Nov. 8

The Press Democrat on ending the sexual harassment culture in Sacramento

Soon after the Harvey Weinstein scandal upended Hollywood, more than 140 female legislators, staff members, political consultants and lobbyists signed a #MeToo letter denouncing sexual misconduct in California's state Capitol.

"Each of us has endured, or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces," the letters says. "Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities. Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes, have undermined our professional positions and capabilities. Men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like."

In the three weeks since, a few of the women have stepped forward to share their stories.

The state Senate and Assembly, meanwhile, have grudgingly acknowledged paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to settle harassment claims.

And the public learned that Democratic leaders in the Assembly backed the successful candidacy of a high-ranking staff member, Raul Bocanegra, who was accused of sexual harassment, resulting in one of those costly settlements.

None of this squares with the progressive ideals espoused by many of these same elected officials who are now scrambling to limit the fallout from their past inaction.

There have been predictable expressions of shock and anger, coupled with lawyerly circumlocutions about not witnessing acts that probably didn't take place in public venues.

The damage control continues with a promise this week to release a summary of pertinent information, to be followed by a subcommittee hearing later this month.

But even those responses stand as bleak reminders about the double-standards that shield state lawmakers from a full public accounting of what goes on under the dome.

Consider, for example, the promised summary of pertinent information. In a letter to the Sacramento Bee, senior legislative administrators said details of complaints and investigations would be withheld to protect the "privacy rights of victims, witnesses, and others."

Call us cynical, but we can't help but suspect that the "others" includes perpetrators.

Because public access to legislative records is governed a more permissive law than the one covering other state agencies, such routine information as appointment calendars and emails are seldom available for scrutiny. That has made it difficult for journalists to identify some of the legislators accused of gross sexual misconduct.

Another tactic has been to tailor settlement agreements to discourage victims from sharing their stories publicly. At least two of the state Senate's settlements included a non-disparagement clause forbidding the claimants from making "derogatory comments" about their former employer, the Associated Press reported last week.

Some of the employees who complained say they were soon fired from their jobs.

Unlike most other public employees, legislative employees have no protection against retaliation if they complain about sexual harassment or anything else.

And in each of the past four years, the Senate Appropriations Committee has buried a bill that would have extended whistle-blower protection enjoyed by executive and judicial branch employees to people working in the Legislature.

That probably kept some victims from coming forward. But this kind of behavior can't be buried as easily any more.

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Nov. 7

The Sacramento Bee on Sacramento County finally seeing reason on homelessness

Years from now, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg undoubtedly will look back on Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting and remember the details of his decisive political victory. The rest of us will remember it as a victory for Sacramento County.

It's hard not to be ever-so slightly optimistic after all five supervisors voted to spend $44 million to help get thousands of chronically homeless people off the streets. In casting the vote, the board by extension agreed to work in conjunction with the city and the Whole Person Care pilot program. The money, all of it in state Mental Health Services Act dollars, will be used to beef up county-run services over the next three years.

With more than 2,000 men and women sleeping outside in Sacramento County every night, many of them mentally ill and addicted to drugs, turning neighborhoods into public health nightmares, the decision couldn't have come a moment too soon.

Still, it was the vote that almost didn't happen.

For months, Steinberg has been urging the county to help implement the Whole Person Care program, as have we on the Sacramento Bee's editorial board in a series of editorials. The city and local hospitals put up $32 million and secured matching grants under the federal program for a total of $64 million to pay for street-level outreach.

But the county repeatedly rejected the mayor's argument that, together, the county and city could pool their resources and come up with a common strategy to combat homelessness. Inexplicably, the Sacramento County staff put up the biggest fight, that is, until Steinberg unearthed $127 million in state mental health funding that had been earmarked but unused in the county's budget.

County staff had wanted to spend a mere $42 million over six years - not nearly enough to meet the need on the streets.

But Steinberg persisted, seeking the $44 million over three years. To the pleasant surprise of homeless advocates who had been discouraged by the county staff's plan, he put forth the alternative proposal with Supervisors Phil Serna and Patrick Kennedy, and they managed to prevail.

