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California Editorial Rdp

June 6, 2018

June 6

Los Angeles Times on what the June primary tells us about California’s top-two system:

It’s the day after California’s primary election, and although dawn broke on clear winners in some races — most notably the gubernatorial race, where Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox prevailed — others are still up in the air and may remain so for days.

Among the cliffhangers: Will Democratic state Sen. Kevin de León maintain his small edge over Republican James Bradley and face a fellow Democrat, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in November? Will Democrats do well enough in congressional races to make flipping the U.S. House a real possibility? In a few congressional races, it’s not even certain a Democrat will make the cut for the general election. Will a Republican squeak into the runoff for lieutenant governor, or will it be two Democrats competing?

The fact that some races are still too close to call is, at least in part, a function of new rules that allow mail-in ballots to arrive at the registrar’s office up to three days after the election and still be counted. And voting by mail has become increasingly common. This year, about 11.8 million ballots were sent out to voters, and as of Tuesday fewer than 3 million had been returned. That leaves a lot of room for uncertainty.

There’s another thing at play here: unusually competitive races. For that, we can thank two forces: Donald Trump, whose election in 2016 inspired many first-time candidates to seek elective office in order to foil his agenda, and California’s top-two primary system.

The former is a one-time event (at least, we hope it is). The latter, adopted eight years ago, allows voting across party lines in primaries and sends the two highest vote-getters, regardless of party, to duke it out in the November general election.

The would-be power brokers who run our political parties don’t like top-two because it diminishes their ability to influence the general election. Instead of closed primaries in which only members of that party can vote — and where candidates anointed by the party establishment have a considerable advantage — the top-two primaries allow any registered voter to vote for any candidate on the ballot regardless of the party affiliation. Meanwhile, Greens, Libertarians and members of other third parties hate it because their candidates rarely win spots in the runoff elections.

The Los Angeles Times supported the top-two system when Proposition 14 was on the ballot in 2010, saying that it was unlikely to be either a miracle cure for political gridlock or the end of democracy as we know it, but a modest step toward getting rid of the worst partisanship. We hoped it would encourage lawmakers to compromise more because successful candidates would have to hold positions that appealed not just to their most fervent party stalwarts, but to voters from a range of parties and ideologies.

Opponents of Proposition 14 worried that it would end up protecting incumbents. This year, at least, it appears to be having the opposite effect. Would de León, a former president pro tem of the state Senate, have launched a challenge to a sitting U.S. senator if he knew he’d have little chance to advance past the primary to the general election? Would Feinstein have taken more liberal views on recreational marijuana and the death penalty if she didn’t have a challenger on the left? Feinstein said it has nothing to do with the race, but we are not so sure.

If there were no top-two primary to threaten incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), would former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh and other Republicans have decided to enter the race? We’re not saying it’s good or bad, only that it couldn’t have happened under the old primary system. (And it didn’t appear to work — unofficial returns have Rohrabacher facing a Democrat in November, not a fellow Republican.)

In the end, the vast majority of the races in this primary produced the same outcome as the pre-top-two system: one Democrat and one Republican heading to the general election, albeit without potential third-party spoilers. Nevertheless, after the dust from this election has settled, it would be appropriate to take a closer look at how top-two has fared in its first eight years, particularly as this was the first test of it in an open gubernatorial race. Proposition 14 was passed the same year Jerry Brown was elected for the third time as governor. Will top-two continue to deliver competitive races? Will these produce better candidates? Will partisan gridlock return to the California Legislature? Will a Green candidate ever have a shot at the general election? These are questions worth asking, not just now but after every election.

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June 6

The Mercury News on reining in lackadaisical Bay Area fire officials:

Are major Bay Area fire officials incompetent or indifferent?

That might sound harsh. But it’s a legitimate question when fire departments for years have consistently failed to perform legally required annual inspections of apartment buildings and schools our children attend.

Bay Area News Group reporter Thomas Peele and data analyst Harriet Blair Rowan’s investigation of 11 Bay Area fire departments reveals that many are years behind in doing their duty.

Heads should roll. The usual excuses - short staff or database inadequacies - simply don’t cut it. The worst was Hayward’s fire chief, who was ignorant about the responsibilities of his job.

“What mandate?” Chief Garrett Contreras said during an interview, asking a reporter to point out the requirements in state law. It turns out that the city was simply ignoring fire safety enforcement in smaller apartment buildings.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has the right idea. Responding to our reporting, he promises to quickly introduce legislation requiring that fire departments prepare annual reports on how well they are following the law.

A copy should be sent to the state, where California Fire Marshal Dennis Mathisen should collect the data, and Auditor Elaine Howle should determine whether the problem extends beyond the Bay Area. We suspect it does.

Brace yourself for fire officials’ whining about what an imposition that would be. But, this should be a top priority.

For those departments not already using firefighters to perform inspections, it’s time to start. For those complaining about the problems with their databases, fix it. The time for excuses is over.

To see the consequences when fire departments fail to take initiative, consider Oakland’s infamous Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 people in a warehouse that had been illegally turned into living quarters. Or the city’s rooming house blaze four months later that killed four more.

