By Doug Porter
For the twelve days of Christmas I give you: The madness of 2013, one month at a time. A month by month recap of stories that appeared in the Starting Line over the past year.
#1 Assemblywoman Toni Atkins vs the Poor Oppressed Developers
Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Let’s start with the California Coastal Commission story in today’s UT-San Diego.
San Diego Assemblywomen Toni Atkins is sponsoring a bill that moved out of committee yesterday giving the California Coastal Commission the authority to directly fine law breakers.
Paragraphs three and four of the UT-SD story tell us first about the reaction against the proposed legislation:
Her Assembly Bill 976 has drawn sharp rebukes from business interests, many of whom already regard the Coastal Commission as too arbitrary when it comes to issuing permits for development along California’s 1,100 miles of coast.
The legislation “creates a bounty hunter mentality among Coastal Commission staff (and) would strip alleged violators of due process afforded by the courts,” states a letter signed by various associations representing the housing, oil, aquaculture and agricultural industries.
Gosh, that sounds pretty bad, huh? Why would the legislature consider such a thing? At the end of the story we learn that the Coastal Commission’s enforcement measures are all but toothless. In other words, any developer smart enough to game the system can get away with not fulfilling their promises once the permit is issued.
As it stands now the Commission has to go to court and ask a judge for permission to impose penalties on a badly behaved developer. It’s kind of like the Highway Patrol having to get a court order to issue a speeding ticket. From the UT-SD story:
The Coastal Commission says fines are rarely pursued because of the time and cost associated with going to court. The cases are filed by the separate Department of Justice under the attorney general’s jurisdiction.
The attorney general has followed through on just four such cases since 2003. Of those, three have been settled, bringing in $425,000, according to state statistics. But two of the cases cost the attorney general’s office more than $100,000 each to pursue.
So what are we talking about here? Not painting a building the right color? Again, from the UT story.
In making her case, Atkins cites two examples of alleged violations in San Diego County that have dragged on at the administrative level.
One involves a single-family development in Carlsbad that was granted a coastal development permit on the condition that a public access trail be constructed to Batiquitos Lagoon. But the trail has not been created.
Another involves a permit to turn apartments into condominiums in Oceanside. The developers were to build a boardwalk around the circumference of the property but never did.
Like I said, all the facts were there, but the ‘news account’ gives a distinct impression: those poor developers are being picked on by the all-powerful Coastal Commission.
#2 News From Trendy Cochella Valley, Part One
For those of you who are terminally uncool, the next two weekends are the time of year when tens of thousands of (mostly) otherwise sane people take to the desert for a time out to enjoy the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival.
The Indio, California shindig features music from a variety of genres playing from stages located throughout the Empire Polo Club. People have been known to get stoned and occasionally naked, but the real reason to go is to say you’ve been there, done that. It’s cooler than a tramp stamp.
Lots of auxiliary (not officially sanctioned) events occur because the crowd is large and mostly affluent. One of them caught my attention yesterday, and it really rattled my cage. Some fashionistas have decided that it would be appro to throw a Gitmo themed party, I guess because human rights violations and torture are such ‘groovy’ ideas. This is stupider than stupid.
This year’s two weekends sold out by the end of January, and the tickets weren’t cheap.
Tickets on StubHub are now going for as much as $4 grand. And that doesn’t include a place to stay or transportation costs. Here is this year’s line up of performers.
So the Twitterverse was up in arms yesterday over a report about a “New Guantanamo” pop up party. From Salon.com:
There have been some very bad decisions in the history of public relations, but this may be the proverbial headliner. At Coachella this year, a see-and-be-seen pseudo-bohemian music festival in California for rich kids, a few of the lucky and tragically hip will have the option to be “sequestered” to attend a Guantanamo Bay, “playful torture”-themed party.
Refinery29 flagged this email invitation from Flaunt Magazine, featuring a topless model clutching a rifle above her head in aviators and short leather shorts. The email reads:
Flaunt Magazine and Le Baron will be sequestering select Coachella attendees for “New Guantanamo”, a unique and painfully pleasurable pop up experience with True Religion. The watering hole, the first building ever built in Coachella, CA, will feature playful torture by Smashbox Studios with beats poured by French music and fashion label Kitsuné. This one will go until dawn.
