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California Editorial Rdp

By The Associated PressJune 5, 2019

June 4

The Sacramento Bee on funding a clean water solution:

Water is a basic necessity of life, but over one million Californians lack access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water, says Gov. Gavin Newsom. Six million Californians receive their water from operators who have been fined for violating the state’s clean water laws in recent years, according to a 2018 investigation by McClatchy.

“In many communities, people drink, shower, cook and wash dishes with water containing excessive amounts of pollutants, including arsenic, nitrates and uranium,” according to a Sacramento Bee story by Dale Kasler, Phillip Reese and Ryan Sabalow.

Many of those affected by the lack of safe water live in poorer and more rural areas, and a big portion of those communities are here in the Central Valley.

The lack of clean drinking water seems like the kind of public health crisis that leaders in 21st century California would tackle with urgency. An Environmental Working Group study released last month said that “toxic drinking water could lead to more than 15,000 lifetime cancer cases throughout the state,” according to a story by The Sacramento Bee’s Hannah Wiley.

Despite these grim facts, it’s entirely possible the Legislature will fail to deliver on a clean water solution this year.

Everyone agrees Californians deserve safe and clean drinking water. They just disagree on how to fund the necessary fixes. In January, Newsom proposed a “water tax” to establish a $140 million-a-year stream of funding for projects and ongoing operations to provide clean water in affected communities.

A tax, however, requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to pass — a feat not even Gov. Jerry Brown managed to pull off. Newsom’s proposal also encountered strong resistance, and a state Senate budget subcommittee rejected it last month.

Mustering legislative votes for a new tax is always a tough sell. But it’s especially difficult when state coffers are brimming with billions of dollars in surplus funds.

Acknowledging the lack of support for a tax, a state Senate budget subcommittee has proposed moving ahead with funding for Senate Bill 200 by Carmel Democrat Bill Monning. SB 200, in combination with the budget subcommittee’s proposal, would allocate $150 million a year from the general fund for clean water.

While tax revenues are streaming into the state’s general fund at record levels, why not channel some of it towards this major public health crisis? What’s the value of an overflowing rainy day fund when your people can’t even drink the water from their taps?

If SB 200 passes along with the Senate budget proposal for funding, it would provide $150 million for clean water starting on July 1. If, by chance, a future Legislature finds the ever-elusive votes for water taxes, they can be substituted in for the general fund money.

The question isn’t whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. The question is whether the water in the glass is clean or poisonous. For too many Californians, the latter is true.

The health and safety of millions of Californians hangs in the balance. We urge the governor and the state’s legislative leaders to figure out what’s actually possible and stop kicking the water can down the road.

After all, it’s been seven years since California passed the Human Right to Water Act, which declares that everyone “has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes.”

Of course, the lofty law — one page long — did not provide any funding for clean water. The SB 200 package will remedy this, and will also allow state leaders to finally address California’s lack of clean drinking water with the urgency the issue deserves.


June 3

Southern California News Group on officials turning to tax increases to improve the education system:

When there is a problem in California, or perceived problem, reforming how things are done is rarely the go-to option. Instead, the default proposal is instead to throw more money at the given problem. Such is the case with education.

California’s K-12 schools are on track to receive record state funding. As Gov. Newsom’s May Revise budget proposal notes, “the May Revision further expands funding for K-12 schools by providing approximately $5,000 more per pupil than eight years ago.” Despite this, school districts across the state are dealing with tight budgets, while continuing to yield inadequate educational outcomes.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, less than half of California’s K-12 students met the state’s own standards on math and reading in the spring on 2018. On national tests, California routinely ranks near the bottom.

This state of affairs should be acceptable to no one. Improving the educational system should be a non-partisan goal. Unfortunately, in school districts and the state Capitol, the routine answer is to appeal for more money, and more taxes. School districts across the state are keeping a close eye on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s proposed $500 million per year parcel tax increase, voted on June 4. Statewide, other efforts have been in the works.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 was proposed in the state Senate to make it easier for school districts to get property tax increases passed by lowering the threshold for approval from two-thirds to 55 percent.

