California Editorial Rdp
The Press Democrat on the path to a bipartisan fix for U.S. infrastructure:
In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump appealed for at least $1.5 trillion in new public and private spending on infrastructure.
“Together,” he said, “we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit.”
There is no debating the pressing need for upgrades to the U.S. transportation system.
America has invested too little for too long, leaving the country with crumbling roads, buckling bridges, outdated airports and dilapidated transit systems.
Moreover, the cost of rehabilitating aging infrastructure, much less expanding capacity to serve a growing economy, dwarfs even the $1.5 trillion proposed by the president.
And both major parties have been complicit in kicking this can down the road for years.
So Trump’s call for bipartisan cooperation is welcome. But a speechwriter’s words won’t repave roads or reinforce bridges. Delivering a workable infrastructure plan will require a level of engagement that has yet to be seen from this president.
If he’s serious about a bipartisan effort, and even if his only goal is to impress voters in the midterm election, success also is going to require a degree of flexibility that has largely been absent during the first 13 months of the Trump administration.
One likely source of disagreement is the level of federal investment. Trump reportedly plans to offer as little as $200 billion over 10 years, asking state and local governments and the private sector to come up with the other $1.3 trillion. That federal share is a pittance for Washington. The rest is close to the combined annual expenditures of all 50 states.
Another involves cost-sharing. An administration memo leaked to the news website Axios says the federal government would pay no more than 20 percent of any funded project. The feds have historically contributed 50 percent on infrastructure projects.
Trump reportedly will propose funding cuts for Amtrak and other mass transit systems to pay the federal share of his infrastructure plan. One victim here could be SMART, the North Bay’s new commuter rail system, which is having trouble collecting money appropriated during the Obama administration for a planned extension to Larkspur.
Skimming transit funds for other purposes won’t build many “gleaming” railways. Indeed, it’s the transportation equivalent of cutting renewable energy programs while moving to open coastal waters for oil drilling.
To reduce federal spending on transportation, Trump already has proposed turning air traffic control into a fee-based private sector system without explaining why the present system should go. He reportedly will recommend the same for highway rest stops.
All of these issues need to be on the table. Democrats also must be flexible, working, for example, to relax the regulatory obstacles that hold up vital infrastructure projects, if they expect Republicans to give ground on other aspects of an infrastructure plan.
Ordinary Californians may have a role to play here too. With a long list of projects ready to go and a new gas tax for matching funds, the state is positioned to compete for federal money — if voters don’t get fooled by backers of a gas tax referendum who seek to kick the can down the road one more time.
San Francisco Chronicle on city-sponsored drug-injection sites saving lives:
The idea of a city-sponsored drug-injection site at first sounds baffling and dangerous. To some, providing comfortable quarters and needles to shoot up is the last thing a city should do to curb drug users sprawling across sidewalks and parks.
But San Francisco, along with other major cities, is on track to do just that — and the plan makes sense. It’s a real-world answer that can lessen a runaway problem, prevent deaths and offer a pathway from addiction. Safe-injection sites have found support and success in dozens of cities in Canada, Europe and Australia.
Between now and July, city Health Director Barbara Garcia plans to clarify the scope and operations of the local sites. Her department has worked on the idea for months, mindful of the legal and health hazards that go along with enabling illegal drug use.
There are reasons for caution, but the idea is neither far-fetched nor implausible. San Francisco has more than 20,000 injection-drug users, a figure that accounts for a demoralizing sight of discarded syringes and open drug use throughout the city. Anyone walking by a huddled group splayed on the pavement should want the city to come up with an answer.
Offering a controlled setting indoors can help. It’s expected there will be medical oversight and counseling, clean needles, and safe surroundings. Police involvement to prevent drug sales needs to be worked out.
Until now, San Francisco and other cities were stalled over legal and perceptual problems. Opening the doors ran afoul of a raft of laws barring drug use. The city could be liable if an addict overdosed. Even an ever-tolerant city wasn’t completely sold that allowing serious drug use would produce anything but trouble.
But city leaders are sidestepping legal issues by lining up private organizations to provide the money to run the sites, which will begin with two locations with more to follow. Overdose fears haven’t been borne out elsewhere. As for public unease, San Francisco has become more upset over rampant drug use than over any doubts about a promising innovation.
