A turkey in full retreat

State officials have sent the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan back to the drawing board.

The latest delay could be interpreted as a triumph of public input. The BDCP was all about limiting and managing certain public input — such as the Delta region’s — and drafting a dubious state water plan in a bubble of special interest perspectives. It’s a fair bet public comment showed state officials where the plan would be vulnerable to court challenge.

In other words, they’re not re-doing the plan out of standard democratic government regard for the stakeholder array. They’re re-doing it because public comment made it painfully clear that their turkey will not make it past Thanksgiving.

And why not? Take it away, Restore the Delta: “The EIR/EIS is fatally flawed due to its failure to include a viable funding plan, exclusion of any true no-tunnels alternatives, failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act as evidenced by numerous scientists’ red flags, misrepresenting taking water to be a “conservation” plan, secret BDCP planning with the exporters and their consultants, and lack of public outreach to non-English speakers.”

Other than that, it’s perfect. Really.


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Fine art photos of Stockton mini libraries (?!)

Mas’ood Cajee writes:

“This year, internationally-renowned Documentary Photographer Robert Dawson has been collaborating with the Library and Literacy Foundation for San Joaquin County and the Stockton-San Joaquin Public Library to document the culture of public libraries and literacy in San Joaquin County.

“The artist and writer Ellen Manchester is also gathering stories of how people use the system’s libraries and literacy programs, promoting reading and literacy as a means for improving the community’s well-being. This effort has been made possible by a generous grant from the Creative Work Fund.”

Dawson has a portfolio called “Public Library: An American Commons.” It’s pretty cool. I guess we’re in it now.

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Researchers: Let Delta levees fail

A reader sends a UC Davis study with a startling conclusion:

“This initial analysis indicates that it is economically optimal not to upgrade levees on any of the 34 subsided Delta islands examined, mostly because levee upgrades are expensive and do not improve reliability much. If upgrades can improve reliability more, it becomes optimal to upgrade some levees. Our analysis also suggests that, accounting for land and asset values, it is not cost effective to repair between 18 and 23 of these islands when they fail.”

In other words, the whole Delta model is doomed. Read the study here.


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The drought is lifting them thar hills

The drought is sinking the Valley, but it’s lifting the mountains, says the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Even as groundwater pumping causes subsidence on the Valley floor, California’s mountains have risen a squidge over a half an inch, Scripps says.

“How is this possible?” asks a science writer in Salon. “We’re talking about a lot of water being lost: about 63 trillion gallons this year (picture a 3.9 inch pool of water over the entire West, or the amount being lost every year from Greenland’s melting ice sheet). Without that weight compressing Earth’s crust, the researchers explain, the ground itself appears to rise up “like an uncoiled spring.”

Science never had the technology to resister this phenomenon before. The whole Salon story here.


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Delta levees’ strength proves their weakness (?!)

Delta levees didn’t fail in the Napa quake — proving Delta levees could fail in an earthquake, Gov. Jerry Brown says.

Brown made these remarks Tuesday on San Francisco radio.

“There’s a real, real risk there in the Delta area,” Brown said on KGO radio. “And that’s one of the reasons we’re looking to build a conveyance that will protect against that.”

I’m used to Brown and other tunnels supporters ignoring empirical evidence about Delta levee strength. But to actually use evidence that directly contradicts their view as evidence in favor of it is a new rhetorical frontier.

I’m of the Old School. Our syllogism works like this: 1. There was an earthquake. 2. The levees did not fail. 3. Levees do not automatically fail in earthquakes.

In fact, in the Delta’s entire history, levees have never failed in an earthquake.

Brown & Co. might want to use that last point as ammunition, too. You’re welcome, gentlemen.

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Hammett’s “Midget Bandit” not from Stockton

In his biographies, Dashiell Hammett, the great American author of hard-boiled detective novels, said the character of “Wilmer,” the pint-sized but dangerous gunman in “The Maltese Falcon,” was based on a diminutive Stockton crook whom the papers nicknamed “the Midget Bandit.”

The story was that this kid, who was short in stature but cocky, stuck up a filling station here. The paper quoted the filling station owner saying he’d like to get his hands on the kid. When the kid read that comment, the game little bantam went right back to the filling station and held up the owner at gunpoint again, just to show him who was boss.

Hammett got wind of the story, and liked it. And that was the idea for the character of Wilmer.

I gave the old college try to find Wilmer in old newspapers, but never could. Now, a researcher says why.

“I’ve found Dashiell Hammett’s midget bandit and discovered why you couldn’t find him in a search of the Stockton papers of the time,” writes Warren Harris.

Because the midget bandit did his thing in Fresno, not Stockton, Harris said. Harris id’ed the bandit: Edwin Ware of New York City.

In honor of Harris’ breakthrough research, Don Herron, the San Francisco Hammett scholar, has declared it “Midget Bandit Week,” and is running stuff about the little yegg all week. You can read it here. The only Stockton angle is a certain columnist digging futilely to find newspaper stories about the Midget Bandit, but if you’re a Hammett fan like me it’s all good.

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A modest proposal for pension spikers

Readers respond to Sunday’s column about the state pension system resisting reform:

—Scott Thompson writes,

“Introducing the NEW California Alternative Pension System for Spikers!