You’ll be thrilled to hear that, after further consideration, organizers have decided to re-name the event ‘NightShift’.
But the painful pleasure will apparently continue, as Flaunt defended its concept, telling Buzzfeed, it “has not shied away from controversy or provocation” and “never intended to cause offense or harm” with the party theme.
Not to go all Stalinist on you all about this or anything, but when I heard about this yesterday, my first reaction was that the organizers of this event ought to be shot. I’ve reconsidered and am withholding judgment, for now.
#3 Death by Street Design
It was late Wednesday night on the 2800 block of El Cajon Boulevard. A 53 year old man jaywalked as he walked out from a Wendy’s fast food restaurant and was struck by a white Nissan sedan. Despite attempts by EMTs called to the scene, the man died. Police say alcohol was not a factor in the accident and that charges are unlikely to be filed against the driver of the vehicle.
This might seem like a straightforward argument against jaywalking, but it is actually indicative of a much larger problem. El Cajon Boulevard is one of the most pedestrian-unfriendly streets in San Diego.
The place where the jaywalker died lacks pedestrian crossings at nearby intersections. It’s unsafe at any speed for pedestrians and, at 40 miles per hour (the speed most people, including me, drive on EC Blvd), a pedestrian has only a 15% chance of surviving an accident.
Great Streets San Diego, a local non-profit, advocates for the idea of complete street design. This concept:
“…gives equal consideration to all users of the streets. The street is a place where people live, work, play, and move. It includes vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, trees, sidewalks, and the buildings which define its shape and form.
Complete Streets are designed for multi-modal transportation, — in other words, for bicycles, pedestrians of all ages and abilities, public transit, commerce, as well as personal cars.”
Referring to an earlier pedestrian death a few miles down the same boulevard, Great Streets San Diego pointed out:
This section of El Cajon Blvd is 5+ lanes wide, straight, with lane widths designed for speeds of 50+ mph; (the same lane widths are used in highway design). Because there are no traffic signals in this stretch, and separate turn lanes have been added, there are no impediments to the fast flow of traffic. There are no marked crosswalks in this 5 block section, and yet, there is a bus stop on each side of the road. What would you do if you got off the bus and want to cross the street?
While the situation in front of the Wendy’s may vary slightly from the above description, pedestrian access was indeed blocked at the adjacent intersection.
There’s been lots of talk over the years about rehabbing El Cajon Boulevard. SANDAG’s Mid City Transit Route will put a dedicated transit lane on the street. Bike San Diego and other community groups are advocating for protected bike lanes.
The North Park Planning Committee’s Vision includes making the area more pedestrian friendly, but stipulates that El Cajon Blvd “is to remain a major, car-oriented thoroughfare.”
The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement (aka the Boulevard) District has some ideas for better lighting and ladder type crosswalks that will improve pedestrian safety.
WalkSanDiego and the San Diego Chapter of the American Planning Association have a terrific white paper called “From Policy to Pavement: Implementing Complete Streets in the San Diego Region”. And I’m sure we’ll get emails about other programs in the pipeline.
We’ve elected a new mayor in San Diego who’s promised to take us away from the “downtown first” mentality and now it’s up to us to keep pushing to make the kinds of changes that are necessary to make our neighborhood and streets safe for all our citizens, not just those behind the wheel.
#4 Nothing to See Here, Move Along
Washington DC based Media Matters yesterday called out our local daily for failing to notice the connections between the newly formed ‘San Diegans for Secure Borders Coalition’ with nativist and rightwing extremist organizations.
UT-San Diego ran an article announcing the group’s formation, saying only that San Diego resident Jeff Schwilk was among the founders. Former US Attorney Peter Nunez was identified as a member of the coalition.
From the Media Matters account:
However, the newspaper did not note that many of the people highlighted in its story have a connection to nativist and former Minutemen groups. Nunez is the board chairman for the anti-immigrant nativist group, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). CIS is part of the John Tanton network of anti-immigrant nativist groups, which include the hate group the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA. CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian is known for making derogatory remarks about Muslims and the American-born children of immigrants.
