Politics


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Diane Ravitch's Warnings Ignored: Our Next National Shame?

By Mark Naison

Is Diane Ravitch the George Ball of our generation and education reform our Vietnam?

In the spring and summer of 1965, as US policy makers debated whether to send large numbers of US ground troops to Vietnam to insure that the South Vietnamese government not collapse, a longtime Washington insider named George Ball issued a fierce warning that the policy being recommended would be disastrous. Declaring that the conflict in Vietnam was a “civil war among Asians” not a front of a global struggle against Communism, Ball warned that sending US ground troops would lead to national humiliation no matter how large the force sent or the technological advantage it possessed, because it would cement the character of the war, from the Vietnamese side, as a struggle against a foreign invader.

Ball’s advice needless to say, was disregarded, and the result was exactly as he predicted - a humiliating defeat for the US which extracted a terrifying toll in deaths and ecological damage on the Vietnamese people.

CNA and NUHW Join Forces Against SEIU and Kaiser

By Steve Early

Two of the biggest strikes in the last sixteen months were conducted by members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Their target each time was Kaiser Permanente, the giant California health care chain that made $6 billion in profits since 2009 but still wants union job cuts and contract givebacks. Last August, CNA and NUHW formed an "Alliance of Kaiser Unions" dedicated to "raising standards for Kaiser caregivers and protecting Kaiser patients." The Alliance blasted the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the SEIU-dominated Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU) for choosing "to partner with Kaiser to increase the corporation's profitability at the expense of their own members and patients." On January 3, CNA and NUHW took their recent collaboration a step further, announcing NUHW's formal affiliation. CNA and NUHW will now jointly seek decertification of SEIU's 43,000 service and technical employees at Kaiser.

CEQA Reform Takes Shape for 2013

By Robert Cruickshank

One of the top issues facing the state legislature in 2013 will be reforming the California Environmental Quality Act. It's an idea whose time has come. CEQA is popular with environmentalists, but overall it has failed to achieve its goals of producing better development and protecting the state's environment. Since CEQA's passage in 1970, sprawl has exploded, carbon emissions have soared, species have been lost, and other environmental impacts have not been averted. Rather than promote environmentally friendly planning, CEQA's primary use is for NIMBYs who wish to prevent sustainable change. At times it does serve to stop projects that are truly bad for the environment, but those are rare cases, and too many good projects are delayed or made more expensive by the flawed process. California can do better.