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The New Budget Mess

California is facing a $21 billion deficit next year, while Oakland struggles with a $19 million problem this year. Plus, the BART cop trial is moved to downtown LA.


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Just a few months after solving the last major budget crisis, California lawmakers are now facing a massive new one. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, next year's expected deficit has now ballooned to $20.7 billion because of rapidly declining revenues due to the recession. Moreover, solving the new financial problem will be anything but easy.

That's because the same financial gimmicks that legislative leaders employed to close this year's $24 billion budget gap are no longer available. In addition, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already ruled out raising taxes to help solve the new crisis. In other words, expect the new budget crisis to consume Sacramento for much of the year.

Locally, the Oakland City Council may attempt to solve the city's new $19 million budget mess by selling some city-owned properties. City staff suggested such a sale might include the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, along Lake Merritt, and the George P. Scotlan Convention Center, in downtown Oakland. Staffers estimate that the centers could generate $11.6 million in one-time revenues, although they acknowledge that selling the properties in the current real estate market could be difficult.

City staff also recommends against further budget cuts because city departments were decimated earlier this year when the council slashed more than $90 million in an attempt to balance this year's books. The council also is mulling over proposals to raise the city's utility tax rate and the local sales tax rate, along with a parcel tax measure to help fund police and fire services. All three of the tax measures would require voter approval.

BART Cop Trial Goes to LA

In a victory for prosecutors and the family of Oscar Grant, a judge sent the murder trial of ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle to downtown Los Angeles. According to the Oakland Tribune, Mehserle's defense team had wanted the case moved to conservative San Diego County, where the jury pool likely would have been more sympathetic to police officers.

But Judge Morris Jacobson appeared to select Los Angeles, which is demographically closer to Alameda County, because it would be cheaper. Although San Diego County officials said they could be ready for a trial sooner, they need extra funds from Alameda County to pay for extra security. They also said the Alameda County judge must come to San Diego to try the case. Los Angeles officials made no such demands, although they said they won't be ready for trial until later next year.

Jacobson ruled earlier this fall that Mehserle can't get a fair trial in the East Bay because of extensive pretrial publicity. Prosecutors and Grant's family had been concerned that moving the trial to conservative San Diego County would have more likely resulted in Mehserle's acquittal.

Oak Knoll Cleanup

The former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in the Oakland hills, which has been strewn with overgrown weeds and hollowed-out buildings for more than a year, is finally going to get cleaned up. Lehman Brothers, the bankrupt co-owner of the property with developer SunCal, has agreed to pay $3.7 million to clean up the property. Oakland City Attorney John Russo hammered out the agreement, with an assist from local neighborhood groups. The cleanup will include demolishing about ninety-plus buildings on site, removal of toxic asbestos, and vegetation management.

EBMUD Sued Over Dam

Environmental groups that oppose a proposed new dam on the Mokelumne River in the Sierra foothills filed suit against East Bay MUD. The lawsuit by the Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the River, and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance argues that East Bay MUD's environmental impact report fails to address the damage that the new dam will cause. The agency has said it will conduct a more thorough analysis before the new dam is built. Last month, the agency's board of directors voted 4-2 to go forward with a slightly smaller version of the dam than originally proposed.

Three-Dot Roundup

Large and rowdy demonstrations at several campuses failed to stop the UC regents from raising student fees a whopping 32 percent next year. ... California's unemployment rate reached a seventy-year high last month, jumping to 12.5 percent. And the true jobless rate, which includes part-time workers and those who have stopped looking for employment, hit 22.5 percent. ... A new poll showed that GOP candidate Meg Whitman is now deadlocked with Democratic state Attorney General Jerry Brown. ... The state is forcing television makers to drastically reduce the electricity wasted by flat-panel TVs. ... The Chevron refinery in Richmond and the Shell refinery in Martinez are the state's two top emitters of greenhouse gases. ... Some early childhood education advocates are opposing ex-State Senator Don Perata's tobacco tax measure because they say it will siphon money from kids' programs. ... The Berkeley City Council ignored NIMBYs from the Berkeley hills and relaxed noise limits for downtown nightclubs. ... Prosecutors have charged an Oakland man with murdering a woman and her seventeen-month-old son in Berkeley. ... The Oakland Raiders agreed to a Coliseum lease extension through 2013. ... The Coliseum authority, meanwhile, has joined the city's effort to attract World Cup soccer matches in 2018 or 2022. ... And Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums neglected to disclose a trip to South Africa as a gift, as required by state law.