The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

January 27, 2012
Herger, state VA chief weigh in on veterans home delay
Congressman Wally Herger wants to make a federal case of the delay in opening the new veterans home in Redding.

State Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter Gravett wants vets to be patient and understanding.

Leading up to today's town hall in Redding, there are two intriguing letters on the issue/fact that because of the state budget crunch, the 150-bed, $88 million veterans home in Redding, and a 300-bed, $159 million home nearing completion in Fresno, are scheduled to sit empty for nearly two years.

The federal government put in about two-thirds of the construction financing -- about $142 million -- for the two homes. The state funded the rest, and it's up to the state to hire staff and run them. So far, the state says it doesn't have the money.

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget includes $280,000 a month in 2012-13 to keep the homes maintained, but they wouldn't open to veterans until January 2014. The administration says it's one of the tough choices that have to be made when the state faces perpetual deficits.

"One thing veterans should understand better than anyone else is the fact that sometimes you have to make difficult choices. Gov. Jerry Brown's budget is a clear example of that principle," Gravett wrote in a letter published Thursday in the Record Searchlight, Redding's local newspaper.

"This administration is receptive to ideas for opening the Fresno and Redding veterans homes, but not at the expense of services and treatment for those veterans already living in the six other state veterans homes or at the continued expense of public safety programs that protect our communities, other social services that help the elderly, women and children, or our educational system," added Gravett, who will be at the town hall, 1-4 p.m. at Redding City Hall.

"Sometimes life isn't fair, but as veterans we should understand that sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the greater good. We will be opening the Redding and Fresno homes, but not until we can afford it."

But Herger, a Republican who represents the Redding area, sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki asking whether he can put any pressure on the state to open the Redding home sooner.

"I have received many phone calls from constituents whose plan to place loved ones in that facility will now be delayed, and they are concerned that the state of California's decision will become an open-ended postponement," Herger wrote, adding, "Are there any binding obligations whatsoever on the state of California to open the Redding home by a certain time, or is it completely free to indefinitely delay the staffing and operation of this important facility?"

Good question.
January 26, 2012
Tani Cantil-Sakauye pleads her case, fights Calderon bill

20120126_PK_CHIEF JUSTICE0211.JPGRP BUDGET CALDERON.JPGChief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye today urged the defeat of Assembly legislation that would undermine the authority of the Judicial Council, and give courts in as few as two counties authority to veto any statewide judicial project.

Cantil-Sakauye, who became chief justice in 2010, is showing herself to be a tough fighter as she lobbies to kill legislation by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, himself the consummate inside player.

Appearing before The Bee's editorial board, Cantil Sakauye said Calderon's bill, AB 1208, would "reduce and eliminate the authority of the Judicial Council" to control significant parts of judicial branch spending.

As chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Cantil-Sakauye chairs the Judicial Council, which sets policy for courts statewide.

By far the bulk of the judicial branch's $3.1 billion, more than 83 percent, is spent on trial courts. But the Judicial Council uses some money for statewide projects, including installation of a computer system, which has faced significant cost overruns.

Cantil-Sakauye said that under AB 1208, as few as two counties could veto any statewide project, such as the computer system. She said the measure also could have the effect of limiting the counties' ability to set up special courts to hear criminal cases involving veterans or mentally ill defendants.

Cantil-Sakauye said there should be "equal public access, wherever you live, whether or not your county is wealthy and whether or not you have a good relationship with your county supervisors or presiding judge."

Siding with Cantil-Sakauye are presiding judges from 44 counties, a statewide association of defense lawyers, the big business-backed Civil Justice Association of California and the association's rival, the Consumer Attorneys of California, which represents plaintiffs' lawyers. Critics say the legislation raises separation of powers issues.

Backers include a group of judges, some of them from larger counties including Los Angeles and Sacramento, and the Service Employees International Union, which represents many court workers. The bill is headed to an Assembly vote on Monday.

Some judges have criticized the Judicial Council for overspending on projects such as the computer system, and for spending too much on the Administrative Office of Courts, which Cantil-Sakauye also oversees.

In an interview, Calderon criticized the Administrative Office of the Courts for having an out-sized bureaucracy and for spending money on, for example, a studio. The Legislature itself operates an extensive video and audio broadcast operation.

The Legislature has voted for budgets that have stripped the courts of $653 million during the past four years. As a result, counties have been forced to close during some days.

Calderon blamed mismanagement for the closures, saying, "It's the Legislature's responsibility to keep the courts open."

Photo of Cantil-Sakauye by The Bee's Paul Kitagaki Jr.. Photo of Calderon by The Bee's Randy Pench.

