Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday Must Reads: EBMUD to Consider 25 Percent Drought Surcharge; CSU Hires More Administrators than Professors

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 9:55 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. The East Bay MUD Board of Directors may enact a 25 percent drought surcharge on water use, in addition to an 8 percent rate increase to pay for waterpipe upgrades, the CoCo Times$ reports. East Bay MUD says it needs the surcharge to offset the costs associated with buying water from the Sacramento River; the agency has been forced to purchase water because its supplies are dwindling due to the drought. The surcharge would be higher for heavy water users.

2. During the past decade, the California State University system increased its administrative staff by 19 percent — at a time when the number of tenure track faculty dropped by 3 percent, the Chron reports, citing a new report by the union representing professors. During the same time, CSU enrollment jumped by 24 percent as the system increasingly relied on part-time instructors to teach classes.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alameda County To Reduce Jail Funding, Prioritize Social Services

by Sam Levin
Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 5:25 PM

click image Supervisor Keith Carson.
  • Supervisor Keith Carson.
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted today to reduce funding for jail cells and increase investments in social services and community-based organizations. The proposal from Supervisor Keith Carson is to dedicate 50 percent of the county's so-called Public Safety Realignment budget toward community-based groups that work with people reentering society after incarceration. It will go into effect in the 2015-16 fiscal year budget, which begins in July. That means the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, which runs Santa Rita Jail, will no longer get a majority of the public safety dollars, as it has for years. 

The vote this afternoon is a big victory for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland-based nonprofit that has argued for months that the county should stop spending so much of its public safety funding on its jails and instead prioritize critical services that help prevent low-level offenders from returning to jail or prison. The group's "Jobs Not Jails" campaign called for a minimum 50 percent social services allocation in the county's realignment budget.

The realignment funding became available after the 2011 passage of Assembly Bill 109, a criminal justice reform initiative of Governor Jerry Brown that made counties in charge of low-level, non-violent offenders — instead of the overcrowded and largely ineffective state prison system. 

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County Joins City in Coliseum Development Talks

by Steven Tavares
Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 4:46 PM

If last Friday’s approval by the Oakland City Council of a new exclusive negotiating agreement with Alameda County and the Coliseum City developer felt like politicians spiking the ball, then today's Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting brought the fiscal uncertainty of the sprawling project back to reality. No public subsidy, said county supervisors, who, nonetheless, joined the new three-party agreement.

Coliseum City.
  • Coliseum City.
"I don't support use of any public money on this enterprise," said Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. Although the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the six-month extension of the current ENA, due to lapse on April 21, four of the five supervisors voiced strong opposition to the use of taxpayers’ money for funding a significant portion of the proposed sports, retail, and housing development.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley made it clear during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting that any funding proposal by Floyd Kephart and his development group must not rely on “wholesale” use of public funds. Miley warned there would be “pushback” if Kephart’s New City Development does not finance most of the project.

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Oakland Hacktivists Are Pulling Back the Curtains on Local Campaign Finance

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 10:37 AM

The OpenCalifornia team in Oakland City Hall. - COURTESY OF HOWARD DYCKOFF.
  • Courtesy of Howard Dyckoff.
  • The OpenCalifornia team in Oakland City Hall.
It's 2015. We live in the era of Big Data, and there's an app to fulfill seemingly every want and need. We have mobile access to software that shifts through vast troves of information in real time to provide all kinds of goods and services. Hail a cab? There's an app for that. Track satellites and comets? There's an app for that.

But if you're trying to look at the money behind California's local politics, it still feels like the pre-Internet era.

Lots of local jurisdictions don't provide online access to campaign finance statements. Many still rely on paper filings buried away in clerk's offices, forcing journalists and activists to physically request forms and laboriously read through them to figure out who's giving money, who's taking it, and how the all-mighty dollar influences democracy at the local level.

A team of civic-minded hacktivists and government ethics watchdogs, many of them hailing from Oakland, wants to change this. "OpenCalifornia is a coalition of Code for America brigades (local volunteer civic hacktivists) shining light on the sources of money funding local elections," explains the group's project page on the Knight Foundation website.

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Tuesday Must Reads: High Court to Hear Challenge to Air Pollution Rules; Bird-Killing Wind Turbines in Altamont Up for Extension

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 9:58 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. The US Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in a case that could roll back new national air pollution standards, the LA Times$ reports. Twenty Republican-led states are suing to block regulations adopted by the Obama administration that would require coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other dangerous toxins by about 90 percent. The states say the new rules will put coal plants out of business and raise energy prices.

2. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is scheduled today to decide whether to award a waiver to bird-killing wind turbines in the Altamont Pass, the Chron reports. A company, Altamont Winds, wants to keep using 838 turbines that have been shredding thousands of birds each year and contends that replacing them right away is too costly. However, other wind companies in the Altamont have already replaced their older turbines with new ones that are more bird-friendly.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Alameda County Jail Population Drops, Supervisors Consider Reducing Sheriff's Budget

by Sam Levin
Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 2:20 PM

Recent "Jobs Not Jail" rally. - ELLA BAKER CENTER
  • Ella Baker Center
  • Recent "Jobs Not Jail" rally.
For months, East Bay advocates have argued that Alameda County should stop heavily investing its public safety funding in jails — and instead prioritize social services and community-based programs for people reentering society after incarceration. After significant debate, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will vote this week on a new public safety budget proposal — and activists say that newly released jail population statistics further demonstrate the need to shift the funding toward critical services and away from incarceration. The data shows notable declines in the number of people in county jail. 

