The Gravy Train

The cost of “civilian” public employee pensions in Los Angeles has ballooned from $260 million in 2005 to around $410 million this year. It’s breaking the city. So two years ago, the council voted to cut pensions for new hires, and to make new hires work until age 65, a reasonable step, not to mention necessary.

Or so it seemed to Eric Garcetti when he campaigned for mayor. And to voters, who chose Garcetti over a more labor-friendly rival.

But now a “quasi-judicial body” has ruled the changes were illegal. The Employee Relations Board says Garcetti should have negotiated the changes with the unions.

That’s an amazing ruling: a city cannot determine affordable compensation. Unions have to sign off on it — representing people who neither work for the city yet nor yet belong to a union.

California is full of “quasi-judicial” and quasi-governmental bodies, all of which seemingly were created by labor to support labor. Even after millions of of voters support fiscal reform.

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Stockton’s disheartening “recovery.”

Stockton ranks only above municipal basket case San Bernardino with second worst recovery from the recession among 150 U.S. cities, a new report says.

Reasons why: the bankruptcy, which earned extra ranking demerits from the surveyor, Wallet Hub; fundamentally, the Central Valley’s low-wage agrarian economy; a long-time city government of underachieving, business-unfriendly bureaucrats; Stockton’s terrible press.

Meanwhile, San Francisco is California’s top recoverer, 20th nationwide. Geographically, Stockton is 85 mies away from San Francisco, yet economically it sometimes seperated by an ocean of space. 

Bob Deis, Stockton city manager 2010-2013 replaced ineffective department heads. The new team has established a pro-business climate, but has not lured many jobs. That may have as much to do with California’s regulatory climate as with Stockton’s administration, judging by reports about the Tesla plant. In fact, recovery is lagging in many California cities

Still, the city has entered fiscal 2014-15. The bankruptcy should soon be behind it. The economy, even here, is recovering. The city faces big challenges, but still it is reasonable to expect the new executive team to make substantial progress in economic development this year. If they don’t, they can explain how they are different than their prececessors.

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“Three strange beings … warbling”

The Fitz’s Stockton about a pioneer Stockton UFO brings this from reader Kevin Shawver:

“Did you know one of the earliest claims of attempted alien abduction was in an area between Lodi and Stockton? … The man who made the claim, H.G. Shaw, was the editor of the Stockton Evening Mail.”

He sends this remarkable archival stuff of the Mail story of Nov. 25, 1896.

Here’s Shaw describing the close encounter:

“They resembled humans in many respects, but still they were not like anything I had ever seen. They were nearly or quite seven feet high and very slender.  …  I asked where they were from. They seemed not to understand me, but began – well, “warbling” expresses it better than talking.

“… I noticed, further, that their hands were quite small and delicate, and that their fingers were without nails. Their feet, however, were nearly twice as long as those of an ordinary man, though they were narrow, and the toes were also long and slender. I noticed, too, that they were able to use their feet and toes much the same as a monkey; in fact, they appeared to have much better use of their feet than their hands.

“I presently discovered that this was probably a provision of nature. As one of then came close to me I reached out to touch him, and placing my hand under his elbow pressed gently upward, and lo and behold I lifted him from the ground with scarcely an effort. I should judge that the specific gravity of the creature was less than an ounce. It was then that I observed him try to grasp the earth with his toes to prevent my lifting him. You can readily understand that their slight weight made such a provision necessary, or they might be blown away.”

It goes on like that, wonderfully — unless you think newspaper editors, including retired ones, should not be fabulists. The best I can conjecture is that the Mail was trying to one-up the Stockton Daily Independent, which ran the stories about “the Stockton Airship” earlier in the year. Perhaps, in an era of three-newspaper towns, editors would do anything to win circulation wars. Or maybe such stories were done with a wink and a nod to the reader. Who knows?

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#Stocktonhappy. For reals?

Seeing is believing. Visit Stockton has the video on its Facebook page.

And on YouTube:

Can’t keep this city down!

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The BDCP: a failure of state institutions

Depending on the level of detail, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its twin tunnels adjunct can be dizzingly complex. In today’s SacBee, however, two enviros contribute a remarkably lucid Op-Ed piece.

“The proposed BDCP ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that we must increase the amount of water flowing through the Delta to restore it to health, and instead focuses on siphoning away even more river water than the 50 percent on average we already divert,” write representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife.

“This approach would worsen the health of the Bay-Delta and California’s declining fish and wildlife. The state’s own analysis shows that the plan likely would lead to the extinction of several native salmon runs … Also, the BDCP is based on a risky and scientifically unproven assumption that man-made tidal marshes would compensate for taking more fresh water out of the Delta, an assumption that has been debunked by numerous independent scientific reviews …

“In its zeal to justify taking more and more water out of the Delta, the state Department of Water Resources – at the behest of several large water wholesalers in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California – has lost sight of the bigger picture and ignored the need for long-term solutions that work within real fiscal and environmental limits, solutions that offer far better alternatives to improve California’s water future.”

