California Editorial Rdp

March 14, 2018 GMT

March 13

San Francisco Chronicle on ICE spokesman being right to quit rather than push “alternative facts”:

Citing “false” and “misleading” public statements by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Thomas Homan, the agency’s San Francisco spokesman, James Schwab, resigned on Monday.

Schwab told the Chronicle he couldn’t continue to do his job, as officials pressured him to deflect media questions by using so-called “alternative facts” about last month’s “Keep Safe” raid in Northern California.

What Trump administration officials said, again and again, was that about 800 undocumented immigrants evaded arrest during the operation — thanks to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Schaaf alerted the public on Feb. 24 about an upcoming raid. Officials arrested 232 suspected undocumented immigrants during the operation.

Schwab wanted officials to correct the claim of 800 undocumented immigrants evading arrest. He stated that he knew it to be far lower.

“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” Schwab told The Chronicle. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that.”

Out of a target list of nearly 1,000 undocumented immigrants, Schwab said, the agency would never have been able to capture all of them — regardless of whether Schaaf warned the public.

Meanwhile, ICE has been backpedaling: The agency now claims it never said it would capture all of the targets. ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson said: “While we can’t put a number on how many targets avoided arrest due to the mayor’s warning, it clearly had an impact. While we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well.”

Schwab was right to follow his conscience and quit his job. He was also right to insist that a federal agency do its job.

Providing the public with truthful information is a basic responsibility of government — whether the Trump administration likes it or not.


March 13

The San Diego Union-Tribune on how a little-known and long-abused practice by California attorneys general must change:

Among the terrible traditions in California politics is attorneys general writing biased language for ballot measures to push voters to their side — knowing judges often defer to their judgment. For decades, attorneys general from both parties have blatantly put their thumbs on the scales of democracy.

Now Attorney General Xavier Becerra — a former congressman appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to replace Kamala Harris after her 2016 election to the U.S. Senate — has shown a pattern of abuse despite telling Assembly members in January 2017 that he understood “the importance of a word.” Proposition 70 was placed on the June ballot as part of a legislative compromise to round up Republican votes to extend the state’s cap-and-trade pollution emissions program. If passed, it would require state lawmakers in 2024 to ratify with a two-thirds vote how cap-and-trade dollars are spent — giving them a chance to block use of the funds for the state’s beleaguered bullet-train project. Becerra titled the measure: “Limits Legislature’s Authority To Use Cap-and-Trade Revenue To Reduce Pollution.”

On Monday, a Sacramento judge ordered a much fairer title: “Requires Legislative Supermajority Vote Approving Use of Cap-and-Trade Reserve Fund.” It was the second time a judge has altered a Becerra ballot measure title.

A fix is simple. It’s time for someone civic-minded to craft a ballot measure assigning the writing of ballot language to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office or to a panel of retired judges.


March 13

The Fresno Bee on President Trump not seeing the real California:

As Donald Trump visited California on Tuesday for the first time as president, he limited his view to what serves his agenda — a border crossing in San Diego to inspect prototypes for his proposed wall, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to speak to service members, and a private home in Beverly Hills for a $35,000-per-person fundraiser.

If only the president and the nation could see the real California. They’d see a state that drives much of the U.S. economy, with diverse and dynamic people leading the way into America’s future.

Alas, Trump prefers his Fox News bubble. Heaven forbid he learn anything that might question his preconceptions. It’s telling that his longest stop is scheduled to be in the company of wealthy Republican donors. His schedule didn’t include meetings with any elected officials, even fellow Republicans. He also sought to avoid protesters, who greeted Trump from the moment he landed in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown tweeted a letter to Trump on Monday, noting what other presidents had done on their visits and inviting Trump to come see the high-speed rail project in the Central Valley. California is “focusing on bridges, not walls,” the governor wrote.

“Our prosperity is not built on isolation,” Brown added. “Quite the opposite. California thrives because we welcome immigrants and innovators from across the globe.”

Not surprisingly, Trump didn’t RSVP, given the war of words over immigration.

Last week, the Trump administration sued California over its sanctuary laws and Brown responded that the feds had declared war on the state. Monday, the administration went as far as to accuse California’s laws, bizarrely, of bankrolling human trafficking rings. And on Tuesday, California Democrats in Congress sent a letter to Trump raising concerns about immigration raids and threats against state officials.

While on his border visit Tuesday, Trump railed against sanctuary cities and criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning residents about an immigration raid. And while looking at eight wall prototypes and talking to Border Patrol agents, he repeated some inane and idiotic assertions.

“If you don’t have a wall system, you’re not going to have a country,” he said, though we seem to have been doing all right for 242 years.

He again said he prefers a “see-through” wall so agents can look at what’s on the other side, even though they have drones and electronic surveillance. And he said the wall has to be made very difficult to scale because undocumented immigrants are like “professional mountain climbers.”

With comments like that, a real and fair solution to immigration seems far, far away.

Trump also didn’t miss a chance to trash Brown. He called him a “nice guy” but said he’s “doing a terrible job” as governor. And Trump bashed California, insisting it is out of control and has high taxes.

He’s a sore loser, having complained that votes by non-citizens in California cost him the popular vote majority in 2016. He barely hit 31 percent against Hillary Clinton, his approval rating hasn’t improved since and California has emerged as a center of the resistance to his presidency.

If Trump could rise above politics and let go of grudges, he just might see how important California is to the success of his presidency and to America’s prosperity. But that would mean looking at the bigger picture, and acknowledging the America he doesn’t want to see.