The coalition’s founder Jeff Schwilk was “the hot-tempered leader of the San Diego Minutemen (SDMM), a nativist extremist organization with a reputation for violent confrontations and crude insults,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2009, Schwilk was ordered to pay $135,000 to a Korean-American civil rights activist who filed a defamation lawsuit after the SDMM circulated photos of her and referred to her in derogatory and racist terms.
In addition, Schwilk’s group physically intimidated people they suspected of being undocumented immigrants:
On Saturday mornings, when they travel to the sleepy suburban gas stations where immigrant day laborers go to find work, they create scenes that would play well in a show called “Nativists Gone Wild.” They call immigrants “wetbacks” and “Julios.” They pull out Mace and threaten passing motorists who disagree with them. Calling those who hire day laborers “slavemasters,” they’ve been known to slap flashing amber police lights on their SUVs and chase the would-be employers down. When they’re not busy physically intimidating migrants, they take to the airwaves and the Internet to accuse them, without a shred of evidence, of running child prostitution rings and practicing “voodoo Santeria rituals.”
#5 The Inanity of Tax Day
It’s time to pay up, people. April 15th is tax day and Uncle Sam is looking for his dough.
The IRS estimates that fifty million Americans (75% of whom will get refunds) will wait until the last minute to file their taxes this year. The perceived agony of the tax paying process will dominate the news media scene today.
Here in San Diego we have several flavors of tax protests scheduled for today.
Tax evaders of the corporate kind will be the focus of the San Diego Light Brigade’s protest outside the Midway Post Office from 8 until 11pm this evening. Here’s the Facebook page for that demonstration.
Our local Tea Party types are having at least two protests today.
The San Diego East Regional Tea Party is calling for people to show up across the street from the Lexington Post Office in El Cajon starting at 5:30pm. And the Liberty Tree Patriots want citizens to show up to protest ObamaCare and taxes at the Carmel Mountain Ranch Post Office from 4 to 7pm today.
The Carmel Mountain Ranch event sounds exciting. Here’s what’s on their flyer: “Remember this is a Peaceful Rally! We accept no responsibility for people or property before, during or after this event.”
The idea of showing up to protest outside post offices on tax day is lame. I guess some people still file their taxes using paper and ink, but they’re disappearing faster than Republicans on the west coast. A smart tax protester would buy one of those Google ads linked to searches for tax information, starting in early February.
#6 Why the Boston Bombing is Different than 9/11
Are we to be defined by fear? That is the question.
The answer to that question is what differentiates yesterday’s acts of terror from those that took place on 9/11.
The reactions of people in Boston and around the country are vastly different. We (most of us, anyway) have learned something over the past decade-plus.
The stories of acts of human kindness, the accounts of the great work of the first responders (that’s why taxes are important!) and the ordinary people who jumped in to rescue their fellow human beings are the story.
Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
#7 Getting Down on the Gravy Train
Labor unions and their supporters rallied in Sacramento yesterday surrounded by symbolic containers of gravy in support of Senate Bill 434, legislation introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill (D – San Mateo) that would bring about reforms in the Enterprise Zone tax (EZ) credit system in California.
I’m not so sure that reform is even a good idea, given just how outrageously this law has been used by large corporations. California taxpayers gave up $700 million in tax credits last year that were intended to create small business jobs in economically distressed areas.
Who are these businesses? Glad you asked, because much of that information is not available to the public. We do know that Walmart, Hyatt, Wells Fargo and the Déjà Vu Showgirls Club are among those enjoying this taxpayer largess.
Just in case you’re wondering about that last company, here’s the Déjà vu Wikipedia entry:
Déjà Vu Consulting, Inc. is a U.S. company that (as of 2013) owns about 67 strip clubs in 16 U.S. states, as well as one club in Croyden, UK.
The company is headquartered in Lansing, Michigan; it was founded and is controlled by Harry Mohney, who partners with Roger Forbes and opened his first Déjà Vu strip club in the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle in 1985. At the time, his main business was the large-scale distribution of pornography.
