next year).


If you do as Miller suggests, limiting enrollment at the two schools combined at 1,600, then you could have smaller classes. You could have, say, 42 teachers at each school working with 800 students (an average of 19 students per teacher).  Why wouldn't that be a good thing?


Anyway, it seems that between declining enrollments and budget difficulties, this is a time to get creative. If not Miller's solution for Kit Carson and Sutter, then what other solutions? Send in your ideas.     
March 23, 2009
Sherry Ackerman: From the goods life to the good life

In my editorial notebook today, I feature Sherry Ackerman, a philosophy professor at the College of the Siskiyous. She lives in Siskiyou County, one of the hardest hit in the recession in California with its 18.1 percent unemployment rate. People are used to a different kind of good life there that involves community and a clean environment as sources of wealth. She talks about how the old economy is shifting toward something new.

Here she talks about "the middle way" in being a conscientious consumer and about how new systems are coming into existence in the economy:


Here's where she talks about Siskiyou County and an alternate view of the good life there:


March 22, 2009
Full Q&A: Should Sacramento legalize a tent city for the homeless?
Thumbnail image for ACW HOMELESS SKYLINE.JPGIn my column today, I examine proposals for a sanctioned tent city in Sacramento as an alternative for the homeless who are camping illegally near the American River.

The proposal has not only divided the community, it has divided homeless advocates. Two of these are lawyer Mark Merin and Robert Tobin, president of Cottage Housing.

On the jump are short biographies of Merin and Tobin and a full, unedited transcript of an online dialogue I conducted with them in recent weeks.
March 19, 2009
Private emails or public records in Mayor Kevin Johnson's office?

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday celebrated California's "Sunshine Week: Your Week to Know."

But they didn't just celebrate.  They took an important action.  In setting a new policy to handle private-sector volunteer/consultants acting as de facto employees in the mayor's office, the council established a new public records policy.

Here's an example: A volunteer/consultant acting as Mayor Kevin Johnson's public information officer, Steven Maviglio, used to send out emails regarding city business on a private account.

The new policy requires professional volunteer/consultants such as Maviglio "to have and always use City email addresses when communicating about City business."  That policy took effect immediately, on Tuesday, so we look forward to communicating with Maviglio on his new city email account.

Further, the California Public Records Act is unclear about whether the emails, text messages, voicemails and other writings produced on non-City equipment and property are public records.  Well, Sacramento's new policy explicitly states that any writings that would be city public records if produced by city employees or consultants would be public records if produced by the new professional volunteer/consultants.  Amen to that.

So the sun shines a little brighter in Sacramento.

Update:  Steven Maviglio has requested that the private email account that he had been using to conduct city business (and that I had included in an earlier version of this posting) not be made public, so I've taken it down.  However, Maviglio writes (from his private account) that, "I dont have an official city account yet."  So how should members of the public who want to contact the mayor's public information officer by email do so?  What email address should they use? 

Update2: As a test of his commitment to transparency during this Sunshine Week, Mayor Johnson should come out and say whether the public should be able to communicate by email with his public information officer. It is odd, to say the least, that the public currently cannot contact by email the "public" information officer who does most of his communications by email.  

March 18, 2009
Write your own caption
Here's a link to a fun little contest on the McClatchy DC website, where my national cartoons appear regularly. 

March 16, 2009
Peter Block: Our well-being is not fundamentally economic

In my latest editorial notebook about the recession, I feature Peter Block, consultant and author of "Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest." He says the economic crisis allows people to "confront their freedom" about how they will have a productive life and create a new story for the country. What's under fire, he says, is the consumer society and the belief that Americans are merely purchasers, not citizens in the fullest sense.


Here's where he talks about how the crisis should be viewed with people as players, not victims:



Here's where he talks about Enron and how compared with the rest of the world Americans won the lottery by being born in this country:


March 9, 2009
Jay Wallace: The good life never changes in a downturn

My editorial notebook today on whether there is a different way to view the economic downturn features Jay Wallace, professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. "The things that make for a good life, a good human life, don't really change particularly from one phase of economic prosperity or adversity to another," he says.

 Here's where he talks about the tradeoffs Americans have made during the boom times:


Here's where he talks about the lack of morality in the finance industry's behavior:


March 6, 2009
March 3, 2009
New study: California has out of whack home price/income ratio

The foreclosure crisis is a California crisis -- along with a few other states. A new study out of the University of Virginia, "Foreclosures in States and Metropolitan areas: Patterns, Forecasts, and Pricing Toxic Assets," shows that clearly:


In 2008, California had only 10 percent of the nation's housing units, but it had 34 percent of foreclosures.

California was vulnerable to foreclosures because it had, by far, the highest ratio of housing value to median income in the country.  The median value of owner-occupied housing in 2007 was 8.3 times the median family income ($535,700/$64,563).  The next highest was Nevada at 5.1. 


In 2000, the median housing value in California was 4 times the median family income.  That's still high (the ratio should be about 3).


The worst is still to come: The study estimates that "66 percent of potential housing value losses in 2008 and subsequent years may be in California, with another 21 percent in Florida, Nevada and Arizona, for a total of 87 percent of national declines."


The big question:  As the economy recovers, will developers build and price houses for the income profile of the state?  Or will they continue to build houses that require people to spend more than a third of their monthly income on housing? 
March 3, 2009
Proposed site
March 2, 2009
Audio: Jesse Jackson on Obama and knocking down walls
RP JESSE JACKSKON MAYOR.JPGThe Rev. Jesse Jackson stopped by the Sacramento Bee's editorial board today, where he touted the potential for volunteerism, the message of the day for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. I was more interested in Jackson's take on President Barack Obama and how Jackson felt while hearing Obama's speech to Congress last week.

In his lyrical, rambling, entertaining way, Jackson expounded on the subject, recounting the history of the civil rights movement and adding that Obama's election "was like the last lap of a 60 year race."

"Strong runner, smart runner, but we have gone from walls to bridges....The demolition crew paid a big price knocking down walls."

Here where Jackson talks about the substance of Obama's speech:

Here's where he talks about his emotions of recent weeks.

Here's he sums up what it was like to be in Grant Park in Chicago, watching Obama's victory speech on election night.
March 2, 2009
Have a question for the Rev. Jesse Jackson?
Jesse Jackson is scheduled to visit with The Bee's editorial board this afternoon, as part of a push by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to encourage more volunteerism across the city and region.

Jackson is a civil rights activist and Baptist preacher who ran for president in 1984 and 1988. He's never been at a loss for words, and some of them have gotten him in trouble over the years. Yet he remains a powerful public speaker and an influential political leader. It will be interesting to see what is on his mind.

What are you thoughts? What questions would you like to see posed to Rev. Jackson? Readers who leave their full name and hometown, along with their questions, will be given consideration.
March 2, 2009
A new view of the economy from William Isaacs

The Bee's editorial page today features my editorial notebook about a recent conversation with William Isaacs, founder and president of Dialogos, a consulting and leadership education firm in Cambridge, Mass. I wanted to know whether he might have a different view of the economic recession. Isaacs, an author and co-founder (with Peter Senge) of the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT, did offer a different take, calling this period a time for "tremendous optimism." Here's where he talks about the "contributive view":


Here's where he talks about President Obama and how these are moments for fundamental change:


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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