Aug. 22

Los Angeles Times on letting the Bay Area's rivers run not being a 'water grab':

What's the deal with San Francisco? It's always been so environmentally oriented, so water thrifty, so protective of its bay, so — well, how shall we put it? — concerned about the toll that Southern Californians' thirst takes on the rivers that sustain California's fish, wildlife and ultimately people.

Yet here it is, joining with San Joaquin Valley agribusiness in opposing a state proposal to partially restore three great rivers that play a crucial role in sustaining California's ecology. These rivers once rushed from the Western Sierra, but dams and diversions have reduced them at times to a mere trickle.

The problem for San Francisco is that one of those rivers is the Tuolumne. Much of it is redirected from its natural course in order to fill the reservoir behind Don Pedro Dam, and from there it supplies Modesto and nearby cities and fields. But further upstream, not far from where it begins in Yosemite National Park, the river is dammed and a portion of it is diverted to the Bay Area. San Franciscans are prone to calling that pure snowmelt their birthright.

Diversions from the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers affect the downstream ecology in the San Joaquin River, which they feed, as well as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the San Francisco Bay, which are saltier because they now have less freshwater to push back against the Pacific Ocean's incursions. Diversions also seriously shrink the river highways used by migrating salmon that spawn in the foothills and mountains. That, in turn, cripples the state's once-great ocean fishing fleets and seafood processors.

To partially revive those rivers, state regulators in 2010 proposed that diversions to dams and fields be scaled back enough so that 60% of the natural, unimpeded flows would remain from February through June — the key period for fish. Environmentalists and the struggling fishing industry applauded.

The State Water Resources Control Board has since revised its proposal downward to 40% — less than half the rivers' natural flow — and this week is conducting public hearings on the plan. Nevertheless, agricultural interests are calling it a "water grab."

That's a curious use of the term. Those are words usually directed toward Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California to describe projects to redirect Sierra mountain water southward. And let's be honest: L.A. has grabbed a lot of water over the years — from the Owens Valley, from Mono Lake, from the delta.

But then, all Californians grab and transport water, San Franciscans and San Joaquin Valley farmers included. What the water board is proposing is the direct opposite of a water grab. It's a sort of un-grab — a proposal to keep just enough water in the rivers so that they can continue to sustain the salmon, the fishing industry and the state's complex ecology.

Water is so vital that any change in accustomed use is seen as a kind of a plot, and reality is turned upside down. Stanislaus County almond growers describe plans to leave a little more water in rivers as a diversion, or as exporting it to distant locations. San Francisco residents begin to sound like officials in the Trump administration, who see rivers reaching the sea as wasteful, and who are seeking ways to circumvent state water laws.

Those farmers and those residents are inheritors of legal water rights, but their rights are not absolute. Lawsuits and settlements have required Los Angeles, for the public good, to leave in place much of the water it once took from the Eastern Sierra. Likewise, other regions must leave some — not most, just some — of the water they currently take from the Western Sierra. All Californians must make do with less. In L.A., that means developing alternative water sources, such as cleaning and recycling wastewater and stormwater. In the San Joaquin Valley, that may mean planting less thirsty crops.

The water board's proposal falls well short of what environmentalists want, but it is reasonable and measured. The board is expected to vote later this year.

It's also expected to vote on a similar proposal to increase flows on the Sacramento River. There is some question as to how compatible that plan would be with the WaterFix — the state's project to send water to the California Aqueduct through two giant tunnels. Southern California needs those tunnels, but it also needs a healthy Sacramento River and a healthy delta. We can't all get all the water we think we need. L.A., San Francisco, the San Joaquin Valley — we must all leave some water in place for the good of the state, each other, and ourselves.

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Aug. 21

The Sacramento Bee on Gov. Brown needing to push for bail reform:

After years of bargaining, waiting, pleading and bargaining some more, having a bill in hand that would kill California's predatory cash bail industry should be a cause for celebration. Instead, it has been more like the cause of an ulcer.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats passed Senate Bill 10 after acknowledging, but ultimately dismissing, the warnings of progressive groups that the legislation could do the opposite of what's intended and put more poor and minority defendants behind bars while awaiting trial.

On Monday, Assembly Democrats did the same, but by a far thinner margin. It was an uncomfortable political two-step, to say the least.

"This might not go as far as people may want, either to the so-called left or the so-called right," Assemblyman David Chiu said Monday before the vote. "But we need to do something."

Indeed, SB 10, carried by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, is far from perfect. But if there were ever a time not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, this is it.

Gov. Jerry Brown should remember this when the legislation lands on his desk. His decision should come down to weighing what's certain versus what's possible.