An astounding 91% of the tax credits were claimed by companies with more than $1 million in assets; 61% went to companies with more than $1 billion in assets. And a state survey found that nearly half of businesses report that the EZ hiring credit “never” or “rarely” influenced their hiring decisions. Moreover, many of the claimed credits were applied retroactively to jobs that already existed.
It’s another scam, not unlike the community redevelopment programs shut down by Gov. Jerry Brown. Call it corporate welfare. Call it a gravy train, as the unions do. Just call it wrong. According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, in 2011 only 7 percent of hiring credits went to workers that are economically disadvantaged and less than one percent went to veterans.
As with the redevelopment boondoggle, elected officials and chamber of commerce types around the states have rallied to defend their interests. Mayor Filner is a signatory on a letter from elected officials urging the governor to preserve the program…
…It just really sucks that all these Democrats and Republicans can stand up and say that a scam like this has anything to do with the public interest. Once again another program designed to help economically disadvantaged people has turned out to be nothing more than a plan to increase the wealth of those who are already wealthy.
#8 Negotiating Drug Prices for Medicare is a Job Killer
Things have almost gotten to the point where anytime you encounter rhetoric about ‘protecting jobs’ and ‘saving the economy’ you need to look at the soles of your shoes to see what kinda crap you just walked through.
So it is with UT-San Diego’s ‘Bad Idea Could Cost Jobs, Hinder Innovation’ op-ed written by PhRMA CEO John Castellini that appeared in yesterday’s paper. He dropped all the right buzz words ‘President Obama’s plan’, ‘jobs’. ‘medicare’(as in it’s in danger) and, of course, “American innovation’.
So just what was this dire threat to our economy, our jobs and the very essence of our national greatness?
Congressman Henry Waxman and Senator Jay Rockefeller have introduced companion bills in the House and Senate that begin the process of rolling back Medicare drug prices by removing some restrictions to government negotiation. California Senator Barbara Boxer is one of the co-sponsors of this legislation.
The bill is called the ‘Medicare Drug Savings Act of 2013’. What it does to undo the Bush-era backroom deal (part of creating (Medicare part D) that allowed drug companies to charge Medicare higher prices for prescription drugs for some seniors and people with disabilities.
Instead of paying ‘list price’ for drugs, the government would now be allowed to negotiate prices for these Medicare beneficiaries, just like private insurance companies do. This simple action will save taxpayers $141.20 billion.
Let’s see… cut Medicare benefits or… allow drug companies to gouge Medicare…
#9 Congressman Issa Wants Border Crossing Funding Held Hostage
KPBS was reporting waits of up to 3.5 hours this morning at local border crossings. And if Congressman Darrell Issa gets his way, they’ll continue to wait until his oil company friends get their way on the Keystone XL Pipeline. From the IB Patch:
Issa, a North County Republican whose district includes southern Orange County, told 600 members of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce that if Democrats want the border crossing funds, they’ll have to bend on another border issue—the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico.
“You can’t be territorial on import and export,” Issa told the luncheon at the bayfront Marriott Hotel near the San Diego Convention Center. “If you want to get bipartisan buy-in on these trade issues, you have to take the big picture.”
Calling the XL pipeline “just as important to the national dialog” as San Diego’s border with Mexico, he said: “Right now, we’re telling Canada that we will stop the exports of their oil for no particular reason except that we can.”
That’s right. There are no other issues, here. (Each one of those links is to a separate group opposing the pipeline.) Ya gotta love that Republican reality spin.
#10 News From Trendy Cochella Valley, Part Two
This weekend (Apr 28-29) hundreds of business executives and wealthy conservative donors will descend upon the Coachella Valley, hoping to forge a strategy to turn last fall’s drubbing of conservative candidates into future victories. I imagine the crowd will be considerably different from what locals have seen over the past two weeks.
Since 2003 billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch have been hosting regular retreats at luxury resorts seeking to focus the resources and energy of wealthy and politically ambitious conservatives in the US.
Their latest invitation-only gathering, originally scheduled for January, was postponed.
An email from Charles Koch, published in the National Review, explained the holdup.
“We are working hard to understand the election results, and based on that analysis, to re-examine our vision and the strategies and capabilities required for success. Although some of the needed changes are already evident, it will be several months before the state data necessary to complete this analysis is available.”