The controversy centers on the county's Public Safety Realignment budget, which is funding tied to Assembly Bill 109, a 2011 criminal justice reform initiative of Governor Jerry Brown. AB 109 made low-level, non-violent offenders the responsibility of counties — instead of the state prison system — and gave counties new funding designed to support reentry services and alternatives to jail. Over the years, county officials have allocated a majority of its available AB 109 funding to the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, which runs Santa Rita Jail. (For a summary of the spending controversy, check out our recent print story, "County to Spend More Money on Jails, Not Services").

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East Bay Residents Push for Tougher Refinery Regulations

by Jean Tepperman
Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 10:19 AM

Residents of Bay Area refinery towns greeted a new plan to regulate pollution from oil refineries with suspicion and anger last week. Staff of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District presented their proposed new plan, more than two years in the making, to community meetings in Benicia, Richmond, and Martinez.

Phillips 66 Rodeo refinery.
  • Phillips 66 Rodeo refinery.
“The anger was palatable,” wrote Benicia activist Katherine Black in an email after the first community meeting, in Benicia. “[The public] didn’t understand why there are loopholes in the proposed regulations, why there is currently inadequate air monitoring, why BAAQMD is not being more forceful in dictating rules to refineries, why they bend to industry pressures, and much more.”

Richmond and Martinez residents were no more pleased with the Air District’s proposed plan. “There’s been a community uprising across the refinery belt,” said Greg Karras, senior scientist at Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), who attended all three meetings.

The local Refinery Action Collaborative, including the United Steelworkers Union along with environmental, community, and academic organizations, has been pushing for tough regulations that would require refineries to reduce emissions of toxic chemicals 20 percent by 2020. Last fall, the Air District board directed staffers to develop rules that would prevent refineries from increasing emissions of chemicals that harm people’s health and the climate. The proposed rules would require refineries to conduct detailed reporting on crude oil they process and emissions they release, and to limit the increase of these emissions.

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Monday Must Reads: Lawmakers Call for Closing 2,500 Oil Wastewater Wells; Bill Seeks to Fund Mystery Goo Cleanups

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 9:49 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

Bob Wieckowski.
  • Bob Wieckowski.
1. A group of state lawmakers called on the Jerry Brown administration to shut down 2,500 oil wastewater wells in which oil companies have been injecting toxins into underground aquifers, the LA Times$ reports. The lawmakers, including state Senator Bob Wieckowski of the East Bay, called the wastewater injections wells “reckless.” The state has only closed down 23 of them so far.

2. State Senator Loni Hancock of Berkeley plans to introduce legislation today that would free up state funds to pay for the clean up of toxic spills in which the type of the spilled substance is unknown, the Chron$ reports. The bill, co-sponsored by state Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, stems from the mystery goo spill that killed hundreds of birds in the bay earlier this year. Existing state law only allows the use of state cleanup funds when the spilled substance is oil or fuel.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Must Reads: Brown’s ‘Drought Relief’ Plan Comes Under Fire; State May Not Be Able to Stop Ballot Measure that Calls for Killing Gays

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 10:01 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Governor Jerry Brown’s $1 billion so-called “drought-relief” plan is coming under fire because it includes very little money for actual drought relief, the Mercury News$ reports. Instead, the governor’s proposal calls for spending $660 million on flood control projects that have nothing to do with the current drought and will do nothing to help alleviate it.

2. Because of issues involving free speech and state law, California Attorney General Kamala Harris may have no choice but to greenlight an extraordinarily repugnant and bigoted ballot measure that calls for the killing of gays and lesbians by “bullets to the head,” or “any other convenient method,” the SacBee$ reports. California’s extremely lax laws on state propositions allow anyone to circulate ballot measure proposals — even if one calls for murdering people.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gibson McElhaney Paid Substantial Fine for Failing to File Campaign Finance Disclosure Statement

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 1:15 PM

Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney. - BERT JOHNSON/FILE PHOTO
  • Bert Johnson/File Photo
  • Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney has paid a large fine to the city of Oakland for her failure to file campaign finance statements on time. According to a letter from Tamika Thomas of the Oakland City Clerk’s Elections and Compliance Unit sent to Gibson McElhaney on January 21, the fine was $1,730.

(See the end of this post for a copy of Thomas’ letter to Gibson McElhaney.)

After the Express reported on Gibson McElhaney’s un-filed campaign finance statements, Oakland resident Barbara Tengeri filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's primary political watchdog agency. After investigating the matter, the FPPC issued a stern warning letter on March 13 to Gibson McElhaney and her campaign treasurer Brigitte Cook. The FPPC found that Gibson McElhaney violated the law by failing to file her semi-annual campaign statement due July 31, 2014 in a timely manner, but the commission decided not to levy a fine because the councilmember had already paid one to the city. “[S]ince that statement has now been filed and since you paid the City of Oakland a substantial penalty for that late filed statement, we are closing our file on this matter,” concluded the FPPC warning letter signed by Galena West, acting chief of the FPPC’s Enforcement Division.

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