California Editorial Rdp
Los Angeles Times on tattoos, cliques in Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department:
It may be just a tattoo. More to the point, it may be just 10 to 20 tattoos on 10 to 20 sheriff’s deputies at the Compton station of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, as described in a deputy’s deposition statement and reported Tuesday in The Times.
Or it may be something far more serious: a sign that a renegade subculture of gang-like cliques — secret groups of deputies within sheriff’s stations that make their own rules and reward violent behavior — has returned, or perhaps never left.
Cliques, tattoos, racism and violence were attributes woven into the department as far back as the 1970s and up to at least a few years ago, when a series of inmate beatings in the jails led to corruption investigations, criminal convictions and changes in civilian oversight. Disgraced Sheriff Lee Baca resigned, and voters in a subsequent election rejected former Undersheriff (and tattooed Vikings clique member) Paul Tanaka. Jim McDonnell, who spent his law enforcement career outside the department, was elected.
Baca, Tanaka and several deputies were convicted on a variety of charges. McDonnell’s task, meanwhile, has been to eradicate destructive elements of the department’s culture while giving deputies a chance to prove themselves up to the honorable task of constitutional policing.
Now facing a tough reelection runoff, McDonnell must grapple with the allegations at the center of The Times story, and what they may say about the state of reform. It is important not just for him but for the public to know whether racism and a clique-based subculture played a role in the fatal shooting of Donta Taylor in 2016 (as alleged by an attorney for Taylor’s family) — and whether they continue to play a role throughout the department.
It is also important to know whether recent changes in the way the Sheriff’s Department is overseen are vigorous and meaningful, or merely window dressing designed to mollify impatient critics.
Unlike in the Baca era, there is now an inspector general. There is now a Civilian Oversight Commission. The Board of Supervisors itself has purported to assert more authority over the Sheriff’s Department.
But will they investigate something as amorphous as department culture, and the degree to which that culture affects the quality of law enforcement and justice? What can they do about tattoos, cliques, violence and racism? It’s time to find out.
In any other arena, a tattoo may be just a tattoo, but in the Sheriff’s Department it is a reminder of the bad old days and warning that those days may not be behind us. The prospect is disturbing, to say the least.
Santa Cruz Sentinel on voters being left in the dark over initiative deals:
Direct democracy — or extortion by big-money interests?
California’s statewide initiative process was birthed in 1911, as a needed reform to counter insider deals and corruption that clouded state government.
That was then, and “reform” is hardly the word to attach to the process in 2018. Instead, it’s backroom deals that would probably amaze those legislators held in thrall by railroads more than a century ago.
Three initiatives purportedly headed for the November ballot were abruptly withdrawn by their backers late last month in exchange for “deals” worked out in private.
—The California Business Roundtable pulled an initiative that would have made it difficult for cities to raise taxes. The initiative would have required a two-thirds vote for all local taxes and even for some types of fees state agencies have the power to impose.
Behind the California Business Roundtable was the American Beverage Association, negotiating for a statewide ban on new soda taxes for 12 years. With lawmakers protesting that the beverage industry was threatening them with a “nuclear weapon,” the soda-tax ban sailed through the Legislature in less than a week.
—Also yanked from the ballot was an initiative sponsored by paint companies hoping to shift the cost of cleaning up lead paint to taxpayers instead of shareholders. The companies didn’t get everything they wanted, but did get some unfavorable legislative bills killed, so they withdrew their initiative.
—A third initiative, relating to consumer privacy, was withdrawn after the Legislature agreed to pass AB375, a quickly assembled alternative imposing new privacy rules starting in 2020.
The 9,900-word bill offers an expansive definition of private information. The bill says consumers can sue businesses if they fail to properly protect against breaches.
San Francisco developer and privacy advocate Alastair Mactaggart had proposed the privacy initiative for the November ballot that led to this deal. Like the legislation, his now-withdrawn initiative omitted government data breaches. Not surprisingly, legislators often exempt themselves and government from rules they have no trouble applying to others. Meanwhile, tech leaders were happy because they feared voters would approve a more onerous measure.
Two other initiatives still will be on the ballot, though; they were the subject of backroom dealing that proved unsuccessful. One measure that will allow cities to impose new and unlimited rent control on residential property will go to state voters in November as Proposition 10. Talks between apartment owners and tenants’ groups failed to reach an agreement that reportedly would have traded tax breaks for expanded rent control.
An initiative that would expand Proposition 13 benefits for older homeowners will be on the ballot as Proposition 5 - but only after the California Association of Realtors decided at the last minute not to withdraw it.
These machinations enveloping ballot measures already circulated for signatures are the result of Senate Bill 1253, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, that provided for legislative hearings on any measure for which backers have gathered at least 25 percent of the voter signatures needed to qualify it for the ballot. In practice it allows an interest group to propose something so punitive or expensive that it compels rival groups to do whatever’s needed to block the measure.
As CalMatters columnist Dan Walters puts it, the initiative process has become “genteel extortion.” And guess who gets left out? That’s right, you the voter, as deals get crafted in back rooms devoid of sunlight.
