Pension reformers fight on

Reason Foundation held its third annual Pension Summit in Sacramento last week. A group of fiscally sane leaders tried to figure out how to overcome the anti-democratic unions blocking desperately needed reforms.

Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican, “are working with a coalition on a statewide initiative to help local governments make cost-cutting pension reforms,” reports Calpensions.

Pension reform is a must. Bloated, unsustainable pensions are hogging the revenue of even the most affluent cities, at the expense of government’s broader public missions, police, fire, roads, libraries and so on.

But union minorities block majority reform every step of the way. In Ventura County, voters got an initiative on the ballot to switch public employees to 401(k)s like everyone else has. Unions succeeded in shooting down the measure in court. Three-quarters of San Jose voters approved pension reform, but unions thwarted them in court. California Pension Reform had a promising reform initiative in the works, but they called it off when Attorney General Kamala Harris sabotaged the measure with stilted, misleading ballot language.

“In San Diego, paid signature gatherers for the pension reform initiative posted at retail stores were often joined by “blockers,” union members and others who urged shoppers not to sign the petition,” Calpensions reports.

And on and on. Unions even picketed the Pension Summit.

But pension reform is worth fighting for. Fiscally healthier cities would be a worthy legacy to our children. So if a signature gatherer asks you to sign a pension reform petition, sign it. Even if you have to push a union “blocker” out of the way.

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The life of an unknown master

Stockton’s Drew Page, the under-21 national bocce champion who has gotten precious little recognition, suffered another indignity today: he was laid off from his job at a Stockton restaurant.

Drew Page launches a volo

The crew at the March Lane Carrow’s was told the restaurant will be closing, Page said.

Page will compete in the under-21 bocce world championship in Rome April 20-25th. We’re rooting for him.

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The annals of dumb laws

The city of San Louis Obispo has passed an “odor ordinance” regulating “any offensive and persistent odors that waft across property lines,” reports the city’s paper.

The law is aimed at backyard pot grows by medical marijuana patients.

So apparently when a neighbor reports odiferous pot grows  San Looey will now have to dispatch odor police. And then what? Will a medical marijuana patient have to uproot his medication? Will he have to spray Febreze?

“I can only imagine the amount of staff time that this is going to take,” said one dissenting councilman.

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Hogzilla to gobble even more

CalPERS, the mismanaged public employee pension Hogzilla, is going to put the hurt on cities even worse then previously expected, reports Daniel Borenstein of the Contra Costa Times.

Bills for public employee pensions are already expected to shoot up as much as 50 percent. The even higher bills “signal an acknowledgement that CalPERS has previously set unrealistically high earnings targets and made riskier investments to attain those goals,” he writes.

This means cities, especially Stockton, will be –at the least — robbed of funds to pay for services: police, fire, roads, libraries, etc.

Why is Hogzilla devouring even more  money? Because CalPERS hid the true cost of pensions. Doing so perpetuated the political environment in which public employees could ask for even more compensation — though CalPERS knew full well what it was doing was already driving cities towards service insolvency.

That said, CalPERS deserves some credit for this latest move. It’s getting real about the true cost of pensions. It is also shifting its portfolio to less risky investments, a responsible step to position itself to better weather the next recession. We’re going to take a bad hit, but we’re setting things right for the next generation.

Still, I cringe to think how high the new bills will be. Will they will fit into Stockton’s tight post-bankruptcy budget? Or vindicate critics of the Plan of Adjustment who warned that failing to cut pensions would bankrupt Stockton all over again?

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Miller denounces tunnels, offers alternative

Supervisor Kathy Miller co-authored a guest editorial that running in the Sacramento Bee today.

Kathy Miller delivering the recent State of the County address.

“Transparent policymaking that results in a consensus of the many rather than backroom decisions of the few is critical to achieving real progress,” she writes.

The five-county Delta Counties Coalition, which she’s speaking for, has created an alternative to the Twin Tunnels proposal, the procrustean plan Restore the Delta is fond of calling, “Gov. Brown’s rush to build water export Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries.”

The alternative plan here (subscription).

In retrospect, Gov. Brown gave Delta counties a gift when he pushed them out of the room.  The fait accompli process was a reflection of the skewed state of water politics, in which south-county Ag and south-state urban exporters exert excessive influence over state water policy. Denouncing his Twin Tunnels plan as a backroom deal is absolutely valid.

