California Editorial Rdp

July 19

The Mercury News on Bay Area Rapid Transportation’s crime transparency:

BART officials’ arrogance continues to amaze.

In recent years, they’ve tried to hide the true cost of labor contracts, and how money from a property tax increase would be spent. This year, they buried information about transit system crimes.

And then they tried to blame the media, which, according to a disturbing memo from Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill, is only out for its own self-interest. It’s the sort of press-bashing we’d expect from the Trump administration, not a transit district dominated by politically progressive directors.

To make matters worse, Hamill claims that releasing information about crimes only serves to stir up racial prejudices. While we share a concern about deplorable latent bigotry that too often surfaces, that’s not justification for shutting down the flow of information about crime on BART.

It seems BART managers’ real agenda is to control information, to put a positive spin on a very troubled rail system and downplay rising crime on trains and in stations. The transit district’s penchant for secrecy must end.

Public concern was understandably heightened in April when as many as 60 youths jumped the fare gates at the Coliseum station, then robbed seven people and beat two others on a Dublin-bound train.

Then, in June at the same station, a teenager in a group of about a dozen youths snatched a woman’s phone and ran off the train. A Good Samaritan suffered minor injuries retrieving the phone and police quickly detained the group.

This month, a man was kicked several times and robbed at UC Berkeley after teenagers followed him from the downtown BART station.

In all three cases, BART officials never issued press releases about the incidents. They claimed they weren’t serious enough.

Meanwhile, the district’s new police chief, Carlos Rojas, eliminated the crime recaps distributed to the press and public. Instead, the district switched to using a clunky crime-mapping web site that locates incidents but provides no detail about what occurred.

To his credit, after hearing public, media and board protests, he backtracked and just started releasing the crime recaps again. But not before Hamill gave us a sense of how top BART administrators are thinking.

In her memo to the board about the second incident, she claimed there would have been “no benefit to riders, criminal procedure, BART police investigations, or the District generally” in issuing a press release.

Doing so, she said, “would paint an inaccurate picture of the BART system as crime-ridden when incidents of crime . are fewer than in surrounding communities.”

That’s a false comparison, and misses the point. The three incidents raise legitimate concerns and fears. Riders deserve to know so they can take appropriate precautions — and make educated decisions about if, where and when they want to ride BART.

BART shouldn’t try to make that decision for them.


July 19

Riverside Press-Enterprise on asset forfeiture rule change:

In an unfortunate turn, the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to lighten up on rules restricting law enforcement’s use of asset forfeiture.

Although Attorney General Jeff Sessions will include some helpful modifications to the stricter new policy, the net result is still a setback for Americans — not only the criminals federal prosecutors and cops want to keep off the streets.

Not only is asset forfeiture inherently ripe for abuse that can be too consuming to monitor and too painful for those targeted to reverse. The purpose of the abuse is often more to line pockets than it is to take away ill-gotten gains.

This week’s changes are part of a plan to walk back constraints on asset forfeiture imposed by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in the face of a growing outcry from citizens as well as policymakers.

Civil liberties groups spearheaded a campaign against the way standing law had allowed policing to become akin to a for-profit operation. Criminal asset forfeiture laws not only allowed police to seize property and cash belonging to those merely suspected of criminal activity, but allowed police to keep it. Worse, civil asset forfeiture laws allowed permanent seizures to extend to people not even charged with crimes.

The result was, at the bottom end of the scale, “small” seizures of cash that had a grievous impact on individuals, and, at the top end, outsized windfalls for departments on the make.

The Obama administration’s move to address that criticism by curtailing asset forfeiture cooled tempers to a degree, but the fundamental issue did not go away.

Now it is back in earnest — although reports now indicate that the Justice Department under Sessions intends to ameliorate the impact of asset forfeiture excesses by issuing stricter requirements about how and when federal law applies. Law enforcement will now need the approval of a federal prosecutor in order to seize under $10,000 in cash without a warrant, an arrest, a confession or the possession of contraband. Previously, the bar for such seizures was $5,000, and prosecutors infrequently entered into the process.

Authorities will be obliged to update people on the status of their seized property faster than the law currently mandates. And police will have to supply more robust accounts of probable cause in order to pass muster on asset seizures.

But trouble remains. The new and improved deadline for informing property owners of what has become of their belongings, for example, is now 45 days, which is still an eternity for people whose savings or whose automobiles have been taken away without charge. Targets of seizures will still bear the burden of persuading police that their property was not related in any way to a crime — without the benefit of a right to legal counsel. The list goes on.

