The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

November 30, 2010
Pelosi, Feinstein use Pentagon study against 'don't ask'

California Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein had very similar takes on today's release of a long-awaited Pentagon study that found that allowing gays to serve openly wouldn't be a big deal.

 

The nine-month review concluded that ending "don't ask, don't tell" wouldn't hurt readiness or unit cohesion and that many military personnel have already served with gays and lesbians without much problem.

 

Pelosi and Feinstein said the study should close the book on lingering concerns about repealing what they call a discriminatory law. (To see what The Bee's editorial board thinks about the study, come back to www.sacbee.com/opinion on Wednesday.)

 

This report from the Defense Department reaches the same conclusions that a majority of men and women in uniform and a majority of Americans have reached: repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' makes for good public policy. By doing so, we will honor the values of our nation and close the door on a fundamental unfairness," Pelosi said in a statement.

 

Pointing out that the House passed such legislation in May, she urged the Senate to follow suit.

 

So did Feinstein, who called the study "more powerful evidence" that it is time to finally end "don't ask, don't tell" after 17 years.

 

"I don't see how Republicans can continue to fight for this backward and discriminatory policy when a vast majority of our troops have expressed support for equality," she said in a statement. "The criteria for serving in our armed forces should be competence, courage, and a willingness to serve; not race, gender, or sexual orientation."

 

November 19, 2010
Loomis term limits measure headed to court

The worst-case scenario in Loomis has come to pass, so it looks the courts will have to fix it.

On Nov. 2, voters approved Measure A, which will limit Town Council members to two consecutive four-year terms. But it was written in a way that it would make ineligible for re-election anyone who had already served two or more consecutive terms as of Aug. 1.

Final election results this week confirmed that Walt Scherer and Miguel Ucovich - each seeking their fourth term in a row - also won on Nov. 2, even though they both opposed Measure A. The final returns showed that Ucovich finished third in the race for three seats by only three votes, when it looked like he would finish out of the running.

So barring some court action, the two incumbents could immediately have to give up their seats if they are sworn in Dec. 14. That was a primary reason why The Bee's editorial board opposed the initiative, along with the belief that the will of voters is the ultimate term limit. Supporters, however, said term limits would increase voter clout and would "invigorate" the town.

The Loomis Town Council voted Nov. 9 to ask the courts to resolve the issue.

Town Attorney David Larsen, who had warned that such retroactive term limits are unconstitutional, is working on a motion for a preliminary injunction to allow Scherer and Ucovich to take their seats until the courts fix the mess. He said today that he plans to file the motion the week after next in Placer County Superior Court.

Measure A opponents, meanwhile, are saying that the election results "make it more obvious than ever that town government had absolutely no legal choice but to seek clarification from the courts."

In their statement today, the opponents' committee also called for healing the divisions caused by the measure: "The other side's ballot measure won, and our candidates won, so both sides have a lot to celebrate."

November 18, 2010
Boxer, Feinstein push to repeal gay ban during lame-duck
California's two U.S. senators are helping lead the push for the lame-duck Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevents gays from serving openly in the military.
 
At a press conference today in Washington, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she believes the policy in unconstitutional. "The reason is simple: this policy treats the same class of people differently, and that, I think, deprives them of their right to equality under the law.
 
"Additionally, as has been said, this policy denies our nation good talent. That's just plain wrong," she added, citing four service members who were discharged.
 
Sen. Barbara Boxer also called for immediate repeal, saying it should be the latest step on the road to full equality. "We've got to move toward equality - or we lose the essence of our nation," she said.
 
"This is a no-brainer," Boxer added. "People are fighting for our country. They're heroes. They're stars. And for absolutely no reason they find themselves tossed out of the military. No reason, other than something that has nothing to do with their ability to protect this nation."
 
The timing is very tight to get the vote just after the Thanksgiving break. But the effort could be helped by a Pentagon report due by Dec. 1 on how lifting the policy would be implemented.
 
The politics is that it will be even tougher to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the new Congress, when there will be more Republicans.
 
The House passed a measure to get rid of "don't ask, don't tell" in May, but it stalled in the Senate in September.
 
Since then, a federal judge in California declared "don't ask, don't tell" unconstitutional. But her ruling is on hold during appeals.
 
