The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

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June 26, 2013
Editorial: An incomplete victory for equal rights

The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered the cause of same-sex marriage Wednesday, but sidestepped a chance to guarantee equal rights for all gay Americans.

Deciding on the narrowest of legal grounds, a 5-4 majority cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California. The ruling did not, however, say anything about same-sex marriages in other states.

In a second highly anticipated ruling, a different 5-4 majority threw out a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prevents same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits available to other married couples, including income tax advantages, immigration status and veterans' benefits.

While these decisions represent a major victory for gay Americans that we welcome, we wish the court had taken the opportunity to go further.

Justice Anthony Kennedy of Sacramento, writing for the majority, said DOMA violated the Constitution's equal protection clause for the federal government to treat gay couples - legally married in states that allow them to do so - differently than other married couples. But the ruling did not declare a constitutionally protected right for gay Americans to marry.

June 20, 2013
Back to square one in Congress on major farm bill

On a 195-234 vote today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a proposed new five-year farm bill that would have changed eligibility so that 1.8 million lower-income Americans would lose benefits, 210,000 children would have lost their free school meals, and 850,000 families would have seen their benefits cut by an average of $90 a month.

The House bill called for $20.5 billion in draconian cuts to food stamps over 10 years -- compared to $3.9 billion in cuts in the Senate bill.

The Bee's editorial board urged the House to reject the food stamp cuts -- and, if the bill passed, for the president to veto it.

Sixty-two Republicans voted against the bill (wanting deeper cuts to food stamps) and 24 Democrats voted for it (for reasons other than food stamps).

Our local delegation split on the issue, and not along party lines:

June 6, 2012
Editorial: Mayor Johnson must build agenda for second term
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson handily won a second term Tuesday, but he can hardly claim a mandate.

Against challengers he repeatedly reminded us were not credible and whom he vastly outspent, he appears to have failed to reach 60 percent of the vote. The City Council candidate whom he and his business allies put the most energy and money into supporting lost. And in his victory speech, the mayor basically conceded that he hadn't given voters an agenda.

Johnson told supporters Tuesday night that before he takes the oath of office in November, he plans to come up with a "clear vision" so he can "hit the ground running."

He also vowed to unite the fractious council and to build new coalitions that "transcend old divisions."

The results in the four council races on Tuesday's ballot, however, suggest that will not be an easy task.

In south Sacramento's District 8, incumbent Bonnie Pannell staved off former local NAACP leader Betty Williams, who had Johnson's active support as well as boatloads of campaign cash from Better Sacramento, the political action committee created by business leaders who support Johnson.

In District 6, Kevin McCarty easily won a third term. He has been one of the most vocal opponents of Johnson's proposals to give the mayor's office more power, and was also a skeptic on the mayor's push for a downtown arena.

In the District 4 seat being vacated by Rob Fong, Phyllis Newton - the choice of the Better Sacramento PAC - did not make the November runoff. It will instead feature Steve Hansen, a midtown activist and Genentech manager, and Joe Yee, a longtime city planning commissioner who lives in Land Park. Both oppose Johnson's "strong mayor" proposals.

The mayor still has a chance to add an ally in north Sacramento's District 2, where Sandy Sheedy - a thorn in Johnson's side - is stepping aside. Developer Allen Warren, whom Johnson backed, made the runoff against former councilman Rob Kerth.

All in all, Johnson can celebrate four more years in office, but he would be fooling himself to see the election results as a ringing endorsement.

To be truly effective in a second term, he has to follow through on his pledges to unite the city behind a shared vision. He says he believes that Sacramento's best days still lie ahead. He has a lot of work to do to lead the city toward that future.
June 6, 2012
Editorial: Twin Rivers school board must deliver

Voters in the troubled Twin Rivers Unified School District want change. Their votes on Tuesday clearly signal that.

Three of four incumbents up for re-election appear headed toward defeat, although late votes are still being counted. In a fifth contest, the incumbent did not seek re-election, and a challenger unaligned with either of two competing factions in the district won the seat. In addition, voters handily approved a measure to change the method of voting in Twin Rivers from at-large to district elections.

When the newly elected board takes office, four of the seven members -- a majority -- could be new to the board. Three of the four new members and incumbent Cortez Quinn, who appeared headed toward re-election, were members of a slate that challenged the former board majority.

Assuming the numbers hold up, this new majority now faces the daunting task of healing bitter divisions that have beset Twin Rivers since it was formed four years ago. Their first order of business will be to hire a new superintendent who can rebuild trust, while keeping the district solvent and moving forward in a challenging economic environment. The district also must deal with an ongoing investigation of its police department.