Senate Bill 37 was also proposed by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, to raise billions in taxes on the “top 0.2% of companies that do business in California,” to fund childcare and education programs.

Already prepped for the November 2020 ballot is a split roll property tax measure that calls for raising upwards of $11 billion a year in property taxes from commercial property owners.

But it was also reported by EdSource that the California School Boards Association commissioned a survey to test public support for a proposal to increase corporate and income taxes. The taxes hikes, aimed at corporate and personal income above $1 million, would aim to raise $11 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges. Unsurprisingly, since the taxes are aimed at high-income earners, most people surveyed indicated a favorable view of the proposal.

But we should step back and take this in. While considerable effort is being put in by California’s political establishment to figure out how much more money it can get out of taxpayers to throw more money into an underperforming educational system, little attention is placed in actually evaluating whether reforms are needed or justified.

Rather than encourage and work toward pension reform, OPEB reform or educational reform, the debate among the establishment is instead over how best to raise taxes and how much to restrict charter schools. Naturally, concerns over the unintended consequences of perpetual tax hikes are ignored, and doing whatever the teachers unions want is assumed to be the given.

Californians who recognize the folly of this approach must make their voices clear. Voting down tax hikes unaccompanied by reform is a start.


June 2

San Francisco Chronicle on California cities towing cars and fining owners:

California subjects all manner of serious policy matters to extreme forms of local rule — allowing, for example, sweeping and persistent prohibition of apartment buildings despite a crushing housing shortage and of marijuana sales despite the will of voters. Parking and the associated penalties make up another arena delegated to the state’s cities and counties, with consequences that can range from merely arbitrary to personally ruinous.

State law gives local governments remarkably broad leeway to seize the vehicles on their streets and tow them to public or private yards to rack up confiscatory storage and other fees. A car that remains in the same spot for more than 72 hours, for example, may be towed despite being legal in every other respect. Whether and when it will be towed depends mostly on the particular enthusiasm or malice of one’s neighbors and the local bureaucracy.

A recent study by the Western Center on Law & Poverty and other legal aid and advocacy groups found that about a quarter of the estimated 1 million vehicles towed by California governments in a year were guilty of overdue registration, unpaid parking or traffic fines, or a violation of the 72-hour rule. It argues persuasively that such towing tends to serve no public-safety purpose and to disproportionately hurt lower-income Californians. In San Francisco, for example, 9% of the vehicles towed in 2016 were subject to lien sales — meaning the owners could not pay the fees and fines — but that was the fate of more than a third of those towed for exceeding the 72-hour limit and half of those towed for registration or tickets.

Recovering a towed vehicle typically means paying more than $300 in towing and administrative fees plus an average storage fee of more than $50 a day. The study points out that tow yards charge multiples of local parking rates for the questionable privilege of storage — more than five times the going cost of overnight parking in Berkeley, for example, and 12 times the market rate in Oakland. Recovering a towed car in San Jose costs at least $600 after three days and nearly $1,000 after a week.

Legislation by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would stem what often amounts to a poverty penalty by eliminating state provisions that allow municipalities to tow vehicles for having at least five unpaid parking or traffic tickets, going more than six months without current registration, or lingering in the same spot for over 72 hours. Passed by the Assembly in May, the bill is expected to be considered by a Senate committee in the coming weeks.

The legislation has drawn predictable opposition from the League of California Cities, a zealous guardian of all sorts of dubious local government prerogatives. But the legislation affects only three of more than 30 reasons for which vehicles may be towed in California, according to the study, leaving in place such reasonable justifications as obstruction of traffic, driveways, fire hydrants and more, as well as abandonment. The study also found that cities generally lose money on towing and particularly on vehicles subject to lien sales, which usually go for a small fraction of the costs, fees and debts associated with them.

The repercussions of such sales can be devastating for individuals and families who rely on a vehicle to keep or find work — or, in a sadly proliferating number of cases, for shelter. The latest count found a 45% increase over the past two years in the number of people living in vehicles in San Francisco. The rationale for seizing what is often a person’s most valuable piece of property on pain of exorbitant fees for minor infractions, which has never been obvious, becomes even harder to discern under the circumstances.

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