The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

December 31, 2008
Governor to eliminate waste board his aides recently defended
Earlier this month, The Bee's editorial board repeated its call for the state to eliminate the Integrated Waste Management Board, calling it a "patronage plum" for termed out legislators, such as former State Sen. Carole Migden.

The editorial triggered a sharp response from the Schwarzenegger administration. The governor's Cal-EPA secretary, Linda Adams, wrote on Dec. 7 that The Bee had "done a disservice to the people of California" by calling for the board's elimination. She also had this to say:

I applaud the board's leadership, legislative and gubernatorial appointees alike, who have worked together and brought bipartisan solutions to our environmental challenges. The work of the board and its staff is an admirable reflection of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's commitment to protect our environment and the people of California.

Apparently the governor's commitment isn't all that strong, at least to the Integrated Waste Management Board. In his budget today, he proposed eliminating the board.

No word yet on whether Linda Adams will now send the governor a letter saying he has "done a disservice to the people of California."

December 30, 2008
Contest: Guess the state deficit on New Year's and win a prize
The budget clock outside the governor's office continues to spin. As I write this, the deficit is $7,424,324,673, and by the end of June, it is expected to hit $14.8 billion.

So can you guess -- or calculate -- where it will be at midnight on New Year's Eve?

Here's a hint: Every minute represents $28,234. So let's check your math skills. Whoever emails me or leaves a comment below with the most correct answer by noon Wednesday gets a signed copy of Daniel Weintraub's book about the governor, "Party of One." Go to it.

December 30, 2008
More misgivings on the No-on-Prop. 8 campaign
A senior volunteer for the No on Proposition 8 campaign has posted some interesting insights on the Daily Kos on why the campaign lost momentum in the final weeks, failing to stop a ban on same-sex marriages despite pre-election polls indicating it would do so.

The volunteer suggests the campaign was too focused on focus groups, was clueless about using the Internet, was too secretive in sharing information and was reluctant to frame any kind of message around the thousands of same-sex couples in California who were already married.

Some of these criticisms we've heard before, but there is a depth of detail in this post mortem that makes it a worthy read. Find it here.
December 29, 2008
Nobel economist again dings Schwarzenegger on state's budget
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who recently won the Nobel Prize for Economics, has a column today about how the states are handling their budget troubles. He had this to say about California:

Are governors responsible for their own predicament? To some extent. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in particular, deserves some jeers. He became governor in the first place because voters were outraged over his predecessor's budget problems, but he did nothing to secure the state's fiscal future -- and he now faces a projected budget deficit bigger than the one that did in Gray Davis.
Krugman's column, although true enough, is lacking in crucial context.  Because California's Legislature is controlled by Democrats, it was impossible for Schwarzenegger to cut spending upon taking office. And with the two-thirds vote requirement, it's been tough for him to get Republican support to raise taxes and cover the current $11.2 billion shortfall.

His column also fails to acknowledge that states, unlike the federal government, can't engage in deficit spending. They have to balance their budgets each year, at least on paper.

Krugman, I suspect, enjoys tangling with Schwarzenegger. He dinged him in this blog entry in November, was ambivalent about his health care reform proposal in 2007 and, of course, called him "Conan the Deceiver" in this piece from 2003.
December 24, 2008
In Nevada's budget crisis, everything is on the table
As California's budget impasse drags on and on, with Republicans refusing to raise taxes and the governor haggling with Democrats over non-budget policy issues, it's an appropriate time to check in with our neighboring state -- Nevada.

There, with Democrats controlling both houses and Republican Jim Gibbons in the governor's office, Nevada leaders closed a $1.2 billion shortfall in the state's two-year budget by cutting programs, exhausting the state's rainy day fund, shelving building construction, and borrowing money. 

Having made those tough choices, Republican leaders are now acknowledging that higher taxes are inevitable as the governor and lawmakers prepare a new two-year budget for the fiscal year that begins midway in 2009. 

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno had this to say to the Reno Journal Gazette:

"It will be very difficult for the governor to craft a budget that doesn't include any revenue enhancements. Everything has to be on the table."