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Have quarter, will feed your meter

This just in from the Downtown Stockton Alliance:

“Downtown Stockton Alliance’s (DSA) CEO Cindi Fargo announced a new hospitality program that may provide help for those facing an expiring meter and the chance of a parking ticket. The program is called “The Gift of Time” and is designed to somewhat ease the nuisance of downtown parking.

“Downtown Ambassadors who regularly patrol the streets will drop a courtesy quarter into expiring parking meters they might encounter as well as leave a postcard under your windshield wiper to let you know that you have received 15 minutes of free parking courtesy of the Downtown Stockton Alliance.

A parking ticket costs $43, so this outbreak of California niceness is welcome.

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A literate lady’s promotion

Suzy Daveluy is my friend, but only because she has talked me into doing so many things for the public library.

Librarian Suzy Daveluy talks to kids with puppets.

Daveluy was appointed this week as the new Deputy Director of Community Services. She’ll be the City Librarian for the City of Stockton and San Joaquin County Public Library system.

She’s a good choice, though my evaluation is subjective. Thanks to the persuasive Daveluy, I have moderated the One Book discussion of the Maltese Falcon, spoken in praise of books at the library’s anniversary, donned a fright wig and white lab coat and hosted the Frankenstein trivia quiz — you know, she’s talked me into doing so much I can’t even recall it all.

All programs she organized.

I did it for the obvious reasons — I love books and I think they’re important, a newspaperman’s stake in literacy, the need for the residents of Stockton to be more literate — but also because Daveluy embodies a passionate commitment to literacy and a library’s important place in a community. Library funding is tight, but if I know Daveuly, she’ll talk the powers that be into giving the library the resources it deserves. And then some.


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Saving trees is cheaper

Lisa Steele offers her thoughts on the column about Stockton’s dying urban forest:

“It would have been a great statistic to point out that mistletoe WILL kill the tree, eventually, and a dead tree will cost MUCH much more than the mistletoe removal (more on that below). And even more importantly, that removal of a dead tree is the responsibility of the homeowner!!

“I … am working with Kay, our Association manager to get the word out once again (via old fashioned flyers and email newsletter) to Sherwood Manors that many of our trees are in desperate shape and basically pleading with the homeowners to get it removed. I’ve been back in touch with (tree guy) Oscar, and he is willing to do the removal for $200/tree, which is below his usual cost, and also below a couple other tree companies I contacted (running $250-$400).”

An unwelcome cost. But compare the cost of saving a tree to the cost of removing a dead tree.

“Oscar told me that tree removal of a dead tree (the homeowner’s responsibility) is $800-$1000. Wow!”

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An almond grower tells his side

Almonds have become shorthand for the permanent crops south-Valley farmers foolishly planted though they have rights to water only in intermittent years.

That causes them to connive and litigate for ever-more water, even though it’s killing the Delta.

In today’s Fresno Bee, an almond farmer tells his side. “We’re not the bad guys,” writes Brand Gleason.

“I planted my almonds based on a contract with the federal government to deliver surface water from Northern California. I didn’t anticipate the contractual supply dropping to zero for two straight years; I didn’t foresee having to dig wells deeper into the earth of my farm to pump groundwater to make up the difference. Yes, almonds are a “permanent” crop with a life span of 18 to 20 years, and they don’t offer me the easy option of fallowing orchards in drought as some vegetable farmers have done.

“But let me point out that my almond trees are a lot less permanent than the houses that continue to get built in California on the same dwindling water supply.”

Of course,  Gleason conveniently omits that he banked on water to which he apparently has no permanent rights. That is entirely his mistake.

And he skims over the basic reality: he chose to farm in a desert  that, by his own description, “belonged to the horned toad, jack rabbit and tumbleweed.”

Still, it’s good to hear an almond grower’s side. If we demonize people like Bradley, we’re no better than the south-Valley wingnuts who demonize the smelt.

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Aliens outside Stockton!

The Stockton Evening Mail story of Nov. 25, 1896 about a Stockton man’s alien encounter is online. You can read the whole original story here.

Thanks to my champion trivia bee teammate Keven Shawver for sending it. And to reader Mike Bartram for citing the book ”Alien Contacts and Abductions.”

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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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