Meanwhile, two board members face their own trust issues. Late in the campaign, it was disclosed that Michael Baker, the new District 1 Trustee, apparently lied about holding degrees from the University of Nevada. Even more serious, District 5 Trustee Quinn is embroiled in an embarrassing paternity suit involving a district employee, and is accused of borrowing money from the employee.

Those are unfortunate distractions that must not be allowed to disrupt the district's urgent business of educating kids. During their campaigns, the candidates made elaborate promises about ending the feuding, building enrollment, improving student achievement and increasing graduation rates.

Now is the time to deliver.

October 29, 2010
Another school candidate goes partisan in nonpartisan race

A reader has pointed to yet another candidate who is making an explicit partisan appeal as the focus of an ad in a nonpartisan school board race: Teri Burns, a long-time incumbent on the Natomas Unified school board.

One side the mailer reads: DEMOCRAT in large letters that spread across the whole front. Then, "IT'S OFFICIAL: Teri Burns is the Democratic Party's Candidate."

The reverse side reads:




BOARD. Their agenda could

devastate essential programs.


knows a vote for Teri Burns

ensures our students and

teachers will be supported.

Burns, who was first elected to the board in 1986 and who has served as a former state deputy superintendent of public instruction should know that the California Constitution states that, "All judicial, school, county and city offices shall be nonpartisan" (California Constitution, Article II, Section 6a).

While political parties often send out ads touting their endorsements (and candidates post lists with all their endorsements, party and non-party, and identify their party registration discreetly), it is unusual for a candidate to make an explicitly partisan appeal the focus of an ad in a nonpartisan race.

Do voters really want their school board elections turning into partisan races -or should candidates at least attempt to abide by the spirit of nonpartisanship in the California Constitution?

The Bee's editorial board endorsed Burns for this race.  We are deeply disappointed that she has decided to rely on partisanship, rather than her record, to win a new term of office.

July 19, 2010
UC Davis Chancellor cautious regarding online degrees

The editorial board met with University of California, Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi this afternoon in a wide-ranging recap of her first year on campus.

Last year, she spoke to the board about the challenges of fulfilling the public mission of the university in an era of reduced state funding. "That mission," she said, "has been compromised by the inability to fund it. ... The struggle is to keep quality in place and to keep it affordable."

That challenge remains.

Katehi.jpgOn Monday, she handed out a pie chart showing that only 21 percent of UC Davis operating funds came from the state in 2008-09. Public universities that once were publicly funded and free to students, she said, now "are only partially supported by the state...but the mission remains the same: access to excellence."

The more the state cuts, she acknowledged, the more pressure there is to raise funds from other sources. She, herself, spends at least one day a week fundraising out of the office.

She responded to a question on action last week by the University of California Board of Regents and UC President Mark Yudof endorsing the idea of developing a fully online undergraduate degree, which UC Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley had said would make a UC degree "available to people in Kentucky and Kuala Lumpur."

Chancellor Katehi made it clear she does not support the idea of "an education without placing a foot on campus." But she could support a "hybrid model" with parts of a course online and part in the classroom, which she believes allows more students to have access to courses.

She thought there may be some areas where students could do a full degree online, "but not a bachelor's degree." She said that UC Davis "will be cautious" and "will not be the first" in pursing online degrees. She said UC Davis would look at a hybrid model.

The editorial board will explore some of the chancellor's other ideas in future editorials. Stay tuned.

June 30, 2010
Who's running against Ellyne Bell? Meet Paige Helen Powell

A June 25 editorial encouraged candidates to step forward to run in the so-far uncontested Area 6 race (covering the Pocket area, and including Kennedy High School, Sam Brannan Middle School and six elementary schools) in the Sacramento City Unified school district.

Since then, people have asked who is running in Area 1, the downtown district, against incumbent Ellyne Bell.

The candidate is Paige Helen Powell, who has lived in Land Park for seven years. Her husband is a McClatchy High graduate. Her sons went to McClatchy High and New Tech High. She's a graduate of Sacramento State University.

For the past 12 years, she has been an English teacher at Roseville High, where she's been recognized as a Placer County "Teacher Who Makes a Difference," received a commendation from the City of Roseville and received a district Award of Excellence.

She says she's running for the school board to:

Put the focus back where it belongs, the kids and education. An observer of board meetings will hear a lot of discussion about adults but very little about students. Too many of our students are failing to achieve at the level necessary to be productive, happy, functioning members of society, and I don't see the necessary alarm that this failure should generate from the current board. This board has spent a lot of time in workshops and meetings talking about how they should govern themselves. We need board members who care more about our kids."

