Category: California High-Speed Rail

Sep 25 2012

If Self-Driving Cars Are the Future Then Why California High-Speed Rail?

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Google Self-driving car

A self-driving Toyota Prius

If self-driving cars are the future for California, why is California Governor Jerry Brown and Legislatve Democrats so gung-ho for High-Speed Rail?

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would allow self-driving cars on California’s roads.

Brown signed the bill Tuesday at a ceremony at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

“We are looking at science fiction becoming reality in a self-driving car,” Brown said.

Tech giant GoogleInc., Caltech and other organizations have been working to develop such vehicles, which use radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. Googlehas said computer-controlled cars should eventually drive more safely than humans.

“These vehicles have the potential to avoid accidents.… We can save lives, create jobs and reduce congestion,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin. “I expect that self-driving cars will be far safer than human driven cars.”

Brin said autonomous cars could be functional and safe for operation on public streets within a handful of years.

The bill, SB1298, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), establishes guidelines for autonomous vehicles to be tested and operated in California.

Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters asks the same question.

Here is the video:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/u5M-dKd4uPY[/youtube]

High-Speed trains are old technology and will cost a ton of money that California does not have. And, there is NO guarantee that anyone will ride them.

Just askin…..

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Jul 30 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: July 30, 2012

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Marina Del Rey, California

Good Monday morning!

The California Legislature is not in session for a summer recess.

The California Assembly has adjourned until August 6, 2012 and the California State Senate is also in adjournment.

The California Assembly’s Daily File is here and the California State Senate’s here.

On to today’s California headlines:

California Democratic Party endorses Jerry Brown tax initiative

The California Democratic Party has made its support of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative official.

The party’s executive board voted to endorse Proposition 30 at a weekend meeting in Anaheim. The measure would generate an estimated $8.5 billion in revenues assumed in the current state budget by temporarily raising income taxes on high earners and enacting a quarter percent hike in the state sales tax.

The board voted to oppose a rival tax initiative backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger and the California State PTA. Proposition 38 would raise income taxes on a sliding scale for most Californians, sending the bulk of the revenues to schools and early childhood development programs.

Are public pensions following IRS tax-delay rules?

The IRS is taking a new look at whether public pension systems qualify for tax deferrals, raising questions about nonprofit charter schools in CalSTRS and county systems using “excess” earnings to fund retiree health care.

Taxes on employer-employee contributions to pension systems and their investment earnings can be avoided until retirees are paid. But if the rules are not followed, the IRS can change the tax status and impose fines and penalties.

As public pension funding problems surfaced during the economic downturn, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service began encouraging retirement systems to seek compliance reviews and make voluntary changes.

Some large systems, such as the California State Teachers Retirement System, have not had full tax reviews in recent decades, relying instead on IRS approval of specific issues.

(The giant California Public Employees Retirement System and the University of California Retirement System did not respond to queries last week about the status of their tax compliance reviews.)

Last April, CalSTRS said in a letter to the IRS that a proposed new rule, aimed at excluding non-government employees from public pensions, could make more than 10,000 charter school employees now in CalSTRS ineligible for the retirement system.

Bay Area to Sin City? Las Vegas bullet train backers gamble on record loan

Call it the bachelor or bachelorette party of tomorrow: you and your friends sipping cocktails aboard a futuristic train as it whips travelers across the desert to Las Vegas.

You might have to wait awhile, but it’s not such a long shot. Lost in the fractious debate over California high-speed rail is a separate, little-publicized plan for a second bullet train that would connect the Golden State with Sin City. Private developers are wagering on the Vegas train, hoping the Obama administration in coming weeks provides a record rail loan to kick-start construction on the $8 billion-plus train line that could someday connect to California’s much-debated high-speed railroad near Los Angeles.

The vision for the 150 mph party train is as audacious as the gaudy casinos, shows and night life that attract 1.5 million visits to Vegas from the Bay Area each year. Partyers could pay the equivalent of a pricey plane ticket and step onto the Las Vegas Strip in less than 1 1/2 hours from Southern California.

“Consider the train an extension of Las Vegas,” said project COO Andrew Mack. “We definitely want to create that type of environment where they can sit back and relax.”

California’s newest city withering on fiscal vine

The jagged foothills, withered pastures and a web of horse trails along the Santa Ana River give the state’s newest city a hint of the Wild West. Jurupa Valley’s money troubles, though, are pure modern-day California.

Jurupa Valley may be broke in a year, even though the city is so new that it has no permanent employees, no generous employee pension plan and runs City Hall out of a leased strip-mall storefront next to the Lucky Wok Chinese restaurant.

Without a financial rescue, the city will have to shut its doors, sending the mishmash of Jurupa Valley communities back into the ether of unincorporated Riverside County.Unlike San Bernardino, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes, California cities that have all reached the brink of insolvency in recent weeks, Jurupa Valley’s money troubles are not of its own making. They are Sacramento’s fault.

Enjoy your morning!

