The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

May 29, 2012
California Senate passes compromise on disabled access suits
A measure to discourage "drive-by" lawsuits over disabled access at California building and businesses is halfway home.  

The state Senate voted 36-0 today for SB 1186, which now goes to the Assembly.  

The bill, the latest to deal with compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, would ban "demand" letters that some lawyers send to extract quick cash settlements from business owners. It would also require notice letters for any alleged construction-related violations, giving business owners 30 days to fix the problem. 

It is sponsored by top Senate Democrat Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento and former Republican leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga.   

"If a problem is a technical violation but doesn't actually impede access, businesses should have the chance to fix it without the threat of a lawsuit. We need to apply some common sense here," Steinberg said in a statement. "I have always been a champion of providing full access for those who are disabled but their civil rights are actually undermined when people abuse the law."

The Bee editorial board supported the measure, calling it a bipartisan and reasonable compromise between business interests and advocates for the disabled.

But Disability Rights California has opposed the bill, saying that basic civil rights shouldn't be delayed.  

May 29, 2012
Sacramento police department gets a good deal on a helicopter
It's a tale for our times: One local agency's financial pain is another's gain.

In this case, the Sacramento Police Department is getting a free helicopter, plus spare parts and components - a total value of $350,000.

The Bell OH-58 is being donated by the Yamhill County Sheriff's Department in Oregon, just north of Salem. It can no longer afford to have an air operations program.

Under military surplus rules, the copter has to be returned to the military or transferred to another law agency. The department couldn't find a taker, apparently due to concerns about potential cost, until it reached Sacramento on the military surplus list.

The City Council has on its agenda this evening a motion to officially authorize the helicopter's acceptance.

The department says there will be no additional cost because it will continue to have only one helicopter in the air at any given time. The donated helicopter is the same model as the department's two 40-year-old helicopters. Adding it to the rotation will extend how long they can be used, as will all the spare parts, saving the city money over the long run.

"Nothing but upside," says police Capt. Stephen Quinn.

This is a rare bit of good news for a department slammed hard by spending cuts in recent years and facing potential layoffs in the 2012-13 budget before the council. The city should land the chopper before someone changes their mind.
May 25, 2012
Kerth, Warren, Hansen and Newton lead way in cash race
If money rules -- and it sometimes doesn't -- in the free-for-alls for two open Sacramento City Council seats, then it's pretty clear which two candidates from each district will advance from the June 5 primary to the Nov. 6 runoff.

In District 2, where Sandy Sheedy is stepping down, developer Allen Warren leads the way. He has raised $113,000 and spent $110,000 so far and reported $37,000 in the bank as of mid-May.

Former councilman Rob Kerth is in second place, raising $83,000, spending $59,000 and having $48,000 in hand.

In District 4, where Rob Fong is stepping aside, attorney and nonprofit director Phyllis Newton reported raising $111,000 and spending $120,000. She had $35,000 in cash as of mid-May. She's also benefiting from the efforts of the Better Sacramento Political Action Committee, a group of business leaders and developers that reported spending more than $15,000 on her behalf.

In second place is Genentech manager Steve Hansen, who has raised $76,000 and spent more than $87,000. He reported having $47,000 for the stretch run.

The candidates had to file their campaign finance reports this week covering the period of March 18 to May 19. They will be the most complete reports before June 5.

While campaign fund-raising doesn't necessarily determine the winners, it does give a good indication of the level of support a candidate has and it shows how many signs they can put up and mailers they can send out. Given their resumes and other strengths, it would not be a surprise if they were the ones who emerge out of the crowded fields.   

May 23, 2012
City Council approves help for higher Sacramento utility bills
Following up our editorial on Tuesday, the City Council did endorse a "lifeline" program to soften the financial pinch Sacramentans will feel from higher water and sewer rates come July 1.

The assistance is designed to basically offset the increases. Poor homeowners will get $3 a month off their water bill and $2 off their wastewater bill. Those monthly charges will increase $3.44 and $2.36 for single-family customers.

The city's "lifeline" program is similar to ones that SMUD and PG&E have, but not as generous. It would be limited to single-family customers whose income is at or below the federal poverty line for Sacramento -- $22,500 a year for a family of four.

The program is projected to cost $914,000 the first year, with the money coming from the additional $1.1 million in city utility taxes from the rate hike that would otherwise flow into the general fund.

If more families sign up for the discount than projected, the council would have to decide whether to put in more money, or only offer the discount until the $914,000 is used up.

During the discussion Tuesday afternoon, a couple of council members also raised the issue of how poor renters might be helped since the discount only goes to owner-occupants.
May 21, 2012
U.S. Senate finally confirms another delayed federal judge
The political theater that is the state of federal judicial nominations had another act today.