It's saying something that even Supervisors Sue Frost and Susan Peters, who represent suburbs in the northeast part of the county, went along with the plan. Frost objected most, asking that supervisors delay the vote.

Serna, to his credit, told his fellow board members: "What I'm not interested in doing is punting."

Steinberg called the infusion of cash and the partnership "a watershed moment for our community." It will allow Sacramento "to combat this growing problem aggressively now, now, and not at some uncertain time in the future."

Indeed, given its history, that $44 million is a triumph. Now, the county and city must proceed to spend the money wisely. We don't expect homelessness to be abolished any time soon. But the region's residents, including the ones who live on the streets, can rightly expect significant progress in the months and years to come.

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Nov. 7

The Orange County Register on California needing to stop picking winners and losers with tax credits

Governments shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers in the economy, yet politicians can't seem to help themselves from manipulating the markets in order to do just that.

On Oct. 31, California's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office presented its review of one such effort, the California Competes tax credit program. Started in 2013, the program has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to companies including General Motors and Snapchat. From its start through 2017-18, up to $780 million in tax credits will have been provided.

Intended to attract or retain businesses, the LAO found little evidence the program is serving its purpose. The report argues that in some cases the program can have negative economic impacts by inadvertently putting the competitors not awarded tax credits at a significant competitive disadvantage.

While claiming the program could be improved if state officials wanted, the report points out that some problems are largely unavoidable, and that a better approach is to create a fairer system for all businesses.

"We recommend that the Legislature end California Competes," the report concludes. "In general, broad-based tax relief — for all businesses — is preferable to targeted tax incentives."

We agree. Given that the underlying assumption of the tax credit program is that tax relief can make a significant difference in whether a business expands here, it only makes sense to expand this idea to all businesses, not just those with the best lobbyists and political clout.

The LAO provides a few options for state officials, including reducing the corporate tax rate or pursuing "other policy changes to improve the state's business climate generally."

Considering the Tax Foundation ranks California's corporate taxes 33rd in the nation in terms of competitiveness, there's clearly opportunity for improvement.

With California's reputation as a state unfriendly to businesses, any concerted effort to actually make the state more competitive with respect to its regulatory or litigation environment is likely to yield positive outcomes.

Rather than selectively relieving businesses of burdensome tax and regulatory schemes, California should set a level playing field, both competitive and fair.

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Nov. 6

Ventura County Star on Ventura, Moorpark on needing the public's help

Local governments in Ventura County and elsewhere too often like to do the public's business in private, whether it's agreeing to big raises for city employees or deciding to fire a school principal. While not necessarily illegal, such actions send a simple message to constituents: Their opinions don't matter.

So when a local government goes the extra mile to seek public input and promote transparency, praise always is in order. The cities of Moorpark and Ventura deserve recognition for recent efforts to get their residents involved in an important upcoming decision each one is facing.

For their part, residents who care about their city should not let this opportunity slip by. When government invites us to the party, we need to attend, if for no other reason than to prevent the appearance of public apathy, which is a recipe for future exclusion and even corruption.

Moorpark is looking for public input as it seeks a new city manager to replace Steven Kueny, who will retire in March after more than three decades at the helm of city government there. City councils may make the flashy policy decisions on shopping malls and marijuana dispensaries, but city managers run the show day to day and can be the difference between a responsive, efficient city government and a disorganized, plodding bureaucracy.

Moorpark's city manager oversees more than 60 full-time workers and an annual budget totaling $62 million. Moorpark also has some specific key goals the next city manager could make or break, such as reducing truck traffic and revitalizing High Street.

Its City Council is expected to begin interviewing applicants in December, hoping to have a new manager on board by March. The job will pay $178,000 to $239,000.

Before then, the council wants to hear from residents and businesses on the types of expertise, character traits and other qualities they think the new city manager should have. The city is encouraging folks to complete an online survey at moorparkca.gov/CityManagerSurvey by Nov. 20. It only takes about 5 minutes, and the results will be given to the council to help with its decision, city officials say.