The Bee's editorial board, while praising the judge's ruling, said it would be better if the nation's lawmakers ended the discriminatory policy.
November 17, 2010
Pelosi: I'm not to blame, I'm still effective

More than a few Republicans ran against her as much as their actual opponent. But Nancy Pelosi is still refusing to take the blame for the devastating Election Day for congressional Democrats.

Pelosi, the House speaker until January, was chosen today by fellow Democrats to be House minority leader in the next Congress, when Republicans will be in control.

At a press conference afterwards, Pelosi pointedly deflected any notion that the fact that 60-plus House Democrats lost on Nov. 2 suggests that voters sent the message they want new party leaders.

"The message we received from the American people was that they want a job -- they want jobs; 9.5% unemployment is a very tough screen to get through with any other message," she said.

When it was pointed out that in one recent poll, her approval rating among independents is an abysmal 8 percent, she again blamed high joblessness - plus the barrage of attack ads against her.

"How would your ratings be if $75 million were spent against you?" she asked.

Pelosi won on a 150-43 vote in closed session against a more conservative Democrat, Heath Shuler of North Carolina. While moderates said the party needed a new leader and weren't listening to voters, liberals and left-wing interest groups urged her to stay.

She insisted she can still be effective -- as she was in passing health care and financial reform.

Indeed, Pelosi vowed that her leadership team will rally Democrats to victory in 2012 and that she is "the person that can attract the resources, both intellectual and otherwise, to take us to victory because I have done it before."

If that happens, she will likely be speaker again. And she'd get the last laugh.

November 16, 2010
Advocates, county cut a deal on mental health services

There's a truce, at least until next June, in the battle over Sacramento County's outpatient services for the mentally ill.

Advocates for the mentally ill announced a settlement with the county today that calls for existing services to continue until at least June 30, 2011 - the end of the county's budget year -- while an expert hired by the county studies the system and makes recommendations.

The current system has allowed residents dealing with mental illness to get outpatient care while living and working in the community.

The advocates had sued the county to stop what The Bee editorial board agreed was "an ill-conceived scheme" to try to save money by shifting as many as 4,000 patients from successful treatment programs run by nonprofits to iffy county-run clinics. In July, however, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the plan, saying it would cause "catastrophic harm" to patients and would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement talks have been ongoing since then, and those negotiations will continue.

"Although the parties did not resolve the case, their interim agreement acknowledges that they have shared interests in a 'commitment to serve the needs of mental health clients in Sacramento County;' a 'commitment to follow the recovery model of outpatient mental health services;' and a 'recognition that it is desirable to operate and maintain a County mental health system that maximizes available revenue sources,' " according to a statement from Disability Rights California, the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Cooley LLP, which filed the suit.

The county will continue to comply with the temporary injunction. It gets to choose the expert, who is to finish their report by Jan. 21, according to a memo today from Mary Ann Bennett, the county's deputy health and human services director in charge of behavioral health services. 

The county had wanted to cut $14 million in the Department of Behavioral Health Services for 2010-11. But with the court order and potential loss of state funding, the county is paying for outpatient care by dipping into other sources of mental health money, using savings from other programs and by slicing some county mental health jobs.

 

November 5, 2010
Is Pelosi's decision good for Obama's 2012 prospects?

The left is certainly happy.

But if outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi is chosen by House Democrats to lead them while in the minority starting in two years, will it be good for President Barack Obama's reelection chances in 2012?

You could argue that the younger, progressive voters who helped elect Obama in 2008 will be more likely to return in two years with a liberal firebrand like Pelosi still in the picture and leading the charge to retake control of the House.

That's the take from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

"Speaker Pelosi's decision to run for leader is the first bold move we've seen from Democrats since the election, America is better off as a result, and we hope there's more bold Democratic leadership to come," the group's co-founder, Stephanie Taylor, said in a statement.

"Democrats lost on Tuesday because of Blue Dogs and others who urged Democrats to not fight for popular progressive change -- and the way to re-inspire former Obama voters is to have progressives like Nancy Pelosi boldly fighting the fight."

But Pelosi is also deeply unpopular with much of the American public -- a Gallup Poll in October pegged her favorable rating at 29 percent, an all-time low since she became speaker. While Republicans hate her, nearly 60 percent of independents also viewed her unfavorably.

Republicans in California and elsewhere had a field day running against her - or at least the caricature of her as a San Francisco leftie -- and claiming that their opponents were Pelosi allies.