The Mercury News on not letting utilities off the hook for California wildfires:
The summer has hardly begun, and months after a horrific fire season California is experiencing scalding temperatures and wildfire destruction at historic levels.
Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders were wise to form a conference committee last week to discuss fire prevention and financial responsibility for future fires — as long as the main focus is on prevention.
The committee must not use the occasion to let utilities off the hook for future damages caused by their failure to adequately maintain power lines and utility poles. State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, notes that the greatest danger is the political challenge for the Legislature to alter any of the committee’s major proposals.
The utilities, including PG&E, don’t want to acknowledge that the current liability laws are largely working. The real problem is that PG&E too often has failed to live up to its maintenance obligations. Nor did PG&E purchase enough insurance coverage to cover the utility’s potential liability for the 2017 wildfires.
In a prepared statement last month, PG&E said, “Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall programs met our state’s high standards.”
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In May, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said PG&E was responsible for three fires in October in Nevada and Butte counties.
Two weeks later, Cal Fire pinned the blame on PG&E for 12 of the destructive fires that raged in Northern California’s wine country in October. Cal Fire said that the majority of the wildfires were caused by tree limbs making contact with power lines. Northern Californians are still waiting for Cal Fire to issue its report on the cause of the Tubbs Fire, which killed 24 people and destroyed 5,000 homes and caused an estimated $1.2 billion in damages. All told, 43 people died in the wine country fires.
The current California standard says that utilities must be reasonable and prudent in maintaining their equipment. If Californians want an idea of how the committee process could go awry, look into the proposed changes in Sen. Bill Dodd’s SB 1088. The legislation would change the maintenance responsibility standard for utilities to “substantial compliance.” Good luck determining what that means, because the bill doesn’t include a definition. But it likely isn’t good for California homeowners.
The utilities also want to alter the state’s “inverse condemnation” policy, which holds them responsible for any wildfire damages caused by their equipment even if they were properly maintained. Any change in the law demands that California property owners be properly protected.
Cal Fire has already responded to nearly 2,900 fires this year, nearly 10 percent more than it did by this time a year ago. And that doesn’t include the Klamathon fire that broke out Thursday along the Oregon-California border, killing one person and leading to the governor declaring a state of emergency.
The outbreak of wildfires so early this year makes it one of the state’s most pressing issues. It’s imperative that in taking prudent preventive measures the Legislature also takes care to ensure that those responsible for future wildfires continue to be held accountable.
The Fresno Bee on the end of prohibition offering lessons as city wrestles with marijuana:
In July 1933 Fresno was a town of just over 50,000, and like most American cities, was struggling under the weight of the Great Depression. To ease the burdens of daily living, the common man turned to an illegal substance — alcohol.
Prohibition was still the law of the land and it had supporters, but the tide of public opinion had strongly turned against it. That year the Fresno Bee regularly editorialized in favor of repealing the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, which established Prohibition. A typical question of the day was: Are you dry (in favor of Prohibition) or wet (in favor of repeal)?
Today, Fresno is 10 times larger and the jobless rate is near the lowest it has been in a decade. But city leaders have been wrestling with the best way to legalize a substance of a different kind: marijuana.
Last month the Fresno City Council decided to put a tax measure on the November ballot for voters to decide. If approved, the city could issue business licenses to those who want to start medical marijuana dispensaries.
Medical use of marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and in 2016 the state’s voters widely backed recreational use of pot. But cities have the authority to license dispensaries and manufacturing hubs within their limits.
In many ways, the debate leading up to the council’s vote last month mirrored the tenor of the Prohibition debate in 1933. And there are lessons from that time that can prove useful as the city moves forward with its ballot measure.
The will of the people in 1933 led states toward repealing Prohibition. The Bee supported such an effort as well, as it said Prohibition violated the liberty of the citizens of that era. Eighty-five years later, California’s voters have made clear they want to be able to use marijuana as they wish. Two years ago the recreational use of marijuana was approved, and even the majority of voters in Fresno — 51.4 percent — backed the right to smoke pot for recreation. Today, Mayor Lee Brand is backing medical marijuana, but not any recreational use. If two-thirds of Fresno voters approve the tax measure, Fresno will become the third major city in the San Joaquin Valley to allow medical dispensaries (Modesto and Merced already do).
During the Prohibition debate The Bee pointed out that crime took off when alcohol became illegal. Speakeasies and bootleggers proliferated. Today, Brand and Police Chief Jerry Dyer say licensing medical marijuana dispensaries will attack illegal dealing. By setting up legal, city-licensed dispensaries for medical purposes, Brand aims to put illegal operations out of business.
Revenues raised from the licensing tax - estimated at between $3 million and $10 million — would go to police efforts to curb illegal drugs, Brand pledges, though the tax measure is still being finalized. Here is where caution is sounded from a Bee editorial in March 1933: “For unless beer is relatively cheap to the consumer, it will not drive out the bootlegger. Good beer at a fair price will be preferred by most people to illicit beer at about an equal price. But if because of excessive license fees and state taxation legal beer comes on the market at a price greatly in excess of current speakeasy quotations, the bootlegger will simply continue to flourish.”
