The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 29, 2012
Sacramento council gets on board the push for streetcars
The Sacramento City Council is on board with the push to return streetcars to the region.

In a significant step, council members unanimously voted Tuesday night to accept a study laying out a "starter" route that would connect Sacramento with West Sacramento across Tower Bridge.

The study calls for a network of streetcars that would traverse Sacramento's central grid and could ultimately extend into the River District, East Sacramento, Cal Expo and Oak Park.

Streetcars are meant to complement Regional Transit's light rail and buses, attracting riders for short trips for work, shopping or pleasure. The routes are also designed to encourage transit-friendly infill development.

Agreement on the study is necessary to have any real hope of securing federal grants that are the best hope of finding money to build the lines.

As The Bee editorial board pointed out, West Sacramento has been taking the lead, while Sacramento got bogged down in uncertainty over routes and funding.

"We're ready to step up and join as true partners," said Councilman Steve Cohn before making the motion to endorse the study. "The time has come for streetcars in Sacramento."

Councilman Rob Fong pointed out that the cost is "daunting." Just the starter line is projected to cost $125 million to $135 million to build.

But, he added, "If we don't get started, we won't get it done."

Cohn, who has been working on the issue already, also volunteered to be the "champion" for streetcars on the council -- as encouraged in the editorial.

After the unanimous vote, Mayor Kevin Johnson declared, "You have nine champions."
February 28, 2012
Fish and Game Commission head says defiantly he won't resign

ZUMA_Fish And Game Chief.JPGDan Richards' critics want him ousted from the California Fish and Game Commission for killing a mountain lion in Idaho, where such hunting is legal. Those critics include Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and at least 39 other members of the Assembly.

But in a letter to Hueso today, Richards was adamant in refusing to step down. (Go here for Richards-Letter.pdf)

I will continue to hunt and fish wherever I please, as I have always done, ethically, licensed and proudly associating with true conservationists who daily fund, enjoy and enhance our bountiful resources while not trying to limit others enjoyment of same.There is ZERO chance I would consider resigning my position as President of the California Fish and Game Commission and it is my sincere hope that you and your colleagues reassess your request and instead work positively with our Commission...

Richards' letter was cc'ed to Gov. Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, which suggests he may be nervous about keeping his post. Groups that support California's ban on mountain lion hunting are gunning for -- ooops, strike that, wrong term -- seeking his removal.

Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society didn't think much of Richards's letter and its defiant tone. "The bad judgment train just keeps on rolling," she tweeted.

Photo credit: Whitehotpix/

February 23, 2012
NBA Commissioner David Stern speaks on Sac arena deal
For those of you following every twist and turn in the arena saga, you can read and hear for yourself what NBA Commissioner David Stern has said.

In a column in The Bee last May, just after NBA owners gave Sacramento a reprieve, he extolled arena financing deals where the public and private sectors join forces and stressed that the Kings would make a "substantial contribution." "The NBA has experienced the success public-private partnerships can have in developing facilities that contribute to the economic transformation of neighborhoods," Stern wrote.

In an interview this week, he again pledged a "substantial contribution" from the team -- but suggested that money put in by potential arena operator AEG should count toward that sum because "whatever money AEG puts in is because of givebacks by the team to allow AEG to profit from the arena."

That calculation could kill the arena deal because the city is counting on $85 million from the Kings separate and apart from $50 million from AEG. So the proposal should be a non-starter, The Bee's editorial board said today.

Is Stern doing some negotiating in public? Or is he putting down a marker?

We should know pretty soon as negotiations between Mayor Kevin Johnson and other city leaders, league officials and Kings owners the Maloof family shift into overdrive this coming weekend in Orlando, in conjunction with the NBA's All-Star Game. All sides hope to come to terms by Thursday -- and the "term sheet" is to go before the City Council on March 6.
February 21, 2012
Sen. Al Franken plans to enter the Internet Age; 90 more to go

Sen. Al Franken has been urging more disclosure of campaign money as the implications become clear of court decisions that open the way for heavier spending by corporations. That's good.

Now, the Minnesota Democrat is contemplating taking a step toward greater disclosure of his own campaign finances by stepping into the Internet age. That's good, too.

Franken is one of eight senators who last week signed a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman urging that he take a more aggressive approach toward nonprofit corporations that engage in electioneering.

In an editorial today, The Bee lauds the senators for writing to the IRS. The editorial also urges those senators--and the rest of the Senate--to become more transparent by filing their campaign finance statements with the Federal Election Commission online for display on the Internet, rather than in paper, as Senate rules permit.

As part of the reporting for the editorial, The Bee asked the eight senators why they fail to file their reports online, and instead follow a Senate tradition by filing paper copies, which wastes more than $250,000 a year as noted in this column, and limits voters' ability to see who funds their campaign.

Seven of them--Charles Schumer of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Tom Udall of New Mexico--ignored the question or explained that they comply with the senate rules, antiquated though they are.

Franken, by contrast, seems to be having second thoughts about the wisdom of sticking to paper.

"Sen. Franken has always been in the habit of filing his FEC reports manually, but will likely file them electronically going forward," Franken's spokesman, Ed Shelleby, said in an email to The Bee.

If Franken follows through, he would be one of about 10 senators who regularly submit their reports online to the FEC. That would leave a mere 90 senators to go.