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Jul 19 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: July 19, 2012

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California Gov. Jerry Brown, center, displays signed legislation authorizing initial construction of California’s $68 billion high-speed rail line at Los Angeles’ Union Station Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The California Legislature is not in session for a summer recess.

The California Assembly has adjourned until August 6, 2012 and the California State Senate is also in adjournment.

The California Assembly’s Daily File is here and the California State Senate’s here.

On to today’s California headlines:

CA Senate announces plan to freeze pay — after awarding raises

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced plans Wednesday for a one-year pay freeze for Senate employees, but the move comes in the wake of a recent pay hike for hundreds of the chamber’s aides.

The proposed Senate pay freeze also comes as most state workers are taking a nearly 5 percent pay cut as part of budget cuts designed to save the cash-starved state government billions of dollars.

Steinberg plans to ask the Senate Rules Committee to approve the pay freeze at its next meeting Aug. 1, said Rhys Williams, Steinberg spokesman. The action would take effect immediately. The freeze would not affect pay raises tied to promotions.

Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said that his chamber has no plans to announce a pay freeze, but it will continue to respond to California’s budget crisis by trimming and transferring 15 percent of its budget to other state agencies. This year, $22 million will be sent, Waldie said.

Assembly awards pay raises to more than 100 staffers

The California Assembly has awarded raises to roughly 150 legislative staffers this year, even as lawmakers voted to cut pay for most state workers to help balance the state budget.

Although officials declined to provide exact figures late Wednesday, they said the pay hikes affected about 60 Assembly employees who were reclassified and about 90 workers who had not received merit raises for at least three years.

Most of the increases were between 3% and 5%, with those on the lower end of the salary scale receiving the largest pay increases, said Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer of the Assembly.

A list of Assembly staffers’ salaries can be found on the chamber’s website.

The raises are part of a policy established by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) in December, when roughly a quarter of the lower house’s employees received pay increases. Most of those workers had not received raises for at least three years. Lawmakers must request the raises for their employees and pay for the increases with their own office budgets.

“It’s a policy that’s sound,” Waldie said. The raises “are going to people who haven’t had increases in three years.”

San Bernardino declares fiscal emergency, approves bankruptcy

The City Council took what several members called the hardest decision of their professional lives Wednesday, formally declaring a state of fiscal emergency and directing staff to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

The two votes, both 5-2, came eight days after the council first voted to allow City Attorney James F. Penman to file for bankruptcy protection to help it escape a $45million deficit and a shortage of cash on hand that officials said would leave them unable to pay employees Aug. 15.

The intervening week brought heavy attention to the issue from across the nation and particularly in San Bernardino, and council members said they had been flooded with messages.

The week of information and attention shifted two votes: Councilman Fred Shorett, who voted against filing last week, approved it Wednesday, while Councilman John Valdivia switched from abstaining to opposing. Councilman Chas Kelley continued to oppose bankruptcy.

“The horse is out of the barn – the whole world knows we’re insolvent,” Shorett said. “I will be supporting going forward with Chapter 9 and fiscal emergency.”

Many of those who spoke to the council said moving forward with bankruptcy was the only responsible position, but they criticized how the city has gotten to this point.

California’s ‘Charter’ Cities are Under the Microscope

The last three large California cities to seek bankruptcy protection or announce they plan to had seen their housing values, tax revenue and employment crumble. They also have something else in common: They all are so-called charter cities.

Now another California city, Compton, says it may have to file for bankruptcy by September. It, too, is a charter city. Some say that’s no coincidence.

Of the state’s 482 cities, 121 have their own constitutions, or charters. That gives them more leeway in governing their affairs, including the freedom to set their own rules about elections, salaries and contracts.


Governor signs funding for high-speed rail

At a ceremony in Los Angeles, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday morning to allocate $7.9 billion to the California High-Speed Rail, committing the state to the project despite poor prospects for future funding.

This initial round of funding was in doubt up until the Legislature’s final vote this month. Critics of the high-speed rail plan have blasted it for rising costs, for unrealistic ridership projections and for barreling through homes, businesses and prime Central Valley farmland.

In the end, however, just enough legislative Democrats supported the plan, saying the state faced a greater risk if it didn’t move forward with construction, even though the state doesn’t know how it will pay for the entire project, which is now pegged at $68 billion. No Republicans in the Legislature supported the funding.

On Wednesday, Brown, a vocal supporter of the high-speed rail, praised the project for its economic impact.

“This legislation will help put thousands of people in California back to work,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “By improving regional transportation systems, we are investing in the future of our state and making California a better place to live and work.”

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walters Daily video: Jerry Brown taking a chance with bullet train

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Jun 21 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: June 21, 2012

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Mission San Francisco de Asís

Good Tuesday morning!

The California Legislature is in session.  Today’s schedule is here.

The California Assembly’s Daily File is here and the California State Senate’s here.

On to today’s California headlines:

Jerry Brown’s tax initiative officially qualifies for November

As Democratic state leaders continue budget negotiations, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike on sales and upper-income earners officially qualified Wednesday for the November ballot, as did two other tax measures.