Senate Republicans finally relented and allowed an up-or-down vote on Paul Watford, a Los Angeles attorney and former prosecutor nominated by President Barack Obama for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco.

Watford was confirmed on a 61-34 vote and becomes the second African American on the circuit court.

Democrats and their supporters praised the confirmation, but also blasted the GOP for the delay.

"It is great news that the Senate has confirmed Paul Watford, an exceptionally talented attorney, to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He has a breadth of experience as a former prosecutor and a top appellate litigator and will make an excellent addition to the federal bench. However, I am very disappointed that more of my Republican colleagues did not join us in backing this highly qualified nominee," Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said in a statement.

It took also took months for Senate confirmation votes for Jacqueline Nguyen of Los Angeles, the first Vietnamese-American woman to be a federal judge, for the 9th Circuit and Michael Fitzgerald of Los Angeles, the state's first openly gay federal judge, for the Central District of California.

That still leaves Andrew Hurwitz, an Arizona Supreme Court justice nominated for the 9th Circuit, among qualified nominees who won bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee but have been left twisting in the wind.

As The Bee editorial board commented in March, Republicans have used the president's judicial nominees as pawns in their political chess match even though these courts are overburdened and plaintiffs and victims are forced to wait for justice. 

Watford will fill one of three emergency vacancies on the 9th Circuit, the busiest in the country. 
May 18, 2012
New survey focuses on needs of California's female veterans
One of the many differences between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and America's previous wars is the prevalence of women, including many who came into combat, or very close to it.

Now, they're coming home. California has the most female veterans of any state.

In a new survey released today by the State Library's California Research Bureau, female veterans said they need employment, health and education benefits to successfully transition back to civilian life. But many aren't aware of the services that are available.

Also, significant number said they had mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and sexual trauma.

As part of a series of pieces on veterans' issues, I wrote a year ago about government agencies and nonprofits, especially the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs health care system, trying to gear up to handle the surge of female veterans.

The new survey also includes demographic data and found that women are serving longer in the military -- more than six years for those who joined after 9/11.

The survey adds to a relatively small pool of knowledge about the specific needs and challenges of female vets. It was conducted at the request of the Commission on the Status of Women and the California Department of Veterans Affairs. The State Library plans to issue a final, in-depth report later this year.
May 15, 2012
Rewers appears before council as candidate, parks panel chief
Wearing his hat as chairman of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, Jonathan Rewers will appear before the Sacramento City Council tonight and urge it not to cut the parks and rec budget.

For the second year in a row, the appointed commission is recommending that the council reject the city manager's proposed budget. This one would trim another $1 million and 19 positions.

In a letter to the City Council that he released in advance, Rewers noted that the parks department has partnered with nonprofits to keep community centers open, worked with Save Mart Supermarkets on a $1 million fund-raising drive to open pools this summer and is increasingly relying on volunteers to clean up parks.

"There are few if any tools left available to maintain a minimum level of core services to the community," he writes.

Given that situation, the commission voted 8-2 to encourage employee unions to make concessions and to implore the council to look at cuts in other departments. The commission also said that if results from a recent city poll are positive, the council ought to consider putting a tax measure for parks maintenance on the November ballot. 

For the next budget year, 2013-14, the city needs to look at increasing parks fees while still preserving public access, the panel said.

While Rewers will be speaking on behalf of the parks commission, he can't help but wear a second hat -- that of candidate for mayor. Indeed, he sent out the letter to the media under his campaign masthead. And he'll be directly addressing the man whose job he wants to take -- Mayor Kevin Johnson.

As I reported on Sunday, Rewers is running something of a stealth campaign that is based on criticizing Johnson for letting basic city services atrophy while being distracted by the arena and strong mayor.

Should be an interesting presentation tonight.
May 7, 2012
Nguyen confirmed to 9th Circuit Court, finally
The logjam on federal judges for California broke loose even more today with the confirmation of Jacqueline Nguyen to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nguyen, who started in this country as a refugee in Camp Pendleton, is the first Vietnamese-American woman to be a federal job in her current post and will become the first Asian-American woman on an federal appeals court.  

President Barack Obama nominated her last September. After all the delay, the vote today was 91-3   

It came on the same day that some California legal community leaders were in Washington to urge action and argue that delays were hurting justice in the state.

The Bee editorial board called in March for an up-or-down vote for Nguyen, and also for Michael Fitzgerald for the Central District of California. Both were unanimously recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but their nominations had been held up by GOP political gamesmanship. Fitzgerald was confirmed later in March.  

Both courts were in official judicial emergencies because there backlogs of cases were so bad.  

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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