She continues:

"I'm running for the board because we need board members who are deeply alarmed by the precarious financial situation of this district. My opponent has been on this board for almost four years, and it has taken recent grand jury reports and a media spotlight to get a hint of action."

She observes that she has "experience from two different sides of education, a parent and a teacher...The board needs this unique perspective."

This should be an interesting contest.

October 23, 2009
Mayor uses smokescreen of "accountability" to keep wrongdoing under wraps

Mayor Kevin Johnson posted a truly odd response on his campaign blog Thursday to critics of his move to ferret out a City Hall leaker.. He loves accountability, he wrote in his first line. "Not one day has passed without me talking about accountability," he said. 

Now, he continued, he is asking the city council for accountability:

At the October 20 city council meeting, in a brief remark, I asked the City Manager to investigate how privileged city documents were being leaked to the media. My request puts several people in uncomfortable positions. The people who leaked the material are uncomfortable. And the media are uncomfortable. But the comfort of those people and organizations is not my concern.

Leaking, he writes, is "sneaky and dishonest." It "destroys" the government's ability to function. Really?

He further notes that the leaked documents were "written under the attorney-client privilege." Doesn't he know that the clients are under no obligation to keep documents secret? The council and mayor have the right to share legal memos with the public (and, some might even say, a duty to do so if they involve public issues).

As for the leaker or leakers, he essentially calls them cowards for not publicly stepping forward.

Johnson's blog post is an apparent response to an editorial The Bee published on Thursday:

Through his actions and words, he seems to care more about who leaked a confidential memo to The Bee detailing serious violations of city policy and federal regulations than about the violations themselves. At Tuesday night's council meeting, a steaming Johnson called for a closed-door council session attended by the city police chief. He wanted the chief there to discuss what he called "the crime" committed when a memo written by City Attorney Eileen Teichert about the Natomas permit violations was leaked to The Bee. ...This incident demands a thorough, open and independent investigation, not closed-door meetings intended to plug leaks and hide information from the public.

We're glad we got the mayor's attention.

July 14, 2009
Links for National Night Out and neighborhood watch efforts
In today's lead editorial, we urge neighborhood groups to help fill the gap caused by budget cuts to local police patrols.

One place to start is by participating on National Night Out on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

Below are some links to the event and resources for residents who want to organize neighborhood watch programs.

National Night Out

Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Neighborhood Watch

Sacramento Police Department Neighborhood Watch

City of Roseville Crime Prevention

City of Folsom Crime Prevention

Elk Grove Neighborhood Watch

June 5, 2009
Arnold's dog - Taz

For the first time in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's numerous visits to The Bee's editorial board, I noticed that his security entourage - and it's a big one - includes a dog.

Taz, a German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois mix was posted outside the 3rd floor editorial board room.

To guard against what, exactly? Not drugs, it turns out.

The CHP handler teamed with the dog told me the dog was a bomb sniffing dog. Taz did a very good job. There were no blow ups, metaphorical or otherwise, during the editorial board's first ever live webcast meeting with the governor.

February 6, 2009
Recover overpayment for train depot?

We're working on a Monday editorial taking up the idea that the City of Sacramento should aggressively go after money owed to the public to help fill a $50 million budget gap.  Council members Kevin McCarty and Rob Fong have identified at least one prime target, worth millions of dollars.


In a rush land deal in December 2006, the city gave Thomas Enterprises $55 million to help the developer close on its $70 million purchase of 240 acres in the downtown railyard.


The city's $55 million was called an "advance payment" on city purchase of 32.8 acres, which included the historic I Street train depot.


With no appraisal, the city paid roughly $1.7 million per acre for the 32.8 acres (while on the same day, Thomas Enterprises paid roughly $292,000 an acre for 240 acres in the railyard).


However, the purchase and sale agreement did lay out a three-month negotiation/mediation/arbitration process to determine the fair market value of the 32.8 acres and to have Thomas Enterprises pay up if the city's $55 million advance payment was more than the final purchase price. 


Yet two years have passed and the city still has no final purchase price or settle up.

What do you think the mayor and city council should do?

February 6, 2009
Editorial: Big Five secrecy makes mockery of democracy
By voting for these budget packages and allowing their leaders to negotiate them in the dark, lawmakers of both parties are ensuring an odious outcome. In essence, they are abdicating their responsibility to legislate and govern, further diminishing their standing in the public eye. To read the full editorial, go here.