There is the rotten core of the BDCP: a Department of Water Resources numb to its broader public responsibilities. Not to mention environmental reality, as faced by “the state’s own analysis.” How else to characterize a public water agency that could preside over the extinction of salmon runs?

The tragedy is this isn’t the “Cadillac Desert” era of the early 20th century. We know better. But if we follow the BDCP’s path, we’ll end up with the same destructive outcomes the dam-builders and river-killers achieved in their ecological ignorance.

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Denham: Impeachment? Maybe

Rep Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, refuses to rule out impeaching President Obama — for Benghazi, among other pretexts.

In a press release, The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quotes Denham speaking to the North Valley Tea Party Club in August 2013:

“If our Commander in Chief that was reelected in this country decides to break the Constitution it is a challenge to hold him accountable. And he’s done it several times now.”

“When asked if he would support impeachment, Denham said: “Impeachment is a, is a very serious issue. I think that you have to prove that the leader of the free world has done something that is so far against American beliefs that, and this trust that he’s been sworn into that you remove him. You know I think that him trying to move beyond these phony scandals is something that opens the door for us to investigate further. IRS targeting people, targeting individuals, targeting political organizations is a huge issue that we’re going to hold him account on. But the biggest issue for me thus far in this presidency has been Benghazi […]So depending on how far these investigations go we could get into a scenario where the president has broken the law.”

The Clinton impeachment is when the American political system broke down. He hadn’t done anything impeachable; Republicans, starting their journey into radicalism, just wanted him out of office. Same deal here.


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A galling reminder

The latest Calpensions article cites a 2013 report by the Pew Charitable Trust:

“In many states, the difficulties of major cities such as Stockton and San Bernardino would mobilize the state government to intervene and help them recover. But California offered no such aid, because it has long adhered to the belief that its cities should operate independently from the state.”

That’s a good one. The “independent” state eliminated redevelopment agencies and took any monies not obligated to address the state’s huge deficit. The independent state is bent on exporting Delta water for the benefit of other regions which in aggregate amount to state that cannot live without this region’s water.

I could go on. The point is the state and its cities are interdependent. Except when Stockton needs help. What a galling reminder that the state could and should help Stockton. If only we were rich megafarmers, living in Beverly Hills.

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More Six States melarkey

Don’t dismiss the Six States proposal, writes MoBee Opinion Page Editor Mike Dunbar.

” … In a nutshell (choose almond or walnut), what have we got to lose?” Dunbar asks. “The rest of the state already ignores us.”

Our state will be an economic basket case — but it’ll have the water, Dunbar writes.

“As a separate state, we’d have the San Joaquin River and its delta mostly to ourselves. … Wonder how much some of that would be worth to folks in Beverly Hills or Tiburon or Menlo Park?”

If only. Water is not a regional property. It is owned based on a senority system: first come, first served, dating back to the 1800s. How the rights allocated within one California would play out if the crackbrained Six States proposal actually passed is anybody’s guess, because Vision Guy Tim Draper hasn’t addressed that little issue.
Presumably, rights holders would want their rights grandfathered in, or no deal. The Delta tunnels would probably go away; but presumably, also, big, “out-of-state” money would start flowing to our state’s politicians to help water exporters commandeer our state’s Department of Water Resources as they have done in the one California. Prohibiting that had better be our constitution’s Article I. 

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Chef’s fundraiser a success

Organizer John Britto says the July 21 Chefs Helping Chefs fundraiser for badly burned chef Richard Hyman raised $17,000.

A nice chunk of change.

“The community response was overwhelming,” Britto writes. “More than thirty businesses, organizations and associations bought tickets, donated cash, raffle baskets and silent auction items.

“Two hundred guests enjoyed culinary creations from two dozen chefs who came together from San Francisco, Manteca, Stockton, Lodi, Plymouth and Sacramento.

“Enjoying small plate tastings, supporters chose from a wide array of offerings including Spanish paella, poached salmon and grilled corn with micro greens, Carpaccio, shrimp sauté Diavolo, imported cheese selections, chocolate-ginger bark and assorted fruit Verrines. Cold hand-crafted beers and popular regional wines complimented the menu items.”

Britto showed real leadership in pulling this event together. The group he formed, Chefs Helping Chefs, will support other good causes.


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A message from Chief Jones

Police Chief Eric Jones leaves a message:

“I just wanted to say I appreciate the column you had regarding police tactics. As unfortate as it is, we really did follow just about anything out there regarding training in law enforcement. There are police experts we have been checking in with and they all —including the FBI, etc. — attest to the fact that, based on that situation, that was really standard training. As much as there could be.”

That is reassuring. Catching up with such experts should be part of the reportage in the incident’s traumatic aftermath. And, if the experts validate the SPD’s actions, part of the community healing.


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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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