This city won’t be alone. Philadelphia announced last month it will work with local groups to open injection sites. Seattle, Denver and Baltimore are also moving in the same direction. Fueling the urgency is a wave of drug deaths linked to opioids and heroin that totaled 63,000 fatalities in 2016. That astonishing number, larger than U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam, is easing official reluctance city by city.
The spreading plans could be curtailed if the Trump administration chooses to block the sites through drug raids or court challenges. But that worry is too uncertain to stop a groundswell idea that needs to get underway.
At best, the injection sites can dent a much larger problem. There needs to be more emphasis and money for medical treatment, rehabilitation and programs that treat addiction, not punish it. That leadership is missing in Washington, where the president’s endless emphasis on drug crime masks his failure to provide serious leadership.
Injection sites are an innovation that can reduce fatal overdoses by addicts and accidental needle sticks on the streets. The status quo is intolerable. It’s time for San Francisco to give them a try.
Los Angeles Daily News on California getting itself into a risky immigration fight with the feds:
One thing that hasn’t changed in 2018: Immigration remains a fraught issue across the country, but especially in California.
Here, the question of how much to enforce standing law, and how selectively, is often more than a matter of political conflict, striking at the heart of our shared morality for millions on both sides.
So it’s no surprise that, as the Trump administration has provoked California officials who consider themselves members of the “resistance” against White House policy, those officials have risen to the bait.
Decades of uneven enforcement and rhetoric, leading to the sharply contrasting approaches of the Obama administration, has ensured that plenty of gray area in immigration law has remained.
But rather than staking out defensible positions behind the state-level protections they secured for undocumented immigrants in the past, too many California officials take a more aggressive strategy guaranteed to trigger legal warfare with the Trump administration. That’s a battle likely to blow up in their faces. It is already bringing greater adverse scrutiny to those they say they want to protect.
Now the White House threatens to slap a Department of Justice subpoena on 23 jurisdictions — heavily Californian — if they refuse to voluntarily share details on their sanctuary policies.
That move was triggered by a spate of high-profile challenges to federal policy, including a lawsuit by San Francisco to block the administration’s attempt to withhold federal funds for jurisdictions out of compliance with federal law.
Some might say these struggles are just an illustration of federalism in action. But there’s more afoot, and more at stake. California Democrats say enforcing federal immigration law isn’t just unwise or even cruel but racist. And though that extreme claim seems at first to be extremely “pro-immigrant,” the reality is more complicated.
The truth is that the federal government can and will eventually force compliance with federal law, or extract penalties for failing to do so. And the burden of enforcement will fall squarely on immigrants and their children whose status within the legal gray area will be harshly determined.
Gov. Jerry Brown has done his best to guide state Democrats away from that kind of morally hazardous moralism. Brown signed California’s 2013 TRUST Act, which reasonably prevented law enforcement from keeping detained people on veritable standby, without a conviction, for pickup by federal immigration officials. But despite reservations about the wisdom of the Legislature’s “Sanctuary State” law, SB54, Brown gave in, taking the rare measure of appending a statement to his signature. “This bill,” he said, “does not prevent or prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way.”
But that hope was at odds with the stated purpose of the legislation. According to the author of SB54, Senate Leader Kevin de León, its goal was to block an inhumane deportation machine. California officials decided to make it as difficult as possible for Trump to succeed.
Federal law is firmly on the side of Washington, D.C. and California Democrats’ provocative actions have only worsened the plight of the undocumented immigrants most Californians wish to bring out of the shadows.
Ventura County Star on drought “Day Zero”:
Another week has arrived with no rain in the forecast. Another month has passed with rainfall well below average. Another set of measurements in the Sierra Nevada show a dismal snowpack.
If you wonder where all this may be heading, consider Cape Town. Officials in the South African city of 4 million people predict residents’ taps will actually run dry on May 11 without more rain. They even have a name for it — “Day Zero.”
The reason? Three years of drought, including the two driest years on record for Cape Town, caused by stubborn high-pressure systems that push rainstorms away. Sound familiar? A recurring high-pressure system over the West is keeping us dry this winter.
The day before the devastating Thomas Fire began Dec. 4, we editorialized that the “drought never really ended in our county, despite last winter’s rains and the lifting of use restrictions in areas relying on water from up north.”