If low-tax Nevada raises taxes, it will hardly be alone. Several other states are planning to raise fees and taxes to deal with a historic downturn in revenues. One of them is Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, who wants the Legislature to raise vehicle-registration fees, raise the 25-cents-per-gallon gas tax and broaden the sales tax to include rental cars, according to a story Tuesday in the Washington Times.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that California pattern itself after Idaho or Nevada, a state with legal brothels. But at least leaders of those states aren't allowing ideology to get in the way of a budget solution.

December 23, 2008
It could be worse: You could work for Watsonville
Government employees of all stripes are understandably nervous this holiday season as the state, cities and counties consider proposals to cut payroll costs.

And then there's Watsonville.

This city south of Santa Cruz shut down most city services on Monday and won't reopen them until Jan. 5 to deal with a $561,000 budget shortfall for the current year. The temporary layoffs mean no library, no recreation programs, no basic street maintenance and no counter service at the police and fire departments in this city of 51,000 people.

You can read about it here on Watsonville's Web site.
December 23, 2008
Who's the "Secret Santa" for Sacramento's homeless?
It's inspiring to know that someone would want to bequeath $500,000 for a successful program to help the homeless. But it's doubly impressive that such a donor would not crave the recognition that such a gift deserves.

Cottage Housing, a Sacramento non-profit that helps the homeless transition from the streets to self sufficiency, announced today that it it has received half a million dollars from "the estate of a long-time Sacramento community college teacher."

Cottage Housing is not naming the Secret Santa, at the request of the donor's widow. The non-profit is now challenging area residents to expand the gift to help house the growing numbers of local homeless.

Although I can understand the need to honor a donor's request for anonymity, it's too bad we don't know more about this humble Santa, whose untold life story might inspire others to be similarly generous.

Who was this teacher? What drove his concern about the homeless? And are there other Santas out there who will help match this gift?

The Bee's newsroom is working on a story, so we'll have more to share on these questions later.
December 23, 2008
Why California can't fix its budget
Today's page of letters illustrates why California teeters towards insolvency.

Two of the letter writers accuse the governor of picking on state employees with his plan for furloughs, as if every other part of state government -- schools, welfare, etc. -- was going untouched. 

Then you have Jon Coupal, of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers League, defending Proposition 13, the ballot measure that has resulted in wide variation in how residential and commercial properties are taxed. Coupal is now threatening to prepare another ballot measure to overturn the taxes and fees that are part of the budget deal proposed by Democrats.

As long as entrenched interests groups refuse to budge, and as long as lawmakers feel so intimidated by these groups that they won't cross them, California will remain mired in a fiscal nightmare.
December 22, 2008
Schwarzenegger and the Legislature's failure to act

Somebody needs to change the sign outside the governor's office to read:

"Schwarzenegger and the Legislature's failure to act."

Shared sacrifice? Shared responsibility.

December 17, 2008
Real estate lawyers dominate Kevin Johnson's list of advisers
In his scramble to get up to speed on issues, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has assembled a transition team of advisors that "literally is hundreds of people," according to spokesman Steve Maviglio.

For the last week, The Swarm has been seeking a list of these advisers. Maviglio claims that a full list hasn't been assembled, but after a little prodding, he released the people Johnson has tapped to lead the transition teams.

So, for the first time, here is the list of the mayor's top advisers, with links to their biographies.
December 15, 2008
City debates whether K.J. "hid the ball" on city charter revision
Not surprisingly, Kevin Johnson's plan to change the Sacramento city charter is generating both heat and smoke.

Several city council members, bloggers and on-line commentators are calling the mayor's bid a "power play," which it is. But are some are going farther by claiming that Johnson deliberately misled voters about his intentions prior to taking office.

December 14, 2008
Are churches enjoying a boom with the downturn?
With sweeping assurance, the New York Times reports today that bad times are drawing bigger crowds to churches, particularly evangelical churches. The story includes some anecdotes to support this conclusion, and reports that ministers are dropping their traditional sermons to offer practical advice to people who have lost jobs and homes.