While Attorney General Sessions has a strong and reasonable interest in enforcing standing laws against major drug traffickers, asset forfeiture turns on a legal principle — criminals should lose at least some property rights — that puts officials on a slippery slope they’re incentivized to slide down.

It’s too difficult to clearly delineate genuine traffickers from possible couriers under those circumstances, and when officials make even well-meaning mistakes, people pay dearly, with slim hopes of recovery.

Frustrating as it may be, the fight against excessive asset forfeiture practices must and should go on.


July 18

Santa Maria Times on health care bill:

Yet another attempt by congressional Republicans to rewrite the nation’s health care law has crashed, but not for the reasons sane people might imagine.

Thinking Americans can see the folly of scrapping a health care law that helps protect more than 24 million fellow citizens, and replacing it with something — anything, really — that reduces coverage, fails to insure the folks who most need coverage, and leaves many poor families vulnerable to catastrophic illness or injury.

But apparently, thinking people are hard to find in Washington. Instead, you get Republicans and Democrats, who will barely speak to each other about important issues facing this nation and its citizens.

That seems to be the case with the recently-failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and replace it with legislation that is so deeply flawed that even a fair number of Republicans can’t support it.

The repeal/replace scheme hit the rocks over the weekend when Sen. John McCain flew back to Arizona for emergency surgery to remove a dangerous blood clot. McCain was an almost-certain “no” vote, but with him in the hospital, the GOP didn’t have the magic number of votes to win passage.

So, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threw in the towel on the proposed bill, but within hours suggested he might follow President Trump’s suggestion of an outright repeal of the ACA, after which Republicans could enjoy — as Trump put it — congressional Democrats joining in. Talk about living in an alternate universe.

But even from his post-op room, McCain had the best idea — that it’s time for “leaders to craft a new bill with input from senators of both parties.”

It’s a wild concept, Republicans working with Democrats to do what’s best for America. And the failure to do so in the past is one reason congressional Republicans are so zealous about dumping the Affordable Care Act, which passed both houses of Congress without a single Republican vote.

As political satire, it doesn’t get much better than this. But sadly, it’s not satire we’re dealing with here. It’s people’s lives.

A health care bill passed by the House — without a single Democrat vote — was dead on arrival in the Senate. Now the Senate’s version has, for the moment, been tabled. Part of the reason can be traced back to just about everyone’s assessment of the damage both the House and Senate versions of the replacement bill would cause.

Thus, McConnell’s idea of an outright repeal of the ACA, with a two-year window during which both houses could agree on replacement legislation. That may sound reasonable to congressional daydreamers, but there is a very big problem — if 24 million Americans suddenly are faced with life without health care coverage, the political numbers could be changed, dramatically, in the midterm elections.

There is another problem — in that two-year window, which is essentially a policy vacuum, insurers can’t know what to do, and their inclination might be to simply bail on states, creating a health-insurance crisis of monumental proportions.

It often seems that lawmakers don’t really think things through, don’t see the end game — a situation that might be reversed if the two parties could agree on a middle ground, where decisions and policies that help American citizens have a chance to be made.

Another sad reality is that Congress is getting no help from a dysfunctional White House, or from a president who seems more interested in further dividing the nation than in bringing us all back together.

Is this part of the plan to “make America great again”?


July 17

The East Bay Times on San Francisco International Airport close call with Air Canada flight:

It’s stunning how close an errant Air Canada flight came to descending smack into fully fueled planes on the ground at San Francisco International Airport in what would have been one of the worst aviation disasters ever.

New data obtained by this news organization and the first public comment on Monday from the National Transportation Safety Board indicate the flight came within a few seconds and only a few dozen feet of devastating impact that could have wiped out nearly 1,000 lives.

Only a last-minute warning from an alert pilot on the ground prevented the Air Canada plane from mistakenly landing on a taxiway where four planes were awaiting permission for takeoff.

How could this happen? The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the July 7 near-disaster. There must be answers. And there must be people held accountable.

What we know so far is that Air Canada Flight 759, from Toronto, was supposed to be on visual approach to Runway 28R. Instead, it was headed for Taxiway C.

At the front of the line on the ground was United Airlines Flight 1 with enough fuel for an 8,446-mile, nearly 16½-hour trip to Singapore, what the airline last year called the longest scheduled flight operated by any U.S. carrier.

Behind it were Philippine Airlines 115 to Manila; United Airlines 863 to Sydney, Australia; and United Airlines 1118 to Orlando, Florida.

Three trans-Pacific and one cross-country flight queued up on the taxiway with no quick escape route and the Air Canada plane headed straight for them.