“CalPERS recently thumbed its underfunded nose at the governor and legislature, saying, in effect, “We are going to continue to allow spiking, as we have been doing for many years, and we’ll continue to burden the majority of our members who don’t spike their pensions, and of course taxpayers, with the excess cost of this shamefully reckless policy.”

The state’s second-largest public pension fund, CalSTRS, at least claims to be “serious about spiking,” yet has adjusted only a handful of the many hundreds of dramatically juiced retirement accounts on its books.

“Nobody in an administrative position is willing to stop spiking, so perhaps we should finally accept that this is, as pension journalist Ed Mendel aptly puts it, “the nail that apparently can’t be hammered down.” Accept that it cannot be stopped, and opt instead to isolate it, not unlike the hemorrhage-inducing ebola virus.

“How would this work? By creating a new pension fund exclusively for those who game the existing ones. That is, anyone who wants to spike their pension, and can get away with it under current fund leadership and rules, is allowed to do so, but automatically gets moved into a spikers-only pension system immediately upon retirement.

“The new California Alternative Pension System for Spikers (CalAPSS) would be funded only by the contributions and investment earnings of its members’ accounts, and no non-spikers or taxpayers would ever be asked to subsidize it.

“It’s easy to imagine how quickly CalAPPS would, yes, collapse under the greedy weight of its grossly underfunded member accounts. And this, of course, makes it obvious why CalPERS and CalSTRS should tolerate exactly zero spiking among their members.”

Those unions don’t tolerate pension spiking; they encourage it. That’s why Gov. Brown had to restrain them with his modest Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013. Which CalPERS just undermined.

—”M” writes,

“If you get your way tell me first because 2000 of us real retired people of Stockton will have to make reservations at the poor house. I contributed hard cash to PERS when I worked for the City. My money. Again my money.”I have no other income like others then the payments I get from CalPers.”We the 2000 retirees are all effected by the greed and improper management is past and current city staff. Their lack of foresight should be payed for by the whole city and not by just a few.The Franklin-Templeton mess was was for a fire house, city park, command center upgrades and roads and sewers. All services used by all citizens. They need to stand up and pay their share.

–In a subsequent message, “M” added:
“The effect of messing with PERS  retirement will create a terrible hardship on my family. Terrible.
“It’s too bad you can’t sue past greedy people for malpractice. … Two thousand retired city employee have suffered enough.”


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9,999,999 absolute idiots

Brian McElwain, a local deputy sheriff, completed the Rickshaw Run, a crazy adventure race across India in motorized, three-wheel rickshaws.

McElwain’s unnamed sidekick blogged as they went. As the pulled into the city of Goalparat he wrote, “It has a population of a measly 10 million. 9,999,999 of which are absolute idiots behind a wheel.”

He elaborated. “What just baffles the mind is no one here is in a hurry to do a damn thing…. UNTIL…. they get behind the wheel of a vehicle…. Absolutely Amazing!!!”

The blog about the epic adventure here (warning: foul language).


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Walters on CalPERS: “It’s just nuts.”

Sure, getting a fatter pension for temporarily filling in for somebody is objectionable. The media made that point yesterday about a pension-fattening step taken by CalPERS, the state pension giant.

But that much-criticized provision is only one of 99 CalPERS enacted to dig deeper into the public pocket.

The SacBee’s Dan Walters looks at other job categories CalPERS found “pensionable.”

“Running through the list, one is struck by a recurring theme: State and local civil service workers appear to be getting lots of money for performing duties that any rational person would consider just part of the job.

“Clerks are being paid extra for being good typists, for example, and cops are being paid to keep physically fit, to be accurate shots with their firearms, and when “assigned to analyze and explore a crime scene.”

“For some reason, jailers get paid extra if they are “routinely and consistently assigned the duty of responding to questions from the public,” while librarians get premium pay if they are “routinely and consistently assigned to provide direction or resources to library patrons.”

“A civil service worker may qualify for additional income if he or she is “routinely and consistently assigned to sensitive positions requiring trust and discretion” or if he or she takes a job in a “rural, remote or unique” setting.

“And so it goes, implying that those who negotiate public employee labor contracts on behalf of taxpayers are willing to give their workers all sorts of extra income for doing what most of us would consider to be ordinary working conditions.”

Walters’ conclusion: “It’s just nuts.”

We had city managers who overspent. We got rid of them. We had policies that overspent. We got rid of them. We have CalPERS — and we’re stuck with it as its labor-friendly board members snuffle up to the public trough as if completely unfazed by the devastation their costs have caused.

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CalPERS: hey, let’s revive pension spiking!

Sure, why not? Pension spiking helped drive three California cities into bankruptcy. It’s part of a pension package driving municipalities and the state itself into the red. It’s such a bad actor the governor specifically outlawed it in a reform bill a couple years ago. Let’s do it!

As expected CalPERS, the state pension hogzilla, approved pension increases to 99 categories of public employee yesterday. The one getting all the lightning involves giving higher pensions to public employees for temporary jobs.

So, if your co-worker goes out sick for a while, and you take over some of his duties, you pay goes up temporarily — which is fair — but your pension goes up permanently, which is … so CalPERS.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement. “Today CalPERS got it wrong,” he said. “The vote undermines the pension reforms enacted just two years ago. I’ve asked my staff to determine what actions can be taken to protect the integrity of the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act.”

What does it tell you when a pro-labor, Democrat governor denounces CalPERS and explores suing it? It tells you CalPERS is a threat to the state.

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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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