February 13, 2012
Restaurants are struggling with state's new food handler law

You could say that the glitches in California's new food handler rules prove the law of unintended consequences.

Yet, some people -- including me -- saw the problems coming.

In a piece last April titled "Recipe for Confusion," I reported on the legislative meat grinder that produced the new law requiring many workers to get training in safely handling food. "Lots of outfits are elbowing for the lucrative business of training employees and issuing the certification cards, and there are reports of shady operators trying to bilk unsuspecting business owners and workers," I wrote.

Well, the California Restaurant Association just sent an alert to its members that "numerous" businesses are finding that employees have acquired invalid food handler cards and are being penalized or given tight deadlines for compliance.

The issue is "widespread" across the state, says Leslie Huffman, an association vice president. "It's becoming a little bit of a panic," she told me today.

The problems are becoming apparent now because there was a six-month grace period, until Jan. 1, before local health inspectors started enforcing the law. 

The restaurant association is trying to steer members and workers to the right places to get the cards. It has also put together a system for managers to track their employees' compliance.

The intent of the law was laudable. But, as often the case, its implementation has been messy.
February 9, 2012
Big donation could open half of Sacramento's pools
It took a while, but a local company has stepped forward to help open Sacramento's city pools this coming summer.

Last summer, the city's budget crunch meant only six of 12 pools were accessible. This coming summer, only three have been scheduled to open.

As The Bee's editorial board said last August, "This is a prime opportunity for a civic-minded corporation to make a sizable gift that would buy it priceless goodwill."

The Bee's Bob Shallit reports today that Save Mart Supermarkets plans to announce next week that it will match up to $500,000 in donations.

Now, it's up to other businesses and the general public to pitch in.

The full $1 million would be enough to open six pools to full operations, along with all five of the city's standalone wading pools, says Dave Mitchell of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. He told me in an email that he hopes even more will be raised so more pools can open.

It's not a long-term solution to the city's budget woes. But it could bridge the gap until the economy turns around and city revenues bounce back.
February 8, 2012
Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein approves this ad

Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein plays prominently in all the histories, books and investigative reports into the greed and corruption that led up to the crash of 2008.

But there he is, taking his place along side liberals from Hollywood and elsewhere embracing the notion of same-sex marriage in a high-profile video produced by Human Rights Campaign.

Scroll beyond Blankfein's video, and you will find many others made by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and New York Giants owner Steve Tisch.

February 7, 2012
No, pizza is not a vegetable, says USDA undersecretary

Pizz.jpgIs pizza a vegetable? Do American kids really need more potatoes? Should kids have access to high-sugar, high-salt foods in vending machines during the school day? Can teachers serve cupcakes for special school celebrations?

USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon addressed those thorny issues and more in a visit with The Bee's editorial board this morning.

He called the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed by Congress in December 2010, the "first major changes in decades" to the school lunch program and "one of the few constructive bills to 'Get out of Dodge'" after the November 2010 election. The national school lunch program serves 32 million children at 101,000 schools. Concannon sees the controversies, and concessions, in Congress -- over potatoes, pizza, sodium content -- as just a "small portion" of the overall program. He said the new guidelines "will succeed in spite of that." He saw those fights as showing that "moneyed interests can trump science and the interests of children."

The final rules for school lunches were unveiled on Jan. 25. For the first time, these rules affect not only foods in the lunch line, but all foods served during the school day -- vending machines and a la carte foods. Yes, parents can still bring in cupcakes for a special school-day celebration. No, parents and booster groups cannot sell hot dogs, potato chips and soda during the school day, but can hold sales after school. Yes, vending machines will either have to change what they sell or be unplugged during the school day if they serve high-sugar soda or high-salt, high-fat potato chips.

During the school day, all food on school grounds has to meet the new dietary guidelines -- fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk, reduced saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

But Concannon emphasized that schools will have to do things gradually so that kids actually eat the meals. Provide choices -- a pear or an apple, not just a whole apple. Start with whole-grain bread sticks before switching to whole-grain pizza crusts, etc.

Traditional food companies also will have to make adjustments -- for example, reformulating foods to reduce sodium content. And schools can get technical assistance to figure out how to do local purchasing of fresh, locally grown foods.

The changes will be phased-in over a three-year period, starting in fall 2012.

February 6, 2012
What Alice Waters eats for breakfast, and why

Food Slow Food Nation.jpgLast week, I had the opportunity to interview Alice Waters for my Sunday column on plans by the famous Chez Panisse chef to bring the Edible Schoolyard Project to Sacramento.

At the end of the interview, I couldn't resist asking her what she had for breakfast that morning. Over the years, it has become a standing joke among Waters and her staff that journalists always ask that question, and so I did.

Her answer?

"There is a little whole wheat flat bread I make. I put it on the fire and spread it with hummus. And I have it with some Chinese tea."

Wait, I said, isn't that what you always have for breakfast?

"Well, you would think I would get tired of it, but I don't," she replied. "I always eat whole grains now because I had a high cholesterol level. Drinking the tea and eating the grains changed the whole thing in a year. So now I am a born again health food nut. But the good news is, it tastes really fantastic."

So there you have it. The chef who brought all kinds of rich French cookery to Northern California is now on a health kick.

Along with Paula Deen.

2008 photo of Alice Waters by Paul Sakuma / AP

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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