If SB 10 dies, it is certain that hundreds of thousands of Californians will remain behind bars, not because they are dangerous or at risk of running away, but simply because they can't afford to get out. The median bail amount in California is $50,000, five times the national average. People's lives will continue to be ruined, as they languish in jail for weeks, months and even years at a time, even though they have only been charged, not convicted.

"They can't pay their rent. They can't pay child support or take their kids to school. There's so many other consequences to that," Hertzberg told The Sacramento Bee. "That isn't patriotic. That isn't American. That isn't the right thing to do."

But if SB 10 becomes law, it's also certain that the for-profit bail industry will die, eliminating a powerful, deep-pocketed lobbying force at the state Capitol.

The legislation replaces cash bail with "risk assessments" to determine whether people should be set free or held in jail until trial. Money would no longer determine someone's fate in at least one corner of California's criminal justice system.

Compare that to what some public defenders and progressive groups say could happen under SB 10.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and PICO California insist that it's possible more people, not fewer, will end up behind bars instead of being let go on their own recognizance or with an state-funded electronic monitoring device. That's because unlike earlier versions of the legislation, the current version would give judges the discretion to hold people under an expanded process for "preventive detention," opening a new front of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

SB 10 also would give the Board of Supervisors in each county a say in who should be eligible for bail, possibly creating yet another patchwork system of punishment for those accused of crimes across the state.

So, no, SB 10 isn't perfect. And, yes, legislators should do as they promised this week and work to monitor and refine the system in the coming years. But the opportunity before the governor right now, the certainty of righting the many wrongs of the cash bail industry, is just too good to possibly pass up.

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Aug. 20

The San Diego Union-Tribune on SDG&E showing how not to persuade people:

After a feverish summer debate, state lawmakers made clear last week that they aren't going to heed Gov. Jerry Brown and insulate the state's three giant investor-owned utilities from liabilities for wildfires that started because of their equipment.

Even so, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric have reason to be heartened. After years of utility scandals, it seemed unlikely their arguments would gain a foothold in Sacramento. Yet their view — that it's unfair that they should face huge bills if the equipment blamed for fires was properly maintained — was taken seriously and is sure to resurface.

As The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has written repeatedly, any steps to reduce utilities' liability risks must be taken carefully, if at all, so as not to encourage corner-cutting on safety. In this dry, hot-and-getting-hotter era in the West, we realize state leaders may need to consider basic changes in how they assess blame for the giant wildfires seen every year. But we also believe utilities that want to maintain public goodwill and an image of operating in good faith should not keep trying to shift the cost of wildfires that demonstrably were their fault from shareholders to ratepayers.

As the Union-Tribune reported Friday, that is what SDG&E keeps trying to do with $379 million in leftover costs from three 2007 wildfires that cut a destructive swath through San Diego County. Utility officials continue to insist they bear no responsibility for the Witch, Guejito and Rice fires, which killed two people and destroyed 1,300-plus homes.

But the truth is that in 2008, investigators for two different state agencies concluded SDG&E was responsible for the Witch and Rice blazes, citing a failure to keep vegetation and tree limbs clear of power lines. Authorities also rejected SDG&E's claim that winds during the fires were so exceptional that they couldn't have been anticipated.

This background is why last year, two CPUC administrative law judges recommended the agency reject SDG&E's bid to pass along the $379 million to ratepayers. Subsequently, the CPUC board voted unanimously to approve this recommendation.

Now SDG&E is appealing this ruling to a state appeals court, alleging that the commission failed to "follow its own legal standards for assessing the reasonableness and prudence of utility management decisions." In other words, the utility says it knows CPUC rules better than the agency's own lawyers. Feel free to groan and then groan again.

Because of the high stakes, SDG&E is likely to keep appealing until it has exhausted its appeals. But the utility's refusal to accept the conclusions of outside investigators about the events of 2007 has a downside that its executives don't seem to grasp: This makes SDG&E seem like it can't be trusted — at a time when it is promising it can be trusted to keep its power lines safe even if it faces a lower risk of liability for wildfires. SDG&E has taken serious steps to keep residents safer since wildfires roared through San Diego a decade ago. But its continued appeals will — and should — be remembered in future discussions of changing liability standards.

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Aug. 18

Ventura County Star on school-safety litmus test:

Every year around this time, local police departments send us news releases about school safety. They warn us to slow down around schools, watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists, stop for loading and unloading buses, be courteous to school employees — things like that, and certainly important rules we all should follow.

This summer also has brought us a bevy of news stories about bulletproof backpacks, intruder-resistant glass, metal detectors, steel-rod barricades and other school safety measures. Such products are part of a growing, $2.7 billion industry that took center stage in June at the National School Safety Conference in Reno.

