Green Guide

California Editorial Rdp

Posted October 11

Oct. 11

The San Diego Union-Tribune on San Diego County supervisors finally get something right

It's been a bad year for good government at the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, a group that largely flies straight and under the radar. Its elected officials, all but one now in their final terms of office, have chipped away at their legacies all year, by padding their own pay and pensions in January, by orchestrating interim District Attorney Summer Stephan's ascension as if in a banana republic in June and by allowing public health officials to move shamefully slowly to stem San Diego's unprecedented hepatitis A outbreak until recently.

So it's about time the supervisors did something worthy of unqualified praise.

Tuesday, they voted to join a growing legal effort that includes Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, the Port of San Diego and the city of San Diego to force the federal government to better block sewage from flowing into the U.S. from Mexico and fouling beaches. Coronado has agreed to reimburse cities up to $50,000 for any lawsuits that result.

The International Boundary and Water Commission — a joint U.S.-Mexico agency that estimates it will take $500 million to repair Tijuana's sewage infrastructure beyond the billions already spent over the years — now has until the end of November to devise a satisfactory response or face legal action.

The more pressure, the better. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation because we're one region, our ties must remain strong and our valuable beaches should remain open to all.

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Oct. 11

Los Angeles Daily News on state pension costs crowding out basic services

Rising pension costs throughout the state will continue to crowd out resources needed for tangible services for years to come, according to a new report by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

"There is contentious debate about what is driving these cost increases — significant retroactive benefit increases, unrealistic assumptions about investment earnings, policies that mask or delay recognition of true costs, poor governance, to name the most commonly cited," explained former Assemblyman Joe Nation, who authored the report. "(B)ut there is agreement on one fact: rising pension costs are making it harder to provide services traditionally considered part of government's core mission.

As the report notes, while the state contribution to CalPERS and CalSTRS was just $1.6 billion in 2002-03, by 2008-09 contributions had risen to $4.3 billion. The report projects that by 2029-30, state contributions will hit $19.5 billion.

As a proportion of state operating expenditures, pension contributions have ballooned from 2.1 percent in 2002-03 to 4.9 percent in 2008-09, and are on track to hit an estimated 7.1 percent in the current fiscal year and could account for 10.1 or 11.4 percent of state spending by 2029-30.

There is no other way to look at it. The greater the share of the state budget pension costs account for, the less money there is to spend on anything else. As the report points out, over the time period from 2002-03 to 2017-18, social services and higher education have seen the greatest reductions in spending as a share of the state budget, with Department of Social Services spending dropping from 10.7 percent of the state operating expenses to 7 percent.

With pension costs expected to continue to rise over the next decade, more cuts are to be expected. The report notes that among the ways the state can accommodate the projected increases in pension costs by 2029-30 is a 4 percent cut across the board or an additional 27 percent reduction in DSS and higher expenditures.

It is important to keep in mind that the state finds itself in this situation despite having raised taxes and fees many times and even passing tepid pension reforms.

Of course, it isn't just the state which is grappling with growing pension costs, but local governments and school districts. As the Legislative Analyst's Office reported earlier this year, from just 2013-14 through 2020-21, districts across the state will experience a tripling of pension contributions — with contributions to CalPERS and CalSTRS growing from just over $3 billion to $9.455 billion.

The SIEPR report provides a few case studies to illustrate the real world impact, including the Los Angeles Unified School District. As a proportion of the district's budget, pension costs have grown from 6 percent of operating expenditures in 2002-03 to nearly 9 percent now and on track to hit 12 percent or 13.3 percent by 2029-30. This naturally means less money for programs and classrooms. To accommodate such pension cost increases, SIEPR estimates the district would either have to reduce salary expenditures by 5 percent or cut all spending by 3 percent.

It is imperative that we not allow this problem to get worse or allow squeamish politicians to keep sweeping the problem under the rug. Governments exist to serve not the public, not to sustain unsustainable pension benefits. Self-respecting taxpayers should not allow this to go on.