The Air Canada pilot radioed that he saw lights on the runway but the air traffic controller, who was also coordinating with another facility, radioed back that the runway was clear. Neither apparently realized that the pilot was mistakenly targeting the adjacent taxiway.

“Where’s this guy going! He’s on the taxiway,” interjects a crew member from a plane on the ground. The air traffic controller immediately instructs the Air Canada pilot to abort his landing.

According to the NTSB, the plane had already dropped below 100 feet and passed over the first plane in line when it began to change course.

“Air Canada flew directly over us,” the pilot of United 1 later told the tower.

The NTSB information jibes with calculations of Ryan Jorgenson, a FlightAware senior aviation data analyst. He estimates the Air Canada flight also passed over the second plane and dropped as low as 81 feet off the ground before beginning to ascend.

Many questions await answers.

How did the Air Canada pilot mistake the blue lights of the taxiway for the white lights of the runway? Was the air traffic controller alone? What else was he doing? Why did he not head off near-disaster sooner? Why wasn’t the NTSB notified until more than 24 hours after the incident?

This could have been so much worse. It almost was.


July 16

Imperial Valley Press on cellphone tower bill:

California Senate Bill 649 would allow cellular phone tower construction on public land or structures that proponents maintain is needed to keep demand. It is sponsored by Senator Ben Hueso, our Imperial County representative, who says the bill is needed to keep up with technology.

The issue: SB 649

We say: Not under our watch

“We need a statewide plan for the adaption on new wireless communication rather than having to go city to city,” Hueso told the Imperial Valley Press recently. “This bill is absolutely needed. Cities are saying they’ll lose local control but it’s not the case. This is about making telephone bills affordable.”

This is about making telephone bills affordable?

According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind. In 2011, the percentage of Americans using cellphones was 35 percent, a jump of 77 percent in only six years.

According to PRC, of the people with an annual income of less than $30,000, 92 percent of them have some sort of a cellphone.

It’s difficult to see how this bill will make cellphones more affordable when even the lower-middle class can already afford one. It seems more like the telecommunication companies see a growing desire for more cellphones and want to circumvent local city authority to save fees.

And yes, this will take control away from small cities like ours.

SB 648 will shut out local discretion by eliminating consideration of environmental impacts of the small cell towers that can be attached to public structures like utility poles.

In the current process — cities dictate where cellphone towers can be built, height, base width, etc. Ultimately, the cellphone companies are responsible for taxes and fees like all business.

Only a few months ago, residents in Holtville opposed a cellphone tower in the middle of Samaha Park, calling it an eyesore.

Council ultimately allowed the tower, but toward the south end of the park with a 3-2 vote.

The key thing to understand here is the city had the decision with input from residents, not the cellphone company or the state — that’s how our country works, or at least how it should work.

In that Holtville deal with Clear Talk, the 50-year lease will generate anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million for the city.

The lease agreement will begin with a lower per-year payout and will steadily rise from $10,000 to $35,000 in the final years, and to begin the project, Clear Talk will pay the first five years up front with the addition a community benefit fee to bring it up to $60,000 that will be paid to the city on the first day of the contract.

SB 648 would set the leasing fees from $100 to $850 per year with a one-time setup fee of $250 for any city that receives a small cellphone tower. So 648 is about lowering cellphone bills at the expense of city services.

These telecommunications companies want to install anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 of the small cell towers in the next five years as they attempt to make the jump from 4G to 5G speeds according to the Los Angeles Times.

The LA Times reported during the last election cycle, AT&T gave more than $1.6 million to political groups and politicians — Democrats received $615,000 and Republicans $625,000. AT&T also spent $250,000 on an annual golf tournament at Pebble Beach, the Assembly Democrats’ big fundraiser.

On Wednesday, the bill cleared another hurdle by passing through the Communications and Conveyance Committee on the Assembly floor. Our district Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia didn’t vote, but was present. It’s getting closer to reaching the Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, who according to the LA Times, will probably veto it given his history of favoring local control, but he’s also unpredictable. The bill now goes to the Committee on Appropriations but no date has been set for its hearing.

The Imperial Irrigation District hasn’t made a stance on the bill but previously stated it is watching the bill closely. The county of Imperial already informed Hueso it opposes the bill.

As of last week, more than 175 cities already opposed the bill including Brawley and El Centro. Our other local cities have not taken a stand so far.

If you are opposed as we are, call our Assemblyman Garcia at 760-335-8656 or Hueso at 760-335-3442. Call your council members as well at your respective city hall and tell them to take a stand . tell them the lower cost of a phone call shouldn’t come at the expense of your city’s services.