Morality then and now divided Fresno’s pastors. A group of ministers recently implored the council to not allow medical pot dispensaries. Doing so would signal city endorsement of the use of marijuana and other drugs, which already ravages their communities, the pastors said. But other ministers expressed the value in letting residents suffering from pain find relief by utilizing pot under medical care.
In January 1933 the Rev. A.C. Douglas stopped in Fresno to give a speech on Prohibition and the temperance movement to a gathering at the Hotel Fresno. A former leader in the Iowa-Kansas Anti-Saloon League, Douglas told his listeners how he had spent decades studying the temperance movement. His conclusion: “No regulatory measures ever devised — including that of the United States Government — has ever been able to curb successfully the age-old social custom of drinking.”
That government control came to an end on Dec. 5, 1933, when Utah ratified the 21st Amendment. With that, two-thirds of states had backed the measure to repeal Prohibition, meaning Americans could once again drink freely. But that right came with responsibility that was not always followed. The same issue of The Bee that declared the end of Prohibition also reported how a leading Fresno citizen, grape grower Lucius Powers, had been killed the day before in a car crash in Fowler caused by a wrong-way driver. The next day The Bee reported the wrong-way driver told police he was intoxicated.
“There is nothing new about this, unfortunately,” The Bee said in an editorial published after the crash. “There was drunken driving before prohibition. There was drunken driving all during the nearly 14 years of prohibition. Undoubtedly there will be drunken driving now that prohibition has been repealed.”
That unfortunate reality also holds for marijuana — and any substance people chose to use. The mayor is right to say each person ultimately determines if he or she will be a responsible citizen.
That said, the tax measure goes to voters in the fall. May they keep the lessons of the Prohibition era in mind when they cast their votes in the November election. The Bee will offer its recommendation as the election gets closer. As of now, The Bee — as it did 85 years ago — sees value in honoring the will of the people, of reducing drug-related crime, and letting residents make personal choices in liberty.
The Press Democrat on Californians winning some online privacy:
California will better protect residents’ online privacy after a last-minute deal that satisfied the backers of a ballot initiative to do the same thing. This was a win for new rules that give lawmakers time to negotiate with initiative sponsors . at least the ones with lots of cash.
Legislation almost always is preferable to policy decisions made at the ballot box. Lawmakers can amend and update their work if there are unintended consequences, for example. They usually hesitate to change what the voters have wrought by initiative — if a ballot measure even offers that option.
And laws written by lawmakers tend to be cleaner in the first place. Citizen activism is valuable, but sometimes passion leads to ballot language that isn’t as thoroughly vetted as it should be. And, given the high cost of getting a measure on the ballot, the initiative process is dominated by deep-pocketed interests looking to write their own laws.
Alastair Mactaggart, who earned a fortune in Bay Area real estate, drafted the online privacy initiative after a conversation with a tech company engineer left him worried about his own privacy. He gathered enough signatures to get on the November ballot for what was shaping up as a very costly political battle until state legislators passed on the last possible day, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, a privacy bill that satisfied his concerns.
In doing so, they avoided that big-money campaign and dodged any potential headaches with a hard-to-amend, voter-mandated law.
The privacy bill will allow people to learn what information websites collect about them and what those sites do with that information. People also will be able to opt out of having their data sold. Call it California’s version of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that resulted in privacy statements flooding email inboxes a few weeks ago.
Such digital empowerment is welcome when the federal government steadfastly refuses to side with consumers online.
Tech companies were ready to spend heavily in opposition. As part of the compromise, the new law won’t take effect for a year, allowing time to review its provisions and discuss any necessary changes.
The compromise legislation isn’t quite as strong as the initiative it pre-empted, but it calmed the waters. If lawmakers try to undercut it too much, a ballot measure could return.
Yet this issue didn’t sneak up on the Legislature. They could have and should have been working on it already, but it took a lot of money, a ballot measure and a looming deadline to prod them into action.
June 28 was the last day for initiatives to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. Once an initiative is on the ballot, it can’t be removed or changed. However, a state law enacted in 2014 allows sponsors to withdraw their initiatives if legislators agree to take action instead.
The 2014 law also directs the Legislature to hold hearings as soon as any proposed initiative gets 25 percent of the required signatures. The idea is to avoid costly ballot fights and poorly worded laws, but Mactaggart didn’t a prompt hearing — and neither did the sponsors of two more problematic measures that also were pulled from the ballot at the last minute.
One of those, sponsored by the soft drink industry, would have made it extremely difficult to pass any local tax. It was dropped in return for legislative approval of a 12-year-ban on new taxes on sodas and sugary drinks — the industry’s real objective. Lawmakers also promised to continue working on legislation that could let lead paint companies off the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in civil judgments, and paint makers withdrew a proposal that would have shifted the cost onto the public.
The initiative system was originally meant to be a tool to empower Californians to band together to act as a check on government. Has it become a tool that powerful, moneyed interests use to scare the Legislature into doing their bidding?