Yet in many of the news releases, stories, conferences, school improvement plans and such, the one action that could truly make schools safer for our children receives scant mention. So as students return to classes this month across Ventura County, we think it's important to remember the elephant in the room, especially with the November election approaching:

Gun control.

Despite a long, quiet summer, we're sure our students haven't forgotten this. They protested last school year after shootings that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and 10 at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. We encourage them to keep the pressure up this school year.

We're not so sure about their elders. They have consistently failed to take the most obvious step toward curbing gun violence in our nation and schools, to the point where many have given up. They won't even use the two dreaded words.

According to a Washington Post analysis, 2018 has already seen the highest number of school shootings since Columbine — a total of 17 — yet they remain relatively rare. Still, polls show that shooting violence is a top concern of many parents of school-age children. And a CBS News poll in February found 65 percent of Americans supported more stringent laws on firearm sales.

So what has our Republican president and Congress done this year? They approved the STOP School Violence Act, which allocates $100 million a year for school safety grants over a decade, but they cut funding for research into whether such school safety measures actually work.

They've encouraged teachers to arm themselves, supported turning schools into fortresses — anything but gun control.

Alexia Fernández Campbell, a politics and policy reporter for the Vox news and opinion website, produced an excellent report last month on the Reno conference attended by more than 1,000 school police officers and educators. "Here, at one of the largest school safety conferences in the country, the people charged with keeping our kids safe seemed lost about what to do," she wrote. "Almost everyone seemed resigned to the fact that mass shootings will happen and there is little we can do about them. And when I brought up the most obvious solution — to pass gun control laws that make it harder for people to buy guns — the idea was brushed off as a pipe dream, or simply taboo."

But there is much we can do. We can support student activism, which reached a level last school year not seen by many since the Vietnam War, and demand that our school districts treat it as a learning moment and not something deserving punishment.

Above all else, we can encourage young people to vote and together elect new representatives at the state and federal levels — legislators free from NRA influence and open to reasonable measures such as banning the sale of assault weapons and requiring universal background checks of all gun buyers. That should be our school-safety litmus test for every candidate on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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Aug. 18

The Mercury News on year-round daylight saving time

Proposition 7 is the biggest waste of time on the November ballot. And that's saying something.

Even those who hate the seasonal switch to standard time and daylight saving time should vote no on this ill-conceived ballot measure to make daylight saving time permanent, year-round.

Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, is the driving force behind the proposal to repeal the state's 1949 Daylight Saving Time Act. He says the current practice of springing forward on the second Sunday of March and falling back on the first Sunday of November is outdated and not beneficial to Californians.

As a former member of the Berryessa Union School Board, he should know better.

More than 6 million children attend K-12 schools in the state. If Prop. 7 passes, those children will be walking, biking, waiting for buses or driving to school in the dark for about three months every year. On Dec. 1, for example, sunrise in the Bay Area would be at 8:05 a.m., instead of 7:05 a.m. On Feb. 1, it would be 8:13 a.m., instead of 7:13 a.m. The average school start time for California schools is 8:07 a.m. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 20 percent of the total number of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes are children up to 14 years old. It also notes that more than 70 percent of all pedestrians killed in traffic accidents occur when it is dark.

Nothing is more important to parents than the safety of their children. California has no business putting their lives at greater risk, even if year-round daylight saving time means youth sports teams can practice later in the evenings before it gets dark.

The potential for disruption for California businesses is also problematic. Changing to year-round daylight saving time will mean airlines have to change their flight schedules for the state. No estimate exists on the potential cost, but when Congress extended daylight saving time by a month in 2005, the Air Transport Association said the price tag for just lining up travel schedules with international flights would be $147 million.

It would also create disruption and confusion for California businesses trying to link up with their Midwest and East Coast partners.

The final reason to oppose the ballot measure is that California doesn't have the power to make the change on its own. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act into law in 1966. The legislation gives states two options: operating on standard time throughout the year or observing daylight saving time from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday of October. That was later amended to the current time frame in the 1970s in an effort to conserve energy. Arizona and Hawaii are the only two states operating on standard time year around.

It's impossible to predict what Congress would do if Californians pass Prop 7, but it should be clear that this is an issue that should be dealt with at the federal level, with an eye to creating as much uniformity and as less confusion as possible.

Chu cites statistics showing that there are more traffic accidents when drivers lose an hour of sleep in the spring and a slight increase of heart attacks, as well. But the consequences of permanent daylight saving time are much worse.

Vote no on Prop. 7.