Those ads would surely return in 2012, and could scare away independents from Obama's side.

Then again, if Pelosi could get things done, even in the minority, maybe she could win them over. That seems her goal, anyway. 

"Our work is far from finished. As a result of Tuesday's election, the role of Democrats in the 112th Congress will change, but our commitment to serving the American people will not. We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back. It is my hope that we can work in a bipartisan way to create jobs and strengthen the middle class," Pelosi wrote to Democrats in announcing her decision today.

"Many of our colleagues have called with their recommendations on how to continue our fight for the middle class, and have encouraged me to run for House Democratic Leader. Based on those discussions, and driven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare, I have decided to run."

November 4, 2010
Metro Chamber interested in consolidation, to a point

Well, that didn't take long.

Sacramento's business community - in the form of the Metro Chamber of Commerce -responded this afternoon to Mayor Kevin Johnson saying he wants to talk about consolidating the city and county.

The Chamber said it's interested in "functional" consolidation - saving money by merging city and county departments that provide overlapping services - but not in "political" consolidation, resulting in one government and one set of elected officials.

The Chamber has been down the political consolidation road before. Sacramento voters decisively rejected the idea in a 1990 ballot measure that would have combined all city and county agencies, and created a new metro government run by an elected board plus 20 new local community councils.

Now, the chamber is more in favor of functional consolidation, which it saw first-hand on a 2007 visit to Charlotte, N.C.

"Our efforts in the 1990s failed because politicians were able to stop the cost-containment efforts by the business community by protecting their political turf," Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber, said in a statement. "In our vision--the vision we have been talking about since returning from Charlotte--cost-savings for local government comes from the consolidation of duplicative efforts and eliminating all wasted and duplicative money as soon as possible."

"Hard economic realities demand that businesses get lean, merge and consolidate to survive," Mahood continued. "Just like the average citizen and employer has become creative to make it through the down economy, taxpayers should expect the same from local government during these tough economic times."

Because of the budget crunch, city and county officials have already been talking about consolidation in areas such as animal control and services to the homeless.

Johnson has not made clear whether he's talking about functional or political consolidation, or both. He says he will be more forthcoming next week. He has talked about how Sacramento is a mid-size city with a population of about 450,000, but if all the suburbs were included, Sacramento would be in the big leagues with a population of 1 million-plus (the total county figure is 1.4 million).

UPDATE: Late this afternoon, the mayor issued a statement saying that he does not have a specific plan, process or timeline. Johnson is not ready to say whether he would support functional consolidation, full political consolidation or something in between.

The brief statement included what he said at his weekly press conference earlier today: "Our community should always seek new ways to make government more effective in serving our citizens. This is especially true in tough times. I think it's worth having a robust dialogue on how the region can work better together. Consolidation has been one topic many folks have been exploring, and I encourage us to continue this conversation in an open, inclusive and transparent way."

November 4, 2010
Rio Linda water district nearing moment of truth

With the future of the Rio Linda water district hanging in the balance, a new majority on the board of directors will soon be in charge.

On Tuesday, district voters ousted three incumbents -- Mary Harris, Belinda Paine and Stephanie Suela - and elected challengers Frank Caron, Courtney Caron (his daughter) and Martin Smith.

The Bee editorial board has said that it doesn't really matter who won because the district is so dysfunctional -- and that the district needs to merged with a neighboring water provider.

The Rio Linda/Elverta Community Water District serves nearly 15,000 residents in northwest Sacramento County, but not very well. It is under a state public health order because it can't guarantee safe drinking water and adequate fire protection. Its finances are also in disarray. An independent audit this year found that the district has eaten up its cash reserves and concluded that there is real doubt whether it's a "going concern."

Wednesday evening, the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission discussed the district - and whether to start a reorganization process that could lead to the district's dissolution or consolidation. The LAFCO staff recommended that the district be given until Feb. 1 to come up with a plan to solve its problems.

UPDATE: The LAFCO board went beyond the staff recommendation, unanimously directing the staff to go ahead and start the reorganization study.

LAFCO Chairman Steve Cohn said today that if the district can show it is working, "we can always back off the throttle" on the study.

Cohn, who is a Sacramento City Council member, said LAFCO wants to support the newly elected Rio Linda board members, but also send them a stern warning that they need to get the district back in order.