March 11

Santa Cruz Sentinel on new tax law, rising interest rates adding to local housing crisis:

Coastal California’s already unaffordable housing is facing two additional challenges that could affect local economies and the 2018 elections.

This double whammy facing both property owners and would-be buyers is the new federal tax law along with the rise in mortgage interest rates.

It’s no secret that Monterey Bay Area residents face some of the highest housing prices in the nation.

But changes in the U.S. tax code are going to strip off many of the tax benefits that encourage ownership of expensive real estate.

The Trump tax legislation will cost owners of expensive Santa Cruz County properties of thousands of dollars in deductions.

The tax change passed late last year by Congress makes significant changes to longstanding tax benefits for homeowners that especially affect residents of coastal California by driving up home ownership costs and decreasing the already scant inventory of homes for sale.

The changes:

—The cap on the mortgage interest deduction for new loans has been reduced from $1 million to $750,000.

—Deductions for state and local taxes, including property taxes, have been capped at $10,000;

—Standard deductions have been doubled, which means fewer homeowners will itemize their tax filings.

The new federal tax code is expected to strip the typical area homeowner in Santa Cruz County, where the median sales price of a home was nearly $800,000 in February, as much as $4,500 in deductions this year, the highest of any metro area in the country, according to a new report by Apartment List. The lost deductions overall could cost homeowners in the priciest neighborhoods in our area as much as $100,000 over the life of a 30-year mortgage.

With the median housing prices in our region continuing to rise, the tax plan will be a strong incentive for owners to stay put where they are rather than buy another, more costly residence and lose thousands of dollars annually in tax deductions. The number of homes for sale last month in Santa Cruz County was 192, far below the average since 2003 of 720.

The other challenge is rising mortgage rates, which rose this past week to 4.46 percent, the highest in four years, with more increases expected. The rate at the beginning of 2018 was 3.95 percent, which was up from around 3.65 percent a year before. Rising rates also are making it less likely for current homeowners to move on, adding to the bottleneck through the entire housing system.

Nationally, the jump in rates and the new tax law along with a growing number of first-time buyers just giving up and dropping out of what they see as an unaffordable housing market is expected to soften home sales going into the prime real estate market, which takes place from March through June.

But don’t expect much softening of prices locally. Demand will continue to far exceed the limited supply, with little new housing being built.

The greater Central-Northern California region is expected to continue generating substantial numbers of jobs and creating higher incomes. And people who can afford it will continue to want to buy along the coast. Homes and condos continue to sell quickly and many continue to get multiple offers, often above the list price.

The loss of deductions and rising rates will not only discourage some residents from buying, but also make renting look more attractive. With a limited supply of rentals, and few new properties coming onto the market, increased demand and lower supply will just push rents higher and further fuel the move toward rent control by local governments.

The upshot is that taken together these changes and trends will create more upheaval for local residents and more pressure for government to step in and do something to alleviate imbalances.


March 10

Ventura County Star on a time to treasure freedom of information:

Every day, every week, every year here at The Star, reporters spend their time trying to pry information out of public agencies and their representatives — information we believe you have a right to know and the disclosure of which is important to our community.

Usually, the information is released without conflict. Too often, however, there is delay, denial or outright refusal.

Sunday marked the beginning of Sunshine Week, and there’s nothing that complicated about it. Launched in 2015 by the American Society of News Editors, it’s a time for all of us to ask what we can do to support this simple tenet of democracy:

Open government is good government.

Sunshine Week usually coincides with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, our fourth president and the “Father of the Constitution” who helped frame the Bill of Rights. He once cautioned his fellow Americans, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”

The laws requiring open government are not terribly complicated, either. The Freedom of Information Act gives any person access to most federal records and documents. The California Public Records Act does the same with state information, and the Ralph M. Brown Act gives Californians the right to attend and participate in the meetings of legislative bodies.

All three laws have gray areas, however, and too many of our elected and appointed officials still err on the side of secrecy instead of transparency. Some local examples this past year include:

—The Thousand Oaks Police Department, which did not inform the public about the October murder-suicide of Robert and Helen Hughes until The Star learned of it and pressed the department for information — more than two-and-a-half months later.

—The Santa Paula City Council, which approved six new contracts awarding nearly every city employee a substantial raise only minutes after the public first learned of the long-term costs, and now is moving forward on joining the county fire district without giving the public information yet on exact costs, pension obligations and other details.

—The Mesa Union School District, which maintained near-silence over charges that a social studies teacher in October used Islamophobic material in a seventh-grade classroom.

On the flip side, many local governments and officials in Ventura County deserve praise for their transparency and public outreach this past year. They include:

—The Ventura County Community College District board, which announced in advance the six finalists for its vacant chancellor position and conducted its first interviews of them in public.

—Greg Nyhoff, the departed Oxnard city manager who helped bring transparency back to a city government plagued by ethical lapses, a district attorney investigation and Fair Political Practices Commission fines.

—The city of Ventura, which repeatedly asked for the public’s help in drawing up City Council election districts and even created a web page for the public to draw up their own district boundaries and submit them to the city for consideration.

If you care about freedom of information like we do, the Sunshine Week website, sunshineweek.org, offers suggestions on how to get involved. Elected officials can encourage staff training on open records. Teachers can talk to their students about the importance of government transparency. Anyone can write a letter to the editor or spread the message on social media.

Every American should remember Madison’s warning and be vigilant in defending and supporting the public’s right to know what government is doing at every level.