January 2013


CEQA Reform Battle Lines Getting Drawn

By Robert Cruickshank

The California Legislature is currently in a special session dealing with state implications of federal health care reform, but once the regular 2013-14 session resumes, proposals to reform the California Environmental Quality Act will quickly become a top issue.

As I argued last week, there are three main groups when it comes to CEQA reform:

  1. Businesses and developers who chafe at the added time and cost created by CEQA. Some of these folks want to build environmentally friendly stuff and just want a law that works more easily, but others want to gut it with loopholes.
  2. Transit and sustainability advocates who are fed up with CEQA's unnecessary delays, costs, and its empowering of NIMBYs - but who also generally support the law's original goals and want to see it fixed rather than undermined. I consider myself part of this camp.
  3. Conservationists and slow-growth or anti-growth folks who think CEQA works just fine as it is now.

Not every individual or group neatly fits into one of those groups, but it's a workable classification.

What Ails American Higher Education?

By Steve Hochstadt

American higher education has some big problems. We still have a world-class network of colleges and universities. Students from less developed and from highly developed nations come to the US to get BAs and advanced degrees. Our teaching practices are copied, our researchers have made English a universal scientific language, and our graduates can compete across the globe.

The hundreds of small colleges scattered across the US represent a unique American contribution to undergraduate education, which is being copied in Europe. Not only has American higher education led the world in the integration of women and minorities into faculties and administration, but American scholars have developed the broadest critique of economic inequality, abuse of political authority, and social discrimination.

Fracking Regulations Only Exxon Could Love

By Judy Dugan

California's oil and gas industry regulators are about to write final state regulations on the controversial practice of fracking natural gas and oil wells in the state. Don't expect any backbone, however, from the state Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Regulation. So far, the draft proposals boil down to "trust the oil industry."

Affordable Care Act Implementation Fast-Tracked by Governor's Special Session in Legislature

By Anthony Wright

Monday started a special session of the California Legislature, called by Governor Jerry Brown last week, to pass laws to continue to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, and get California ready to take advantage of the benefits available starting in January 1, 2014.

How Economists Routinely Get It Wrong on High Speed Rail

By Robert Cruickshank

The main purpose of any transportation project is to help people get to where they want to go. Cost should be a subsidiary factor in the planning of any transportation project. Unfortunately, in the 30 years since right-wing ideology became politically ascendant, keeping costs down so that rich people didn't have to pay higher taxes started taking precedence over building effective transportation projects. This may have been tenable as long as oil prices remained low. But once prices began rising again, it was clear that building electric passenger trains was a top priority for modern societies.

For Real Prison Reform, Longer is Not Always Better

By Lizzie Buchen

Last week, while defiantly declaring the end of California's prison crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown insisted further reductions in prison overcrowding "cannot be achieved without the early release of inmates serving time for serious or violent felonies," a move that would "jeopardize public safety." In other words, now that Realignment is sending low-level offenders to local custody instead of state prison, those who remain in prison need to stay there to protect the public.

This unfounded assumption is used to justify a large and growing mass of the state's unnecessary incarceration. Most serious and violent offenders do need to serve some time behind bars to protect the public, but we keep them there for far too long. And the terms are only getting longer. If California wants a sustainable solution to its prison crisis, it needs to rethink its increasingly harsh sentencing policies across the gamut of offenses - not just the low-level targets of Realignment and Prop 36.

Studies Find California "Fracking" Wells May Kill Livestock, Family Pets

By Dan Aiello

As the deadline for public comment on California Governor Jerry Brown, Jr.'s proposed new regulations on fracking are set to close in just seven days, reports are surfacing of the potential impact on the state's agriculture, farm animals and family pets from this controversial method of oil extraction.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking," is an oil extraction process used on shale, depleted wells and tar-like "heavy" oil deposits. The production process involves the injection of steam, water, sand and rocket propellant into the ground to bubble to the surface the oil reserves. It has been known to make fertile California farmland barren and contaminate groundwater tables.

Will Congress Deny 280,000 Low Income Children a Free School Lunch?

By Dana Woldow

Last year, when Congress failed to pass a new farm bill, an often-repeated claim was that the version of the bill proposed by the House Agricultural Committee would throw 280,000 children off the free school lunch rolls. Less clear was who exactly these kids would be, why some members of Congress thought it was a good idea to literally take food out of the mouths of low income children, and whether those families could just work around such legislation and still get free school lunch.

Great Migrations: Our Civil Rights Laws and Their Legacy

By Rev. Jim Conn

In an action that already feels like ancient history, Congress voted earlier this month to avoid the "fiscal cliff." While much remains to be settled, the revenue side of the issue got resolved because 84 House Republicans joined 172 Democrats to support the solution negotiated between the President and the Senate. In some ways, such bipartisanship was a moment of déjà vu from a time, nearly 50 years ago, when two pivotal civil rights bills were being considered. Then, Lyndon Johnson was President and both houses of Congress were in the hands of Democrats. Martin Luther King was in the streets. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was registering voters. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed by Republicans joining Democrats to move the President's legislation into law.