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Oct. 10

Ventura County Star on Puente Power Project being a turning point in energy future

All the residents, community leaders, environmentalists and city officials fighting plans for a new power plant in Oxnard have every reason to celebrate news that a key state committee will recommend rejection of the project. They have been battling the Puente Power Project for three years and deserve much praise for their passion, perseverance and seeming defiance of the odds in trying to scuttle this ill-advised project along our treasured coast.

In fact, we believe all Californians concerned about the state's environment and energy future have cause for celebration. If environmentalists are correct in their statement that last week's decision "marks a turning point in California's clean energy revolution," then we will all owe Oxnard a debt of gratitude for quickening our inevitable journey toward an alternative-energy future.

NRG Energy Inc. wants to build a gas-fired power plant, including a 188-foot exhaust stack, at its existing facility off Harbor Boulevard near Mandalay State Beach, to replace two aging plants that must be shut down by 2020. NRG says the new plant would ensure a reliable, cleaner power supply for the region.

The California Energy Commission has the final say. Its staff agreed the effects would be minimal and recommended approval. But a review committee composed of two commissioners issued a statement Thursday saying they will recommend the full commission deny the project "on the grounds that it creates inconsistencies with (local laws and ordinances) and significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated."

The early statement — issued before the release of a report elaborating on those inconsistencies and impacts — was unusual, and it would be even more unusual for the full commission to ignore its own committee and approve Puente. The California Coastal Commission and numerous state legislators also oppose the project.

We have long argued against building coastal power plants, in Oxnard or anywhere else in the state, especially when there are better, inland sites available. The California Coastal Act of 1976 aims to protect our coastal resources, and we don't think industrial operations are conducive to that.

An even broader issue raised by the Puente debate, however, is whether new fossil fuel plants should be built anywhere in the state. The California Independent Systems Operator, which maintains the state's power grid, concluded in an August study that a combination of alternative energy sources, such as solar and battery storage, could provide enough power for Ventura County without Puente.

Columnist Tom Elias, who often writes about California's utility industry, recently noted that on several days in May, more than 60 percent of the state's electricity came from alternative energy. The state should easily surpass its legislative goals of 33 percent of demand being met through renewable energy by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030, and some legislators are pushing for a goal of 100 percent by 2045.

Given our state's technology and innovation, we have no reason to doubt such a goal is achievable. And when that day arrives, we may need to thank Oxnard again.

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Oct. 9

The Fresno Bee on banning bump stocks being a no-brainer

It says a lot about the partisan gridlock in Washington that even after a man armed with more than a dozen rifles smashed a hotel window and rained bullets on hundreds of people attending a country music festival in Las Vegas, most Americans assumed Congress would keep doing nothing to prevent another mass shooting.

Just like in 2012, when Republican legislators sabotaged a bipartisan bill that would've expanded background checks after Adam Lanza burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 20 innocent children and six educators.

Or in 2016, when Republicans blocked legislation that would've stopped anyone on a terrorism watch list from buying a gun after Omar Mateen shot more than 100 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Congress has a long and shameful history of inaction and feigned helplessness on gun violence. But after the bloodshed in Las Vegas, shocking even in this era of domestic terrorism and mass shootings, it appears the political winds finally have shifted — even if they're not shifting far enough.

On Thursday, the National Rifle Association did an about-face from its normal worship of the Second Amendment and signaled its support for banning the sale of "bump stocks" conversion kits, an idea first proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Really, it was the only politically palatable thing for the NRA to do.

Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retiree who killed 58 people and wounded 489 others from his perch in a Mandalay Bay hotel suite on Sunday, had added bump stocks to a dozen rifles. With them, he was able to fire hundreds of rounds of bullets per minute into the crowd below, inflicting far more damage than he would've been able to do otherwise.

"The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations," the gun lobby group said in a statement.