Data shows Oakland performed no inspections on 72 percent of apartment buildings in 2017; Fremont, 48 percent; and Berkeley, Hayward and Sunnyvale, all 28 percent.

As for school inspections, the analysis shows that Redwood City failed to inspect 78 percent last year; Oakland, 77 percent; Berkeley, 66 percent; Contra Costa, 43 percent; Fremont, 26 percent; and Santa Clara County, 22 percent.

Those are the worst cases. None of the 11 fire departments examined had a clean record for inspecting both apartment buildings and schools.

Overall, nearly all schools in those fire districts — 96 percent — went more than a year without an inspection sometime in the last eight years. The same was true for 93 percent of apartment buildings and hotels.

It’s unacceptable.

Fire departments must not only perform the inspections, they must follow up to ensure violations are corrected. Clearly, San Jose didn’t.

An April fire at the Summerwind apartment complex displaced about 120 people from 36 units. Fortunately, nobody was killed, but firefighters had to rescue 20 people trapped on balconies.

The complex had passed inspections the past five years. But the fire department had failed to follow up on a 2011 inspection that flagged a broken fire alarm that still hadn’t been fixed.

It’s not just a matter of saving lives, which is obviously the top priority. It’s also a question of liability.

As evidence, consider an Alameda County judge’s ruling last month that Oakland had a “mandatory duty” to ensure safety at the doomed Ghost Ship warehouse. The ruling leaves the city potentially liable for the death and displacement of partygoers and tenants of the warehouse.

For the safety of the public, for the protection of taxpayers, the lackadaisical attitude of Bay Area fire officials cannot continue. State lawmakers must intervene because clearly local leaders seem incapable of doing the right thing on their own.

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June 6

Chico Enterprise-Record on Gallagher’s important bills being killed without debate:

There was a brief glimmer of hope, after unanimous positive votes in committees, that Assemblyman James Gallagher’s ideas for improving Oroville Dam oversight and school safety would at least get a hearing in the state Legislature.

Instead, they were in effect dismissed without a shred of debate in front of the full Assembly or Senate.

It’s the perfect illustration of our legislative process at its worst — and unfortunately, everybody in Sacramento accepts it as just the way business is done.

Gallagher’s bill about creating new management of the State Water Project made a lot of sense and is an urgent safety matter, especially in these parts because the Lake Oroville project serves as the cornerstone of the State Water Project.

The school safety bill — putting an officer on every public school campus in California, at state expense — was at least a good starting point for a necessary conversation.

But an Assembly committee put an end to both conversations before they even started.

Late last month, the Assembly Appropriations Committee failed to approve the two bills Gallagher sponsored. No vote was taken. Officially, the committee decided the bills would be “held under submission.” That means there was no motion made to move the bills out of the committee and onto the next step. The bills could be set for another hearing by the committee, but don’t count on it.

It’s part of the sausage-making process in Sacramento. The Appropriations Committee is where bills go to die. It’s the committee in which the members are supposed to debate the financial implications of a bill that could end up costing the state $150,000 or more. Hundreds of bills end up in front of the committee. Many are killed without a vote and nobody offers up an explanation.

Both of Gallagher’s bills passed unanimously in their first committees. Then they were sent to appropriations.

Our fear about the necessary dam safety legislation bill, AB 3045, was that it would fall victim to politics. Many locals and independent panels point the finger for the spillway problems at the state Department of Water Resources for maintenance mismanagement and shoddy construction. Gov. Jerry Brown, though, has refused to criticize his DWR appointees, so we figured Brown might try to derail any plan — like AB 3045 — that would take dam safety oversight out of the DWR’s hands and give it to a new, more independent commission. Did Brown apply pressure behind the scenes? We don’t know.

“We don’t allow any other industry to regulate itself, and state government shouldn’t be exempt,” Gallagher said in a press release after the bill failed to move forward.

Gallagher was hopeful that, despite the apparent death of his bill, the discussion would continue about who oversees dam safety in the state. He also hopes the discussion about school safety will continue.

As we pointed out in a previous editorial, his idea of putting a sworn officer in every school wouldn’t be cheap. Assume each officer would cost $100,000 annually between salary, benefits and equipment. There are 79 public and charter schools in Butte County, so the tab for Butte County alone would be $7.9 million.

In California, there are roughly 11,725 schools, the state Department of Education says, so the tab would be about $1.1 billion annually.

Then again, the state has a budget of $137 billion and children’s safety should be a priority. Shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t the Legislature at least talk about it?

Not in this state. Apparently difficult discussions are just too inconvenient.

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June 5

The San Diego Union-Tribune on 3 biggest issues for Gavin Newsom, John Cox in California governor’s race:

California voters have spoken. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, or Republican John Cox, the Rancho Santa Fe businessman, will be the state’s next governor. Given Newsom’s readiness to decline debates earlier this year, if snap polls show him with a 20 percentage point lead on Cox, he may just go on extended vacation, believing his election is assured. In the heavily Democratic Golden State, that may well be true.

But for the good of Californians, both Newsom and Cox need to run full, vigorous campaigns that address the biggest issues in the state.