Organizers of these meetings have gone to great lengths to keep their activities under wraps in the past. In 2011 an invitation to what Forbes magazine dubbed ‘the billionaire caucus’ was leaked to the New York Times. The guest list included wealthy philanthropists, business leaders, government officials, Supreme Court justices and prominent conservative political candidates.
Common Cause and other groups concerned with the disproportional electoral influence that the Koch-led group hoped to achieve protested outside the Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage.
Last June’s gathering in Carlsbad, billed as ‘Path to Freedom 2012’ focused on unveiling the Koch funded voter database project ‘Themis’, named after the Greek goddess who imposes divine order on human affairs. The confab completely took over the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, where rooms start at $1,250 a night.
#11 If It Walks Like a Duck…
Mayor Filner’s election to the top spot in San Diego last fall set off a chain reaction of other contests, with politicians jockeying to move “up” the electoral food chain. Juan Vargas went to the House of Representatives. Ben Hueso moved over to the State Senate.
And so now we’re looking at that last deal in this political card game, as labor leader Lorena Gonzalez faces off again former Chula Vista councilman Steve Castaneda to fill Hueso’s old seat in the 80th Assembly District.
As with San Diego’s D4 race, it’s Democrat vs. Democrat. And, like the City of San Diego’s contest, there’s a smear campaign going on.
Imagine a Democrat using terms like “Union Boss and Lobbyist” against another Democrat. Imagine allegations of $18,000 in fines, fines that simply never were levied against the smearee.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Yet that’s what this week’s mailing from Steve Castaneda includes. We’re not quite sure who paid for this yet, but…if it walks like a duck…
#12 I Can Almost Taste the Wood on Those Number Two Pencils
In San Diego Schools, it’s time for the tests. Students are being herded into classrooms and told to fill in bubbles on test scoring sheets as part of a series of exams that are part of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program. California students take the California Standards Tests, the California Modified Assessment and the California Alternate Performance Assessment within 10 days or after a district reaches 85 percent of its academic calendar.
Today’s UT-San Diego has an article describing the challenges schools face in getting students motivated enough to take the tests seriously. While the exams have no potential impact on a students individual academic performance reports, they’re serious business for schools, the communities around the schools and the education industrial complex.
Here’s the lede from the UT-SD piece:
Principal Brian Martes stood outside a classroom, grabbed a microphone and let loose a thunderous greeting.
“Goooooooood morning, Beaumont!” he said at the elementary school in Vista last week.
As balloons swayed in the breeze around him, students cheered in response. Some were so excited that a few minutes later, their teacher asked them to burn off energy by running a lap before settling into class.
Yeah, baby – Good Times! I can almost taste the wood on those Number Two pencils.
Now, before I get to the meat of this item, let me state that nobody, with the possible exception of some very bored high school students (like my daughter), is suggesting that testing be eliminated.
There are, however, some very valid critiques of the value of No Child Left Behind (or successive incarnations) and the way standardized testing distorts and corrupts K-12 classrooms. Parents and students around the country are questioning the value of NCLB testing and exercising their right to ‘opt out’.
Students in Chicago simply walked out last week, rather than take standardized tests. Teachers in Seattle refused to administer tests earlier this year. And there’s a whole cottage industry of groups around the country that have sprung up around this issue.
Some of them are: United Opt Out National:, Opt Out of Standardized Tests: The International Movement, The Bartleby Project, Parents Across America, Save Our Schools. (This information comes from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing)
California State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson has called for a suspension of non-mandated state testing next year to give educators the opportunity to develop strategies for implementing the upcoming Common Core standards, which allow greater emphasis on creativity and innovation.
Tomorrow: May’s Greatest Hits from The Starting Line
On This Day: 1912 – The first municipally-owned street cars were used on the streets of San Francisco, CA. 1944 – The musical “On the Town” opened in New York City and ran for 462 performances. It features the song, “New York, New York.” 2000 – U.S. District Court Judge Matsch held a hearing to ensure that confessed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh understood that he was dropping his appeals. McVeigh said that he wanted an execution date, set but wanted to reserve the right to seek presidential clemency.
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