The current Rio Linda board has scheduled a special meeting for tonight to debate whether to start the process for rate increases that would be needed to repay and secure a $7.5 million state loan to build three new wells.

The LAFCO board also "strongly" suggested that the district start that process to increase rates, not enter into any new contracts or agreements and create a "transition" committee that includes newly elected board members to help get them up to speed.

And LAFCO urged that the district immediately hire an interim general manager and give "strong consideration" to bringing back Mychael Cardenas, who was just dismissed.

 

November 3, 2010
Obama, Republicans strike cooperative tone, for now

It's way early yet, but President Barack Obama and newly powerful Republicans in Congress are at least talking cooperation instead of confrontation.

House Speaker-to-be John Boehner was "humbled" by Tuesday's results.

Obama was chastened, somewhat.

While he campaigned for Democrats, he said, he heard that Americans were not satisfied with the economic recovery and he took his share of responsibility for that.

Obama conceded that he had failed to deliver one of his primary campaign promises: changing Washington. "We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things got done," he said.

 

And even that will change with the new political reality. 

 

"No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here. We must find common ground," he said at a White House press conference.

 

He said he will have to work harder to reach consensus. But he acknowledged it will not be easy or even possible to bridge every difference.

"Some election nights are more fun than others," he said, just two years removed from his historic election that swept in dozens of Democrats on his coattails.

About an hour before the president spoke, Boehner wasn't gloating, much, even with the historic Republican gains on Tuesday of a projected 65 seats in the House - far greater than the 39 needed to take control or than in the 1994 "revolution."

He said that Obama called him Tuesday night to pledge cooperation and that he hoped that Obama would be willing to work with Republicans on creating jobs and cutting spending.

But Boehner also said he would work to repeal one of Obama's most treasured accomplishments - the sweeping health care reform - saying it would kill jobs, ruin the health care system and bankrupt the country.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell was more combative, saying that voters sent the message that they were glad that Republicans said "no" to much of Obama's agenda. It's up to Democrats to move toward Republican positions and compromise, he asserted.

And for all the conciliatory talk, the rank and file - especially the newly elected members of Congress who came out of the virulently anti-Obama tea party movement - may not be as willing to find common ground.

Still, as The Bee's editorial board said today, there are many crucial issues on which there ought to be room for agreement.

November 2, 2010
Issa crows over election results, lays down gauntlet

With Republicans taking control of the House, Rep. Darrell Issa of California will be part of the GOP leadership.

He has already been a thorn in the side of President Barack Obama as the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (The New York Times called him Obama's "annoyer in chief.") With more power, he will be even more of an irritant.

And even with the polls still open in California, he's laying down the gauntlet.

"Tonight was a referendum on the Obama agenda and the American people rejected it," Issa said in a statement.

"The American people have sent a clear and direct message to Washington that they want less spending, limited government and more accountability," Issa said in his statement. "The mandate is clear: Advance an agenda that will create real jobs, not government jobs, but real jobs to get our economy moving again. Reduce the footprint of government in our lives, get government to live within its means and make government more transparent and accountable."

November 2, 2010
Mayor Johnson 'reluctantly' opposes utility rate rollback

It took until the night before Election Day, and after many voters had already mailed in their ballots.

But Mayor Kevin Johnson declared Monday evening that he is "reluctantly" opposing Measure B, the high-profile local proposal on Sacramento's utility rates, because it could reduce funding for public safety.

"On one hand, citizens have every right to be upset with recent increases in utility rates. A double-digit rate increase in the past two years - during the worst economic recession in several decades - has put undue hardship on citizens, particularly low-income families and seniors," he wrote on his blog.

"Moreover, our Utilities Department has not demonstrated the kind of accountability, efficiency and transparency taxpayers deserve. When I ran for Mayor, there were many examples of waste and abuse in the department. Two years later, I cannot say these problems have been fixed - despite my many calls for a top-to-bottom audit of the department.

"On the other hand, as Mayor, I must ultimately look at the big picture. Public safety is the top priority of both the city and my Administration. Cuts in revenues from utility fees could lead to reduced resources for our cops and firefighters. And this is a risk we cannot afford to take. We can't make it harder to balance the budget when we are trying to put more cops on the beat and keep fire stations open."

If approved, the measure would roll back the 9 percent hike that took effect in July. It would also freeze rates for a year and require the city to get voter approval for any subsequent rate increases above the consumer price index. Its main sponsor is the Sacramento County Taxpayers League.