I'm sure there's some truth to this, based on past recessions and reports from Britain and elsewhere. But I'm wondering if the real picture is more mixed for churches.

December 11, 2008
Schwarzenegger and his solar-powered Jacuzzis
Today's lead editorial takes a deserved shot at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's claims that Californians can lead the fight against global warming while still enjoying their SUVs, Jacuzzis and big-screen TVs. We've been challenging the governor on his "green with no sacrifices" claims for two years, to little effect. In a recent speech, he had this to say:

It's all about technology, because we all know that the guilt trip that we have put on people has not worked, to tell them that they should not use the Jacuzzi, or the big, large plasma TV, or to drive with a big SUV, a Hummer or something like that. (Laughter) Or to fly with a plane. All of those things did not work because the fact of the matter is the people should use a big television set but it should be powered by solar. They should go and sit in the Jacuzzi, in the biggest Jacuzzi in the world but it should be powered by solar. They should fly their airplane whenever they want but it should have maybe a different kind of designed engine so we don't use fossil fuel. Or they should go and stay in their SUVs and in their Hummers but maybe have that Hummer be powered by electric motors or something like that. So it's technology that really needs to be changing, not that we're driving a car or taking a Jacuzzi or any of those things. God forbid we would stop the Jacuzzi.
Yes, he actually said this. You can read a full version of the speech here.

As our editorial noted, the Air Resources Board has taken a similarly rosy view on the economic impacts of its plan to implement the state's global warming law. It's a law, we feel, that needs to be aggressively implemented, but with some candor about the economic impacts.
December 10, 2008
Maviglio re-emerges as Mayor Kevin Johnson's official spokesman
The Swarm was surprised to see Steve Maviglio's name as the contact person on a city press release yesterday regarding the outside accounting firm that Mayor Kevin Johnson wants the city council to hire.

Why? Because Maviglio doesn't work for the city.

Maviglio had served as Johnson's spokesman during the campaign, doing double duty as Assembly Speaker Karen Bass' spokesman. But following the election, Maviglio slipped off to Italy for some R&R, and Johnson announced a staff that included Kunal Merchant as chief of staff but no mention of Maviglio.

I reached the omnipresent Maviglio this morning. He told me is working without pay. The city isn't paying him. Nor is anyone else, he said. He's also ended his employment with Speaker Bass after the election.

It's hard what to make of this. Signs of transitional stress in City Hall? Signs of Maviglio answering the mayor's call for more philanthropic efforts? What do you think?.

December 10, 2008
Linkbox: Clarity on the state's budget calamity
Today's editorial examines the upshot of Monday's joint session of the Senate and Assembly on California's deteriorating finances.

As promised, here are some links to presentations and statements by the state's top financial officials, who testified at the hearing.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor

Treasurer Bill Lockyer

Controller John Chiang

State Finance Director Mike Genest

Response from Senate Republicans

December 9, 2008
Blagojevich arrest: Firing editorial writers "a thing of value"
Here's some vindication (kinda) for the hard work of being an editorial writer. Federal authorities listed the attempted firing of editorial writers as "a thing of value" in the criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

As you may have read, Blagojevich and his chief of staff were arrested today on various charges, including soliciting bribes in exchange for the selection of Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

The criminal complaint also alleges that Blagojevich tried to get certain Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired in exchange for helping the Tribune Company receive state aid in the sale of a baseball stadium owned by the company. It doesn't name the editorial writers, but says they wrote "widely circulated editorials" critical of the governor. Blagojevich in turn "corruptly solicited and demanded a thing of value, namely, the firing of certain Chicago Tribune editorial members."

You can read the full complaint here.
December 8, 2008
Budget standoff: The cost of doing nothing
State Finance Director Mike Genest prepared an interesting power point for today's joint legislative session: What will happen if lawmakers doing nothing about the current revenue shortfall?

Without cuts or new taxes in the current fiscal year, the state will have just $300 million in cash by February and will be $2.4 billion in the red by March, Genest reported. With budget solutions, we'll get down to a nervously low $1.8 billion in March but then things will turn around.

You can watch a Web cast of the joint hearing now, right here, on the California Channel. 