However, the NRA went further, saying it would push so-called reciprocity legislation, which would require states, no matter how strict their gun laws, to honor permits to carry concealed weapons issued by other states, no matter how lax those states' laws might be. Congress should reject any attempt to link the two issues. "Reciprocity" would violate the ability of California and other strict gun control states to regulate their own affairs.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said bump stocks don't violate federal laws that restrict ownership of fully automatic machine guns. So Feinstein introduced legislation backed by Democrats this week that would ban the conversion kits nationally, as they are in California.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, has written a similar bill and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, has been circulating a letter demanding the ATF re-evaluate legality of bump stocks.

The Trump administration as well as several other congressional Republicans have said they are open to a ban, too. Among them, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who told The New York Times: "I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that's our right as Americans, but I don't understand the use of this bump stock."

We're hopeful all of this talk will amount to action. But it never should've taken 547 innocent people getting shot to convince Republicans and the NRA to consider a truly modest gun control policy. Twenty schoolchildren should've been enough.

Far better would be for Congress to follow California's lead, and ban assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines like those Paddock brought into Mandalay Bay. But if Congress can follow through and bump these bump stocks, we'll take what we can get.

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Oct. 7

Santa Cruz Sentinel on mixed legacy of Columbus and his day

Perhaps lost in the post-Charlottesville furor over Confederate monuments has been a new move to banish or repurpose Columbus Day.

And that day was upon us Monday, where some will still parade and gather to honor the intrepid explorer — while others will use the holiday to lament the European assault on unsuspecting indigenous peoples.

Who is right? Or put another way, can modern revisionism reimagine history?

The problem, or the injury, of the day has been well documented. Columbus never set foot in what is now the U.S. The Native American people were mostly wiped out by the forces unleashed in the wake of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

No surprise then that in 1992, Berkeley, free speech capital of the progressive world, was the first U.S. city to repurpose the traditional Columbus Day in honor of Native Americans which soon was renamed Indigenous People's Day.

When Italian-American Berkeleyites pushed back, city leaders said their purpose wasn't to impugn the motives of post-Columbian revelers, but to "affirm" the culture and accomplishments of the peoples who were on this continent long before Europeans showed up.

In 2017, in our Time of Trump, Columbus and his legacy again is tottering, especially since New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reignited the polarized debate when he discussed ordering the removal of Christopher Columbus' statue from Manhattan's Columbus Circle.

For this country, with the scars and moral stains of slavery still resonating amid current cries about white supremacy and police killings of black people, it seems almost presumptuous to celebrate the act of introducing, by force, a foreign civilization into someone else's world. That European diseases and weapons accompanied the act of claiming the "new world" for the old order, and would decimate the original Americans was the inevitable aftermath of the rough treatment under the lash of the early explorers. It wasn't long, relatively, for the slave trade to follow.

And yet, we can't go back in time and somehow imbue the explorers with an understanding of events that came after their voyages.

Europe suffered in the 15th and 16th centuries from a host of old world problems and plagues that created a yearning for something better, something new, something that would enrich the mostly miserable fortunes of the vast lot of European humanity.

And the explorers, and those who followed, acted no better certainly, and no worse than almost all other human beings acted in that era. Throughout most of history, the rules have been written by the conquerors and the weak have suffered; and when the weak become the conquerers then the suffering is just transferred to the next group or civilization down the line.

None of that justifies the endless wars the Europeans conducted among themselves, the neglect of the poor in their own countries, or the treatment of non-Europeans when the inevitable conquests began.

For all the violence unleashed on the native populations, it can't be overlooked that while Columbus and the onslaught of Europeans are judged harshly today, the very freedoms that allow such protests — and change — to flourish also came from across the seas. Ironically, this country was founded on the novel idea that one group of people, from overseas, did not have the right to impose their will (and their taxes) on another population.

Along with disease and depradation, the European influence would lead to the Declaration of Independence with its statement about the equality of all human beings. And eventually, these words would bring about the abolition of slavery and the 20th century American insistence that enslaved people around the world had the right of self-determination.

Columbus Day, is no more, no less than a reflection of the good, and the evils, that mark human history — and another opportunity to explore the good.

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