January 24, 2012
More chances to speak out on Redding, Fresno veterans homes
Veterans and their supporters will get another chance to state their case about opening veterans homes in Redding and Fresno on time.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs, which will run the homes, said today that it will hold two town halls -- one in Redding on Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the City Council chambers, and one in Fresno on Feb. 3.

The $88 million, 150-bed home in Redding is largely finished, while the $159 million, 300-bed home in Fresno is to be completed in April.

Because of the state budget crunch, however, the state hasn't found the money to staff them and open them to residents.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, the homes wouldn't open until January 2014 -- a year later than now scheduled. Instead, the governor's 2012-13 spending plan includes $3.3 million to just maintain the two homes.

Local legislators, Democrats and Republicans, are also trying to drum up public pressure to open the homes sooner.

Assemblyman Henry Perea, a Fresno Democrat, has created a Facebook page for supporters to register their feelings.

"Our men and women in uniform served our country with honor and they deserve better than being put at the bottom of our list of priorities," Perea said in a statement. "Over the next few months we need to send a message to Governor Brown and legislative leaders that our veterans need this home now!"
January 19, 2012
Live chat: Should California build a peripheral canal?

January 18, 2012
Did Jerry Brown invent the word "declinist?"

California Governor.JPEG-03.JPGIn his State of the State address today, Gov. Jerry Brown twice used the word "declinist" in reference to "dystopian journalists" and others in California who bemoan "the impending decline of our economy, our culture and our politics."

Declinists? My immediate reaction was: Is the governor now inventing words?

The answer, as it turns out, is "no."

According to the handy Word Spy website, declinist was first used by writer Samuel P. Huntington in Foreign Affairs magazine in 1988, in reference to writers who claim the United States is declining on the world stage, either because of economic stagnation or excessive spending on military ventures. As Huntington wrote:

Although predominantly of a liberal-leftist hue, declinist writings reflect varying political philosophies and make many different claims.

More recently, other writers have used the terms "declinist" and "declinism," but as far as I am aware, the governor is the first (or one of the first) to use it to rebut the doomsayers of California.

And just who was Brown referring to as part of the "declinist" faction? If I get a chance, I plan to ask him.

No doubt, Joel Kotkin would be on the list, and perhaps Peter Schrag.

But was he also referring to The Bee's Dan Walters?

If so, I'd be shocked. Shocked.

January 9, 2012
Another delay for Redding, Fresno veterans homes in Brown's budget

If supporters of new veterans homes in Redding and Fresno were hoping that Gov. Jerry Brown would ride to the rescue, they would be sorely disappointed.

Because of tight state budgets, veterans aren't scheduled to actually move in until early next year even though construction will be complete way before then. The 150-bed, $88 million home in Redding is almost finished, and the 300-bed, $159 million home Fresno is scheduled to be done in April.

Under the spending plan that the governor released last week, there would be a further delay. The homes wouldn't open for yet another year -- until January 2014. When education and safety net programs are being slashed, the Brown administration is saying that there isn't the money to hire staff and ramp up operations so the homes can be occupied. Majority Democrats in the Legislature have blamed Republicans for steadfastly refusing to consider higher taxes to pay for veterans programs and all sorts of other state programs.  

Instead, the Brown administration plans to hire skeletal staff and keep the brand-new facilities well-maintained while they sit empty. For the 2012-13 fiscal year that starts July 1, it has budgeted $1.4 million for the Redding home and $1.9 million for the Fresno home. That's about $280,000 a month combined for the two homes.

As I said in a California Forum piece in November about the situation, "Even by state government standards, this seems just crazy."

You can debate the wisdom of opening relatively expensive new veterans homes, though there's definitely a need. But if you're going to spend the big bucks to build them -- while the feds paid 65 percent of the construction costs, the state has spent $103 million -- having them sit vacant doesn't seem like a great solution.

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, a Republican who represents Redding, ripped Brown for the decision.

"This is just one of a long list of bad decisions Brown has made that have hurt veterans since he's been in the office," Nielsen said in a statement. "He's reneging on a commitment he's made to those who have fought hard, sacrificing their lives even, for our country."

His office estimates that it would require about $11.6 million for the Redding home and $14.5 million for the Fresno home in the 2012-13 budget to open them a year from now.

Boosters of the Redding and Fresno homes are trying to organize a meeting with veterans and a bipartisan group of legislators to try to get more money in the budget.

Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, a Fresno Republican, says she's "disgusted" by what she calls a "crippling" budget cut and "a continuing betrayal" of veterans.

Honoring our veterans by fulfilling our state's obligations should be one of our highest budget priorities," she said in a statement. "I hope all of my Central Valley colleagues join me in rejecting this disrespectful and unacceptable cut to veterans funding."

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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