On the state’s housing crisis, both Newsom and Cox say the right things about the need to add hundreds of thousands of housing units in coming years by making it easier for projects to get approved and built. But when it comes down to specifics, Newsom has at times tried to seem all things to all people. As CALmatters reported, Newsom is open to some new types of rent control — even as he acknowledges that a repeal of the state law restricting rent control would depress already-limited construction. To his credit, Cox rejects rent control as solving nothing. But both Newsom and Cox have reservations about important legislation that would force local governments to accept more housing. A California native, Newsom, at least, has views that are nuanced on the issue. Cox, an Illinois transplant, doesn’t seem to grasp that local governments are the biggest NIMBY villains of all. Both men need to offer stronger, clearer views on fixing the housing nightmare.

On education, Newsom says he wants reforms to a state education funding system adopted in 2013 that has failed to meet its primary goal of helping English-language learners and that schools must do a much better job preparing students for 21st-century careers. But his endorsement by the California Teachers Association — and his assertion that the state’s biggest education crisis is “the demoralization of our teachers” — are huge warning signs that he would be yet another Democratic governor who cares more about school employees than schoolchildren. To counter this impression, Newsom should offer specific views on big issues like teacher tenure and the state’s attempts to block meaningful evaluations of teachers, schools and districts. Cox’s challenge is even greater. His ideas about improving schools seem to begin and end with adding more charters and cliches about bringing competition to education. He needs to present an actual reform road map and show a recognizable vision for public schools.

On criminal justice issues, Newsom is strongly supportive of and Cox is highly critical of so-called sanctuary state laws that limit state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement — laws whose alleged negative effects have been ginned up by the right for political reasons. Newsom makes a strong case for bail reform, saying there are ways to ensure suspects show up for trials without harming their families, careers and prospects for better lives by locking them up for not making bail. He also says there should be independent investigations of police use-of-force incidents. Cox opposes bail changes and says local police agencies can handle investigations into police shootings just fine. He seems completely unaware that there is a conservative case for sweeping criminal justice reform based on the idea that the present U.S. system is far costlier and more punitive than those in other advanced nations yet doesn’t make Americans safer.

Newsom and Cox already offer striking contrasts. But they still need to fill in many blanks on where they want to take California and how they would get there. The candidates owe it to Californians to treat this responsibility with the gravity it deserves.

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June 2

The Press Democrat on a reusable straw and a recycling crisis:

Miles Pepper’s invention — a reusable, stainless steel drinking straw — is a clever idea.

It’s also a timely idea, and not only because disposable straws, like plastic bags and bottle caps, are a source of waste plastic that threatens marine life in the world’s oceans and waterways.

“At best, plastic straws end up in the landfill,” Pepper, a 23-year-old Analy High School graduate now living in Los Angeles, told Staff Writer Hannah Beausang. “Because they’re so lightweight, they sometimes end up in gutters and out to the ocean as trash, where they’re mistaken by sea critters, fish and turtles as food.”

If we don’t change our habits, there could be more plastic, by weight, in the ocean than fish by 2050, according to a widely cited World Economic Forum report. Synthetic microfibers also have turned up in drinking water samples around the world, according to news reports.

The best-case scenario for disposable straws — the landfill — has its own problem: space is finite, and no one wants a new landfill in their neighborhood.

Which leads to another, more immediate concern: the world market for recyclables is drying up.

Americans recycle about 66 million tons of material annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But more and more of the plastic soda bottles, cereal boxes, newspapers, magazines, restaurant takeout containers and empty cans that fill up those big blue barrels are ending up in landfills or stacking up in warehouses instead of being refashioned into recycled products.

Recyclable waste tends to be exported, and the most common destination has been China.

But, as part of an antipollution campaign, China announced last year that it didn’t want “foreign garbage” anymore. Scrap exports to China dropped 35 percent in the first two months of 2018, the New York Times reported recently. Then, in May, China temporarily halted all imports of recyclable material and warned that it would impose permanent restrictions by the end of the year.

Some countries, Vietnam and Indonesia among them, still accept recyclables. But none of those markets comes close to matching China, which handled as much as half of the world’s exports of waste paper and other recyclable material, including about 8 million tons a year shipped from the United States.

Unless the Chinese reconsider, or a new option emerges, the handling of recyclables could develop into a worldwide crisis.

You’ve probably seen this slogan: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It’s a commendable ethic. It feels good. And it helps extend the life of landfills. But sending shiploads of trash across oceans was never a sustainable approach to waste management.

That brings us back to Miles Pepper and his reusable straw.

Plastic straws aren’t recyclable, of course. But millions of straws are used every day. For some people with disabilities, straws are essential. For most of us, however, they aren’t a necessity. They may be fun. They may spare you from a milk mustache. But they’re used briefly and then they’re discarded — like excessive packaging that facilitates shipment and retail display before adding to the waste stream.

Recycling remains the best alternative to landfills, so keep sorting those plastics and bottles. But the long-term goal needs to be less waste.

Until then, it’s going to take a lot of innovations like Pepper’s FinalStraw to make a dent in the mountain of garbage that people discard every day.

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