The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 24, 2011
Justifications crumble for Sacramento 'crash tax'

Really, is there any justification left to start charging the "crash tax" on out-of-towners starting Friday?

A slim majority on the Sacramento City Council voted last month to begin charging nonresident motorists for the cost of fire department response. They have consistently defended their decision by saying that the city had to come up with cash and had few options left.

But Wednesday, the city's Fire Department announced that it will receive a $5.6 million federal grant -- enough to hire 27 firefighters and restore two fire companies that had been browned out (taken out of service on a rotating basis). The cash infusion will improve response times throughout the city.

It should also cause council members to rethink the need for the "crash tax" since it would only raise $300,000 to $500,000 a year -- and that estimate may be a stretch. It certainly won't offset the damage the new fee has already done to Sacramento's reputation and its relations with its neighbors, and will continue to do if the fee stays in place.

The Bee's editorial board has consistently opposed the "crash tax" as an ill-advised way to boost the city's budget.

February 6, 2011
Howard Ahmanson, now a conservative Democrat, holds forth

Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., has been the subject of many articles over the years, including this one. He also is fairly reclusive, though he did tell Kathleen Parker in this 2009 column about his decision to quit the Republican Party.

Knowing that Ahmanson has a deep distrust of redevelopment, as described in this column, The Swarm posed a few questions to him, and he answers in writing.

Q: As I understand it, you became interested in politics and government because of an experience with redevelopment. Please provide me a few details about that project, including when it happened, and where.

A: In 1978 or approximately, the City of Santa Ana decided that the Orange County Rescue Mission, which was doing an effective work with the homeless, was a "blight" in every sense of the word, and determined to use the power of government to run it out of town. As a young Christian who was struggling to understand what Christ's commands concerning the poor meant, I was outraged to find that government power could exclude Christian service to the poor from a community. The poor could be considered to be "blight" by their very existence, if you want to look at it that way!

Q: What is your view of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to abolish new redevelopment projects?

A: I think it is a marvelous opportunity for both social justice and limited government. Where is the Tea Party on this? Why are they not in the streets applauding?

Now I have to say that there are a few things like prettying up town centers with brick sidewalks and gas lamps and other cute stuff that I do like. But I think there are other vehicles to do that, like Business Improvement Districts. I like Old Pasadena and San Diego's Gaslamp, though I'm afraid of chain restaurants and stores driving out local business in those places - that's another issue.

Q: What is your assessment of your impact and that of the Allied Business PAC on the GOP in the 90s?

A: A very strong and good impact. Our agenda was a broad one of social conservatism and economic prosperity, unlike today's Republican orthodoxy, which seems to be confined to NTSEBREE (No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever) which is very shallow. The high water mark, the Pickett's Charge, was in January of '96 when we trimmed the powers of the Speaker and installed Curt Pringle in the office. But the charge was doomed. Pete Wilson, whom we could not control, had made the fatal decision (after a pro-immigrant history) to throw his weight behind Proposition 187 in 1994. This alienated the Latinos, a culture in which respect and signs of respect are very important.

By the way, the strictly Religious Right has never been particularly anti-immigrant. Most immigrants are conservative on the social issues. Once the Latinos had been alienated, the locus of social conservatism in California shifted from the Republican Party to the Latino and black sections of the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party became basically an ethnic-minority party, irrelevant on a statewide level.

Q: Have you called or communicated with any of the politicians you helped elect to ask them to support Gov. Brown's proposal to abolish new redevelopment projects?

A: We are looking at ways to do that.

Q: What caused you to quit the Republican Party?

A: They decided to make their sole litmus test of orthodoxy NTSEBREE, as I said above. I can't accept that. I'd like to see a much higher gasoline or carbon tax, (not cap and trade though) a state income tax less progressive and less dependent on the wealthy for income, and a higher tax on luxury items, for example. I also think either the two-thirds vote for tax raises should be done away with, or if not, that ballot initiatives that set budgeting priorities, like Prop 98, should require a two-thirds majority for passage. And make that retroactive!

Q: Are you a registered Democrat and for whom did you vote for governor?

A: I am a registered Democrat. However, I voted for Meg Whitman. The reason is that the leadership of my party is on the wrong side on social issues. And the judges that Brown would appoint are likely to be on the wrong side of constitutional issues. A large section of my party, the people of color, as I've said above, is socially conservative and will vote that way on ballot initiatives, but they won't cross party lines in partisan elections. I will. I'm not really very liberal even now; I don't support highly progressive taxation, and I also don't believe in NESEBREE (No Entitlement Shall Ever Be Reduced Ever Ever), which is as bad as NTSEBREE or worse. I am very concerned about public sector unions, but I'm not particularly hostile to private sector unions.


February 3, 2011
What will Rio Linda water district board do now?

Once again, the next step is up to the Rio Linda water district board -- and the question is whether it will act responsibly.

Wednesday evening, the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission voted to urge the board to accept temporary managerial help - most likely from the Sacramento Suburban Water District - to get the district's finances in order.

It was a small, but necessary move.

The district is under a state public health order to improve its system, but its financial condition is precarious. A recent independent audit raised the question whether it can survive. The new board is proposing a rate increase to obtain a $7.5 million state loan to build three new wells.

Meanwhile, there are allegations of misuse of public money and an investigation by the Sacramento County District Attorney's office, as well as continued infighting on the district board, after voters elected a new majority of three members in November.

LAFCO has oversight over the district, but says its control is limited without another public agency willing to take over the district. With all the financial uncertainty, everyone is extremely wary of getting involved.

Until there's a resolution, the 15,000 residents who rely on the district for drinking water and water for fire protection don't have a guarantee of adequate service.

February 2, 2011
Citizens panel will help guide Sacramento's redistricting

It's not as independent as the citizens committee that will draw California's new congressional and legislative districts this year.

But given the limited time and complicated politics, the citizens advisory panel that the Sacramento City Council agreed to form Tuesday night to help with the city's redistricting was probably the most that could have been expected.

The panel will include 13 members -- Mayor Kevin Johnson and the eight council members will each appoint one, then the council's personnel committee would nominate four at-large members to the full council. Anyone can apply, but several council members said they would be looking for particular expertise and suggested that representatives from good government groups such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause would likely be picked.

The council would keep the final say over the new council districts, which would be used for the first time in 2012. Any resident or community group could still submit maps. The advisory committee will review and analyze submissions, identify key issues and recommend the maps it believes would be best for the city. Possibly, it could come up with one of its own, combining elements of others.

Council members supporting the panel said it would help the process, increase citizen involvement and just perhaps mean a fairer redistricting.

New council member Jay Schenirer argued that it will help rebuild public trust, which he said was essential to moving the city forward.

But new Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, the lone dissenter in the 8-1 vote Tuesday night, said she opposed the advisory panel because redistricting is the council's job and she wants direct input, unfiltered at all by another layer.

Her district, District 1, will have to be changed significantly, largely because uneven population growth has grown its population to nearly double the size of four other districts.

The council plans to formally create the advisory panel with a resolution next Tuesday.

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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