Considering the bleak rainfall numbers since then, it’s time to sound the drought alarm again and urge water conservation, fire safety and emergency preparedness, along with more forward planning by government officials to prepare for another dry year and perhaps many more.
We’ve had only one significant storm this winter, the one that caused the fatal Montecito mudslides Jan. 9. The Camarillo Airport recorded only 1 inch of rain in January — 29 percent of normal. February is traditionally our wettest month of the year, with about 4 inches of rain on average. So far this month, we’ve received nothing, and the forecast shows us dry through at least Sunday.
As of Monday, Lake Casitas, which supplies water to Ventura and the Ojai Valley, was only at 35 percent of capacity. The Sierra snowpack, which helps supply the state water that other Ventura County cities use, was less than a third of normal last week. (Fortunately, state reservoirs are still in good shape because of heavy rains last winter.) New U.S. Drought Monitor maps released last week put Ventura, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties in “severe drought” status.
In Cape Town, the city is restricting water use to no more than 13 gallons a day per person and rushing to build desalination, aquifer and water-recycling projects. Several Ventura County cities are mulling desalination and other water facilities, and we encourage them to increase their sense of urgency before it is too late.
We all need to prepare for a dry year and beyond. If you need ideas, BeWaterwise.com is a good place to start.
The Sacramento Bee on saving California’s great Sierra forests:
Given the huge sums California has spent staving off wildfires, curbing greenhouse gas and ensuring clean air and clean water, it is surprising that more attention hasn’t been paid to the one factor those challenges have in common: trees.
California’s forests, and in particular the massive forests of the Sierra Nevada, play a role that is as critical to California’s environment as it is misunderstood and taken for granted.
Now a report issued Monday by the governmental watchdog Little Hoover Commission sounds the alarm on the state of the state’s forests, noting something we have warned of before: The Sierra Nevada forests are being mismanaged in ways that affect every Californian. Our approach must change.
The feds must become a full partner in solving the problem. Uncle Sam owns 57 percent of the forests in California. The state owns a mere 2.2 percent. Most of the rest is in private hands. But we all have an interest in healing the forests:
—Massive fires can erase any gains made in curbing factory and auto emissions. The 2013 Rim Fire near Yosemite emitted as much greenhouse gas as the city of San Francisco produces in a year, and more methane is being emitted as dead vegetation decays, the report says.
—The state spent $600 million fighting fires in 2017 and property damage exceeded $9 billion. Once fires are out, water districts must spend millions to remove eroded soil from reservoirs.
—Healthier forests could help with the state’s perennial lack of water. If forests are thinned, using prescribed burns and selective logging, the state could realize up to 6 percent more water, the report said, quoting a Nature Conservancy report.
The report focuses on the 10 million forested acres in the Sierra, encompassing a fourth of California’s landmass. Weakened by insufficient water, Sierra trees are unable to fend off bark beetles. At last count, 129 million trees have died.
The real problem dates back a century to decisions by the federal and state governments to fight fires at all cost. The policy proved to be too successful. Prior to Europeans’ arrival, fire burned 4.5 million acres annually in California. From 1950 through 1999, about 250,000 acres burned annually. When fires do catch, they burn hotter, destroying trees that in an earlier time could have withstood the flames.
The Little Hoover Commission offers several worthy solutions, not the least of which is a public education campaign. People need to accept regular prescribed burns and selective logging to return forests to a more natural state.
Another set of intriguing recommendations involves focusing economic development efforts that put to use forest products and provide jobs in economically depressed parts of California.
The report suggests using grants to finance specialty mills that could handle the spindly trees that should be felled so the rest of the forest can flourish. Another notion is to create power plants that would turn forest waste into electricity.
The report cited the town of North Fork, where a former sawmill was put back into use with funding by the California Energy Commission. The result included a small biomass power plant and a mill that turns wood from trees killed by bark beetles into pallets. The facility’s payroll of a few dozen jobs is small, but not for a community of 3,500 people.
Such facilities could be created in towns up and down the Sierra, helping to invigorate a part of California that has not benefited from the economic boom in the Bay Area and much of urban Southern California.
In 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature made a significant down payment by earmarking $200 million for forest health. More will be needed, and much of it ought to come from the feds.
It took a century to get into the current situation. It will take a generation to return our forests to health. The Little Hoover Commission report offers a path to get there.