In Ventura, the City Council wants the public's help in drawing up election districts for each of its seven members. Under threat of a voting-rights lawsuit and concerns that minorities are underrepresented on the council, the panel last month decided to ditch its at-large elections and move to a system where the city is divided into districts, with each electing one council member who lives in that district.

Two public hearings already have been held, including one Monday night, but it's not too late to get involved. You can go online at cityofventura.ca.gov/districtelections, watch videos in English or Spanish or read the FAQ to learn more about the process, and even draw up your own district boundaries and submit them to the city for consideration. Interactive elements at the website allow you to consider race, income, education and other demographics as you try to devise seven districts of roughly equal population size. The deadline is Nov. 17.

Following that, the council will hold two more public hearings — on Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 — to consider map proposals, with final decisions set for January.

We editorialized in September that the Ventura council and other boards in our county need to better reflect their minority populations. But the success of district elections in achieving that depends largely on the boundaries themselves. This is an important, complex task, and we encourage Ventura residents to take the time to let their voices be heard.

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Nov. 3

Santa Cruz Sentinel on Californians finding high-cost college unnecessary

College — the cost of college — has become a divisive issue for many Californians.

And the costs of colleges, especially California's extensive public university system, are no less controversial.

Of the latter, the recent firing of UC Santa Cruz's admissions director pointed out the pressures schools face in an era of limited, if still substantial, state funding. The admissions director told a Sentinel reporter he believes he was fired because he spoke out regarding how university officials have been allegedly altering admissions requirements and procedures to increase the number of transfer students over which $50 million in state funding has been withheld. This comes at a time when state schools also are going after higher paying out-of-state, and out-of-country, students.

These financial battles comes as the allure of higher education seems to be fading for many Californians.

A survey released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed only about half of Californians think college is necessary. The demographic/ethnic breakdown of the survey was also surprising, with about two-thirds of Latinos maintaining their faith in the need for a college degree, while only a slight majority of Asian- and African-Americans see it that way. Only 35 percent of whites agree college is necessary.

Also, almost 60 percent of those from households earning less than $40,000 say college is necessary, while only 42 percent from households making at least $80,000 agree.

What might explain these figures? Obviously the cost — tuition, fees, books and housing — and the ever increasing burdens of student debt have dimmed the luster for many.

Then there's this: for whites and the more affluent, access to college is not extraordinary; for others, it's a big step toward gaining a toehold to move upward economically.

The survey of more than 1,700 California adults, conducted in October, also found significant gaps between native-born Californians and noncitizen residents on whether college is necessary — 75 percent of noncitizen California residents say college is crucial to later success. Only 38 percent of native-born California residents agree.

California's higher education spending accounts for 12 percent of the state budget, down from 18 percent 40 years ago, PPIC reports. But California has increased per-college-student funding by 15 percent since the start of the economic recovery in 2010, far more than the national increase of 2 percent.

Still, 56 percent of California residents think college affordability is a major problem, according to the survey. Translation: a majority aren't sure a college education is worth the major investment. And although most residents don't think state government gives public higher ed enough money, a third think schools waste a lot of the money they are given.

Those views have political/budgetary implications and could determine the future of a bill signed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown that will make one year free for students at the state's 114 community colleges, so long as they are residents and are new students enrolled full-time.

The state has waived the per credit fee for low-income students since 1986, when it was just $5. About 43 percent of its 2.3 million students benefited from that program during the 2015-2016 school year.

The new legislation expands the waiver to all students, regardless of their income, for their first year. An additional 19,000 students would qualify, according to an estimate from the Community College Chancellor's office, costing the state $31.1 million a year.

California's free community college program could start for the 2018-2019 school year. But here's the catch: it's contingent on whether lawmakers include funding for it in next year's budget, which must be approved by next June.

The state has a number of other priorities other than making the country's most affordable community college system even cheaper. Perhaps the money might be better used for more urgent needs, including lower-cost student housing or to help find a way to lower interest rates on student loans.