December 5, 2008
Will Carole Midgen help clean up the tire dumps?
Now that it's official, the public is justifiably livid about the governor appointing former senator Carole Migden to a high-paying job on the state Integrated Waste Management Board. Just read the comments on this story on Capitol Alert.

But amid all the fuss about the governor and Darrell Steinberg securing this appointment, I'm wondering if Midgen will actually prove to be an environmental advocate, particularly when it comes to cleaning up tire dumps and junk heaps in the Central Valley.

Back in 2002, Midgen tried to fend off efforts to regulate smog in the Bay Area that was wafting into the Central Valley. Speaking on a radio show, she blamed the valley's air pollution on "tires burning down there and a lot of problems with junk heaps."

Now she's in a prime position to do something about those tire dumps and junk heaps. Will she seize the opportunity?
December 3, 2008
Has Mary Nichols talked to Obama about EPA? Her lips are sealed
AOC_MNIchols_044w.JPGLoose lips sink ships. Perhaps that's why Mary Nichols is being coy about reports that President-elect Barack Obama is vetting her to be the next secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, met with the Sacramento Bee's editorial board today to discuss the state's climate change policies and upcoming rules on truck pollution.

At the end of our meeting, I asked Nichols if she had talked with President-elect Barack Obama about the U.S. EPA job.

Nichols' response: "I'm not talking about that. I've been asked not to talk about it."

Asked not to talk about it? Hmm. Does that sounds like a "yes" to you?

Sacramento Bee Photo/ Autumn Cruz  Dec. 3, 2008

December 2, 2008
Hapless Cavala hits Bee for reporting on legislative staff pay hikes
Bill Cavala, former deputy director of the Assembly Speaker's Office of Member Services,  is shocked -- shocked -- that the Bee would run a story the other day highlighting pay hikes for legislative staff in the midst of a state fiscal crisis.

Cavala penned an item in the California Progress Report defending these "hapless" staff, suggesting they are being targeted by "underpaid reporters who face an insecure future in a business slowly going out of business."

Yes, that is what we do here at The Bee. Angered at our low pay and modest benefits, we spend our waning hours figuring out how we can lash out at "hapless" state employees who make more money than us.

Give me a break. I'll acknowledge there are many underpaid legislative staffers who are dedicated workers and shouldn't be held responsible for the disaster known as the Legislature. But there are also veteran staff who are far from hapless. Because of term limits, these "staffers" are become increasingly powerful. They write the bills and design the budget gimmicks that lawmakers enact every year, and then some get plumb jobs as lobbyists.

Hapless? Hardly.

December 2, 2008
Steinberg taps Pavley to head Senate Natural Resources Committee
In a previous item, I noted how Northern California water interests were butting heads with Southern California interests over who should head the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which handles all water legislation, including any bills related to a peripheral canal.

Guess who emerged victorious? Senate leader Darrell Steinberg today tapped Southern California Sen. Fran Pavley to chair this key committee. That was a setback for Sen Lois Wolk of Davis, who has water expertise and sought the seat but ended up getting appointed to the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
December 1, 2008
Remote islands filled with California foxes? My kind of story
SBZpair-723256.jpgAs a reporter who's covered the environment for more than 20 years, I am always on the lookout for feel-good stories. They are hard to find.

Here's one. On the Channel Islands of California, biologists for the National Parks Service and other agencies have saved an endangered species, the island fox, in a mere decade. The foxes' numbers dwindled to roughly 100 ten years ago. Now there are 650 foxes and the numbers are steadily increasing.

How did they do it? First, the parks service eradicated feral hogs and other invasive creatures on these stunningly scenic islands. They also rounded up foxes and established a captive breeding program for them.

The return of the bald eagle has also helped. That displaced golden eagles, who moved to the isles and aggressively fed on the island fox after bald eagles died off due to DDT and other threats.

NBC News had a nice story on the foxes tonight, which may have been based on a piece The Ventura County Reporter ran a few weeks ago. But if you really want to chase after foxes, go to this site, run by Friends of the Island Fox.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Island Fox. 

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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