San Jose Mercury News: High-Speed Rail ruling is right on
A Superior Court judge Monday slowed the California bullet train boondoggle to a crawl.
It's about time. For more than two years, Gov. Jerry Brown and his puppet leading the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, Dan Richard, have overstepped their legal authority and disregarded the will of the voters by pushing ahead full-throttle.
Judge Michael Kenny had ruled in August that the authority "abused its discretion" by failing to secure funds and complete environmental reviews before authorizing expenditures.
This week, he sent the project back to the start by blocking the authority from implementing its 2011 spending plan and refusing to provide necessary legal blessing to the misguided issuance of $8.6 billion of construction bonds.
By any reasonable interpretation, this should put an end to Brown and Richard's bait-and-switch. But, when it comes to high-speed rail, those two aren't reasonable.
In a statement issued after the ruling, Richard tried to deceptively spin what the judge had said. True, as Richard notes, the judge did not stop the project. Rather he left it with no funding plan and the inability to borrow money.
Until the feds start to realize they've been had, there's still a bit of money left from Washington. But it won't last long. It's hard to imagine how the project can continue to move forward.
It's time to put an end to this fraud.
Voters were promised a system from San Diego to Sacramento at a cost of $45 billion. Today, the price is at least $69 billion, but would link only San Francisco with Los Angeles.
Anticipated ticket prices have increased more than 50 percent, ridership projections have been cut by more than half, the opening date has been pushed back nine years to 2029, and the two-hour, 40-minute mandated travel time from San Francisco to Los Angeles remains doubtful.
The authority has never fulfilled its promise to line up private-sector money. And critical federal funding would require an entirely different political environment in Washington.
Without a valid funding plan, and without the ability to issue bonds protected from legal challenge, California's high-speed rail project is effectively dead.
If Brown and Richard had one iota of intellectual honesty about the bullet-train promises, if they had any respect for the voters, they would abandon the project or ask voters to approve a smaller but more costly one.
They know that's all the authority can deliver. But they also know voters, if asked, would reject that.
Santa Cruz Sentinel: How 'citizens' see Santa Cruz crime
By its very name, makeup and purpose, the Santa Cruz Public Safety Citizen Task Force was never going to overturn the long-established underpinnings of the city's cherished identity.
By including a multiplicity of viewpoints, from people of diverse backgrounds, and then hearing from public officials on topics relating to crime, public safety and the quality of life in Santa Cruz city and county, the task force was inevitably going to seek a reasonable middle ground.
So to those who have expressed mild disappointment that after six months, the 17-page report produced by the 14 task force members, was not somehow stronger or more drastic, well, that's not how consensus comes calling.
In fact, it's somewhat remarkable the report takes on difficult issues such as the needle exchange program, police staffing, Santa Cruz's reputation for "tolerance," the problems associated with a large homeless population, and a criminal justice system blamed for creating a revolving door between the County Jail downtown and the streets.
One of the more important aspects of the report we hope will be received is for the city and county governments to work more effectively in concert. A "lack of collaboration and unified vision is partly to blame," said members, for the considerable public safety challenges faced by the city, including the court system, needle exchanges, and the jail and homeless centers located just off the city's main commercial district.
Among the recommendations to be presented to the Santa Cruz City Council Dec. 3 will be moving the controversial needle exchange program from the county's Emeline campus and away from residential neighborhoods, asking the county Superior Court's presiding judge to appear before the council twice a year to discuss the high rate of repeat offenders passing through the system, and improving lighting in discourage rampant illegal behaviors in areas highly impacted by transients and drug offenders such as the San Lorenzo River and Harvey West Park.
Critics are already taking issue with many of the recommendations, saying it's not true there aren't enough cops on patrol, or that harsher sentences will reduce the number of individuals reoffending. They also don't believe relocating the needle exchange program, or insisting on a one-to-one exchange policy will do much to reduce the complaints about discarded needles being found throughout the city, including residential areas and beaches — or cut down on the number of drug abusers. They also don't like how homeless people seem targeted or blamed.
One group of community activists wrote to the Sentinel taking on the task force for failing to support its assertions with cited facts, and for not comparing illegal behaviors in Santa Cruz to other cities of similar size.
Perhaps so, but the task force, formed after the murders of two police officers and other high-profile crimes and resident complaints, was not a law enforcement agency, an arm of government — or even scientifically or statistically credentialed. Some of members' ideas will need funding; others, such as getting more at-risk youth involved in city-sponsored parks and recreation programs would probably take yet another tax increase.
Indeed, we prefer to focus on the word "citizen" and consider members' statements and recommendations as representative of the views, goals and solutions of concerned residents. We asked for these; they delivered.
In that light, we'd like to thank the task force members, who took on a tough and time-consuming job, and often engaged in unsparing, heated debate.
In that their conclusions are already under fire, just shows they took their mandate seriously.
Chico Enterprise-Record: Mold adds to station's woes
The mold problem detected at the Manzanita Avenue fire station needs to be remedied. It's a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Can a fire station be haunted? Well, maybe not in a literal sense, but some sort of curse sounds like the most plausible explanation for Chico's Fire Station 5.
Fire Station 5 is the city's newest and most expensive station, located on a Manzanita Avenue roundabout at the entrance to upper Bidwell Park. It's probably the most well-known station in Chico, mainly because of all the oddities and problems there. Those problems have mounted in the past few weeks.