Obama's Organizing for Action: A Boost for Progressives

By Randy Shaw

President Obama's second inaugural address struck a populist tone, but the real news for progressives came last Friday when it was announced that Obama's campaign organization would continue under a new name, Organizing for Action. Headed by Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, the new organization will initially focus on three key progressive issues: gun control, immigration reform, and climate change. The decision to use the Obama campaign base to mobilize around issues reverses the mistake made after the 2008 victory, when the huge Obama for America grassroots base was cut adrift from mobilizing behind the President's first term agenda.

Covered California Tackles Hot Topics in Sunny Los Angeles

By Linda Leu

As the rest of the state climbs out of a cold snap, the Covered California board of directors met in a packed room (and overflow rooms) in warm and sunny Los Angeles, at the headquarters of First Five LA.

California DOGGR Rule Making Process Deadline Approaches

By Dan Aiello

Environmentalists in California worry the public is not fully aware of the potential harm Governor Edmund G. 'Jerry' Brown, Jr.'s proposed hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking' oil extraction regulations could do to the state's regional water tables and fertile California farmland in the Central Valley counties of Kings, Kern, Maricopa as well as those in which the Monterey Shale Deposits are located some 11,000 feet below the surface.

Oh What Fun It is to Kill Our Fellow Creatures

By Dick Meister

"When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man, we call him a vandal. When he destroys one of the works of God, we call him a sportsman." - Joseph Wood Krutch

In the matter of gun control, our main concern is rightly for the human victims of mass shootings. But what of the other defenseless animals that die at the hands of humans?

Of course it's tragic that so many young people and others have been slain by wielders of military-style assault weapons. And it's certain that such weapons should be limited to military uses and recreational target shooting.

But what of the hunting rifles that are cited as legitimate simply because they are not rapid-fire weapons, the guns that are used by hunters to kill so many of our fellow beings in the name of sport?

CEQA Reform and Transit Planning

By Robert Cruickshank

Last Saturday the Planning and Conservation League held a daylong symposium on the California Environmental Quality Act. Coming amidst a concerted effort to reform the 43-year old law, the PCL wanted to use the day as an opportunity to rally progressives and environmentalists to defend the status quo and oppose any changes to CEQA. However, the day's discussions revealed a series of divisions among the ostensible allies regarding CEQA's future. While the PCL wants to frame the debate as one of heroic environmental and community advocates resisting evil oil companies and sprawlmongers who want to destroy environmental protections, the reality is far more complex.

Whom Do You Trust?

By Steve Hochstadt

Whom do you trust? Many Americans might say, "Nobody." What they mean is that they don't trust any "official" sources of information. They listen attentively, however, to the crackpots of alarm. The ironic result, in an age of overwhelming access to information, is that many Americans are not only ignorant, but they believe in fairy tales.

Last week I wrote about how the belief of some Americans that their biggest enemy is their own government has increased gun sales. Many other writers have picked up this theme recently, as more and more right-wingers compare the US government to Nazis and Communists, claiming they need assault weapons for protection from tyranny at home.

New "Marine Reserve" Network Doesn't Protect the Ocean

By Dan Bacher

A new network of controversial "marine protected areas" went into effect on the North Coast from Point Arena to the Oregon border on December 19, completing the statewide network from the Oregon to the Mexican border created under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

The completion of the network was accompanied by a flurry of press releases from the Department of Fish and Game (now Department of Fish and Wildlife), Natural Resources Agency and corporate environmental NGOs and "puff pieces" by the mainstream media regurgitating the agency news releases.

Left and Right: Not Opposite Equals

By Tina Dupuy

Are the left and the right in this country pretty much the same except for ideology? Are liberals and conservatives basically two sides of the same coin? One side you have one opinion, the other side an opposing view. Are the parties in America symmetrical?

Only the right wing will say yes.

It's a go-to (think lazy) response to any criticism of the right: The left does it too. Even more so, probably.

Two Water Supply Visions for Southern California

By Terry O'Day

Nothing is more central to the future of Southern California communities than water. Increasing the sustainability of our cities will require an effective transportation system, improved urban planning, clean air, green energy sources and more. But you can go a day without driving, or even without electricity. But try going a day without water.

This is a good time to reflect on how our communities will provide water for our future. There's a great deal of focus on water policies in California at the moment. And today, in Southern California, there are two competing visions for the future. Deciding between those visions is important to our future economic health, to the state's environment, and to our collective pocketbooks.

Brown Calls California's Prison Crisis Over: "Ridiculous," Say Reform Advocates

By Dan Aiello

Citing California Governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr.'s veto last session of a bill that would have allowed reporters access to prisoners protesting conditions within the state's 33 prisons, reform advocates called on judges, legislators and news media to ignore Brown's claim that the state's prison crisis "is over."

The Brown administration began the past week in court with a motion before the 9th Circuit Federal to vacate the population cap imposed on the state's overcrowded prisons, citing the state's realignment plan as evidence the cap is both dangerous and no longer needed.

The California Budget: Back in Black

By Robert Cruickshank

Last week's big news was the announcement from Governor Jerry Brown that the state budget is out of perennial deficit and looking at several years of surpluses. We'll talk more about what those surpluses mean and how they ought to be used, but it's worth taking a moment to remember how we got here.

Since 2001 or so, California's budget seems to have been in perpetual deficit, with less money coming in than was needed to fund existing public services. While the deficit pressure eased in 2005-06, that didn't last, and by the summer of 2007 the deficits had returned as the housing bubble popped and the country slid into the worst recession in 60 years.