Related content:
SacBee: "State's Big Five keep talks secret for fear of dooming budget deal"

Tim Herdt: "When the deal hits the fan"
February 4, 2009
Will K.J. provide refunds to supporters of his strong-mayor bid?
As of Jan. 31, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had raised $131,500 for his bid to create a strong-mayor form of government in Sacramento. But after collecting 37,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, Johnson recently backtracked amid protests from the city council and said he'd hold off on the measure.

Contributors to his campaign may have been surprised to read in today's Bee that the mayor's supporters may not place the proposal on on the ballot until 2010.

One wonders: What happens to their money? Will they get refunds?
February 3, 2009
Editorial: Bike path growing on the Garden Highway?
LS TANDEM CYCLING 1.JPGA wider levee in Natomas could be the foundation for bicycle and hiking trail that could stretch from Sutter County to Sacramento. To read the full editorial, go here.

Sacramento Bee Photo/ Lezlie Sterling

February 3, 2009
Editorial: CTA takes low road with its ads
The California Teachers Association is running television ads urging legislators to reject proposals to give school districts funding flexibility to mitigate inevitable reductions. Teachers at the local level need to tell their leaders at the state level that flexibility is better than draconian cuts. To read the full editorial, go here.
February 2, 2009
Prison pugilists need to put down their gloves
Our lead editorial today urges Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to start negotiating with the state's prison receiver, instead of wasting time on what is surely to be a unsuccessful court effort to end the receivership.

States the editorial:

Delays mean that thousands of prisoners have to be transported from prison to local community hospitals, costing hundreds of millions a year. The shadowboxing between Schwarzenegger, Brown and Kelso provides great entertainment, but is getting the state nowhere - at great expense.

February 2, 2009
Union leaders hurt rank and file by not cutting furlough deal
In an editorial today, The Bee notes that rank-and-file state workers would have been far better off if their leaders had quickly agreed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to implement one-day-a-month furloughs as an alternative to layoffs or two-day furloughs.

Had the governor been able to implement one-day furloughs two months ago, the state would have banked the savings quickly and there would have been less pressure to seek other payroll savings.

An excerpt from the editorial:

Now that so much time has passed and Schwarzenegger has been given new leverage by the court decision, he may continue pressing for the full two days rather than agreeing to a compromise.

We still think a cut that large puts too much of the burden for solving the state's budget problems on its employees. Unfortunately, that is the price they might have to pay for the intransigence of their union leaders.

January 30, 2009
Steinberg puts gavel down on play by judges to boost benefits
Today's lead editorial looks at "sneaker bills" that inevitably enter into closed-door deliberations as lawmakers try to close out a budget deal. The editorial highlights one such bill that came across our desks -- an attempt by state judges to hike the benefits they could receive on top of their existing salary and compensation.

After we flagged it and inquired about it, the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he would not introduce it this session:

You can read the draft language in question here at
Judges bill

January 28, 2009
Budget dithering catches up with Sacramento County
Today's lead editorial in The Bee states that Sacramento County "has made a bad fiscal situation worse" by stubbornly clinging to wishful revenue projections and refusing, in past weeks, to disclose the extent of the county's red ink.

The bottom line:

"The time for wishful thinking is over. The county is experiencing an epic slide in property values and sales tax revenues, and this isn't a blip. It's a monumental challenge, and it will require sacrifices and realism from everyone - beginning with the people elected to run Sacramento County."
What do you think? If you want to send a letter to the editor, you can submit one here.
January 28, 2009
GOP lawmakers come to the rescue of diesel soot
Following up on an earlier Swarm item, an editorial in The Bee today hits Republican lawmakers for seeking rollbacks of environmental regulations as the price of a state budget deal.

The editorial notes that some of these environmental regulations -- including limits on diesel pollution from construction equipment -- were enacted after months of public hearings.

"Now, at the 11th hour, Republicans want to use a closed-door process to gain regulatory relief for construction companies that, instead of investing in cleaner equipment, have put their money into a lobbying campaign."
You can read the full editorial here.
January 26, 2009
Congress set to approve new wilderness and recreation areas
Bonnie Lake email.JPGToday's lead editorial urges the House to approve a public lands omnibus package that could expand wilderness areas in California by 700,000 acres, and create new snowmobile parks and other recreation areas.

The editorial highlights a proposed addition to the Hoover Wilderness that will protect dozens of gorgeous alpine lakes and meadows near Sonora Pass, just west of Bridgeport. The photo to the right shows Bonnie Lake, one of the areas that would become part of the Hoover Wilderness.    
To read a copy of S. 22, the omnibus package passed by the Senate and now in the House, go here.

So what do you think? A step forward for our public lands?

Photo couresty John Dittli, special to The Bee.

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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