Fire Station 5 was completed in 1999. It was placed on the edge of town because it wouldn't be the edge of town for long. A huge development near Wildwood Park called Rancho Arroyo would need services for its 1,500 homes, which is a big reason the station was put there.
That building boom never happened because of a voter referendum, and the land now known as Bidwell Ranch is fenced off and declared open space.
Development impact fees from all of those would-be new homes were supposed to pay for the station's construction. That explains why the station cost $1.8 million to build — and the city still owes $1.8 million, 15 years after construction began.
Financing is not the only problem. The other is mold. It sounds like shoddy construction, and the city oddly never pressed the contractor to fix it. Now, apparently, insurance won't even pay to get rid of the mold.
The city has talked about closing the station to fix the mold problem. Firefighters oppose that, in part because they worry city management wants to close the station permanently to save money in these difficult budget times.
Station 5 closed for a month in 2012 in a budget-cutting move and also has been subjected to periodic "brownouts" this year to minimize overtime. And now this ...
The council last week voted to spend $25,000 to start work on the mold. Councilors need to be careful with this. Now that it's known there is mold and it has been discussed openly, it's a workers' compensation lawsuit waiting to happen if a firefighter at the station falls ill because of it. If there's danger once work begins, the council needs to shut down the station while it fixes the problem.
So we have a station with mold that the city can't pay off and sometimes can't afford to keep open. It must be cursed.
Los Angeles Times: A chance to settle the plastic bag ban debate
As it does each year, a bill to ban plastic bags in California will almost certainly come before the Legislature in the next session. Each year, under heavy lobbying by the makers of such bags — who say the bill will kill jobs and wreak other forms of havoc — the Legislature has folded. State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), whose bill in the most recent session failed by a narrow margin, has indicated that he plans to try again.
California has a chance to do things differently this time, without the endless back and forth about whether the bans effectively reduce the trash that finds its way into giant patches of floating plastic in the oceans, and without disputed claims that California companies will go under. Because this time, it has the opportunity to replace conjecture with facts.
Close to 90 cities and counties in California have passed bans on plastic bags. Once the ban takes effect in the city of Los Angeles, at the start of the new year, such bans will cover a third of the state's population. Usually, the bans allow customers to purchase a paper bag for 10 cents or so; Padilla's bill would have done that as well. This means that there is now enough information to study, in robust and real-life ways, whether fewer bags are found on the beaches, an indicator of how many make their way into the ocean. Have cities and counties lost any jobs as a result of bag bans? How many?
We actually prefer fees on both plastic and paper bags. They have proved effective where they have been tried — there's simply a mental barrier to paying a nickel for a bag — and they give consumers more convenience and choice. But a ban on plastic bags appears to be the next best choice. It has been our belief that banning the flimsy carryout bags with handles will reduce the environmental toll on the ocean without significantly harming employment. (Other plastic bags, such as those used for produce or the ones that protect newspapers from rain, would not be affected.)
But we are willing to be persuaded otherwise by conclusive data that show plastic bag bans do more harm than good. So should industry. Most important, so should lawmakers in Sacramento.
Riverside Press-Enterprise: Take steps to help guard against drought
California needs water systems that are reliable even in dry years. The threat of another drought provides a clear reminder that the state remains far from that goal, however. Residents will need to boost conservation efforts, to make more efficient use of existing supplies.
But legislators also need to safeguard the state's primary water system and boost water storage capacity.
The state Department of Water Resources last week announced severely limited projected water deliveries from the State Water Project for 2014. The initial forecast says that water providers, including the giant Metropolitan Water District and the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, can expect to receive just 5 percent of the 4.17 million acre-feet of water they sought for next year. An acre-foot is about enough water to supply two families for a year.
The amount of water available could increase if winter storms provide more precipitation, of course. The state forecast a 5 percent allocation in 2010, as well, but eventually boosted deliveries to 50 percent of the water that agencies wanted. But the first 10 months of this year have been the driest since 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center. And water levels in many of the state's big reservoirs remain below historical averages.
But California needs a more dependable approach to water than hoping for wet weather. State and regional water officials last month urged Californians to curb their water use, to help ease the strain on water supplies. Boosting conservation is one of the most effective ways for average Californians to help avoid water shortages, and many residents have already cut the amount of water they use.
Legislators, however, also need to act to protect the state against droughts. That effort should start by ensuring the reliability of water exports from Northern California. Water that flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta serves two-thirds of the state's population and irrigates millions of acres of farmland.
But the delta's environmental ills have already prompted periodic cutbacks in water exports. And the estuary is ringed with deteriorating levees that could collapse in an earthquake. The state's most promising approach is to channel water exports around the troubled delta, but whatever solution emerges, the state cannot afford to lose a supply of water that much of California depends upon.
The state also needs to increase water storage capacity. Long-range forecasts predict the state could increasingly get more winter rain and less snow, requiring California to catch and store more winter runoff to get through the hot summer months.
Paying for such improvements will also require legislators to craft a more realistic water bond, instead of the bloated $11.1 billion measure now on the 2014 ballot. Legislators should strip away the pork projects, focus the spending on the state's crucial water needs and keep the cost as low as possible.
Making sure the state has enough water requires dedicated effort, careful planning and political will. If that challenge seems too daunting, consider the alternative: a thirsty state increasingly hobbled by water shortages.