The proposal is being opposed by every other member of the City Council, the city police and fire chiefs and unions and more than 30 neighborhood leaders. They say it would worsen the city's budget crunch.

UPDATE: Craig Powell, chairman of the pro-Measure B campaign, responded to Johnson's decision by calling it a "missed opportunity."

"By opposing Measure B, he missed an opportunity to lend his support to a measure that will do more to create new jobs and reduce business failures in Sacramento than any other action we as a city can take this year," Powell said in a statement. "He missed an opportunity to support a measure that will bring real, lasting relief from escalating utility bills that are punishing hard-pressed Sacramentans, particularly our seniors and low and moderate income residents.

"Finally, he missed an ideal opportunity to support a measure that will impose much-needed budget discipline on Sacramento's scandal-plagued and mismanaged utilities department.

Powell (who happens to be the husband of Paige Powell, one of the candidates the mayor is backing for the Sacramento Unified School District) also asserted that Johnson's reasoning that Measure B could imperil public safety is "completely specious."

"At the very most, Measure B will reduce general fund revenues by $2 million two-tenths of one percent of the entire city budget) and will not impact public safety," Powell's statement said. "In fact, Measure B will almost certainly increase the city's tax revenues and its ability to fund public safety. By lowering and constraining city utility costs, Measure B will help tax-paying Sacramento businesses survive the current recession. It will also markedly improve our business climate, help bring new jobs to Sacramento and generate higher general fund tax revenues for the city, not less."

 

 

November 1, 2010
Mayor Johnson takes a pass on contentious ballot measure

It's the afternoon before Election Day. Do you know where your mayor is on a key ballot measure?

Sacramento voters don't when it comes to Mayor Kevin Johnson and Measure B, the proposed rollback of utility rate increases. With only hours to go before the polls open, he's staying on the sidelines.

The measure, pushed by the Sacramento County Taxpayers League, would repeal the 9 percent hike that took effect in July, freeze rates for a year and require the city to go to voters for any subsequent rate increases that exceed inflation.

Every other member of the City Council, the city police and fire chiefs and unions and more than 30 neighborhood leaders are opposing the proposal, saying it would blow a bigger hole in the city budget. That would also make Johnson's job more difficult.

What's the mayor waiting for exactly? A poll to see which way the political winds are blowing? Not exactly the mark of a leader, or a profile in political courage.

The mayor is far more interested in races on the ballot that are beyond his direct purview. On his blog, he sought again today to generate support for his slate of candidates in the Sacramento City Unified School District: Paige Powell in Area 1, Andrea Corso in Area 2 and Shane Singh in Area 6.

"Election day in three words: Vote for school reform," the blog post is headlined. (That's four words, but you get the drift.)

November 1, 2010
Chin, Cuneo claim Bee backing they don't have

More than a few politicos and online commenters talk about The Bee's endorsement as the kiss of death for a candidate.

But at least two local hopefuls are stretching the truth to claim the editorial board's support - which they don't actually have.

In last-weekend mailers to voters in Sacramento City Council District 7, Ryan Chin cites The Bee's endorsement of him before the June primary, where he and Darrell Fong finished first and second, ousting incumbent Robbie Waters.

While the date of the endorsement appears, the mailers do not make clear that The Bee changed its endorsement for the November election. To wit: "For the June primary, we narrowly endorsed Chin. But what has become clearer in the months since is that Fong is better equipped and positioned - because of his longer tenure in Sacramento, his firsthand knowledge of the city's successes and failures and his familiarity with key civic leaders - to have an immediate positive impact on the council."

Chin said he doesn't believe his mailer is misleading because it quotes The Bee's endorsement of him word for word and because it's for the same race.

"From my standpoint, I still believe I'm the best candidate," he said.

In the Area 2 race for the Sacramento City Unified School District, Jeff Cuneo also quotes from The Bee's endorsement editorial for the seat, but neglects to make clear that he wasn't endorsed. Andrea Corso was.

Instead, Cuneo cherry picks the nice things the editorial did have to say about him ("a very strong candidate").

He doesn't quote this: "Yet we are concerned Cuneo will spin his wheels on the issue of a new comprehensive high school for East Sacramento when existing comprehensive high schools (except Rosemont) have empty classrooms and declining enrollment."



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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