Brown’s tax initiative will be joined by a rival measure to hike income taxes on all but the poorest Californians as well as an initiative to raise taxes on multistate corporations based elsewhere, the Secretary of State’s Office announced. A total of 11 measures, including a water bond, are now on the November ballot.

Brown and lawmakers are counting on voters to pass his tax plan to generate an estimated $8.5 billion in the current budget cycle, which provides additional funding for schools and helps bridge the state’s $15.7 billion deficit. Though state leaders considered its qualification a foregone conclusion, some political experts began to wonder whether it could miss the June 28 deadline to reach the November ballot as the date drew closer.

The Brown initiative would raise sales taxes by a quarter-cent on the dollar. It would also hike income taxes starting at $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for joint filers.

Brown backs away from bullet train fight

Gov. Jerry Brown backed away from a fight with environmentalists yesterday, abandoning a plan to exempt the $68 billion California bullet train project from environmental laws.

Brown had hoped to fast-track construction of the controversial project by sidestepping key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act.

But the idea had put him at odds with most of the state’s green groups.

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Planning and Conservation League were among the organizations that in recent days had strongly criticized Brown’s plan.

The Sierra Club had called Brown’s idea “dangerous” and “a political mistake.”

Most of the state’s environmental groups backed Brown in his 2010 campaign for governor. Several green groups have been firm supporters of the rail project, which would link San Francisco and Los Angeles with trains traveling more than 200 miles per hour.

Lawmakers move to allow sports betting in California

Betting that either Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court will remove the federal obstacle that bars the activity nearly everywhere except in Nevada, the Legislature is moving toward positioning California to allow betting on sports events.

Advancing a bill that passed the Senate with only two dissenting votes in May, an Assembly committee on Wednesday gave bipartisan support to a measure that would give card clubs, horse racing tracks and Indian casinos the ability to add sports betting if the state is given the authority to do so.

Nevada has long held a monopoly on big-time sports betting in the United States, and under the provisions of a 1992 federal law only it and three other small states, all of which previously allowed for limited betting on sports, are allowed to conduct that activity.

But New Jersey voters recently amended their state constitution to legalize sports betting and Gov. Chris Christie last month said his state will begin allowing wagers on football, basketball and other sports contests this fall, daring the federal government to try to stop it.

That could set up a showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court over whether the federal law that allows some states but not others to participate in a commercial activity violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

In addition, New Jersey Sen. Frank LoBiondo has introduced legislation in Congress that would allow additional states an opportunity to establish legal sports betting.

California will be in position to follow New Jersey’s lead if SB 1390 by Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, makes its way through the Legislature and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this fall.

Jerry Brown and Democrats close to deal on welfare budget

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats are nearing a deal on welfare-to-work cuts that would reduce how long families can receive full aid and child care, but provide exemptions such as one for people in areas with high unemployment.

The Democratic governor and lawmakers are still negotiating how broadly the exemptions would apply, said sources close to negotiations who did not want to be named because the deal remains incomplete. The criteria would determine how much the state could save and the extent to which Brown can declare a shift in the welfare model as he asks voters to raise taxes in November.

Brown wants lawmakers to remake the state’s welfare-to-work program, known as CalWORKs, by imposing more severe consequences for not finding work. Democrats are willing to accept some changes, but they say the governor’s plan is too severe when work is scarce even for more qualified job applicants in California.

“The typical CalWORKs recipient doesn’t have a high school diploma,” said Mike Herald, a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “They’re having to compete right now in a job market where even people with high school diplomas can’t get hired.”

The dispute over CalWORKs has become one of the biggest sticking points in budget negotiations between Brown and his own party’s lawmakers. Facing the threat of lost pay, Democrats sent the governor a $92 billion spending plan on Friday’s constitutional deadline that relied on softer cuts to the program.

Brown has until Wednesday to sign or veto the main budget bill, while the new fiscal year begins in 10 days. Lawmakers could avoid a veto by passing a compromise budget by Tuesday or pulling back the budget they approved last week.

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walters’ Daily video: ‘Are Republicans an endangered species in California?’

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Jun 05 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: June 5, 2012

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The California Capitol

Good Tuesday morning!

It is California Primary election day and there are no floor sessions scheduled in the California Legislature.

The California Legislature is in session.  Today’s schedule is here.

The California Assembly’s Daily File is here and the California State Senate’s here.

On to today’s California headlines:

Field Poll predicting low turnout — perhaps a record low — in today’s California presidential primary

Voter turnout for today’s election will likely set a record low for a presidential primary in California, with just 35 percent of registered voters casting ballots, according to the Field Poll.

The estimate reflects the state’s insignificance to the Republican presidential nominating contest, which was settled long ago, and to a dearth of competitive, high-interest races statewide.

“There’s really no comparison,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “We’ve never had a turnout at this level before for a presidential primary in California.”

In a report released today, Field estimates 6 million people will vote in the election, 35 percent of registered voters and just more than 25 percent of all Californians who are eligible to vote.

In the 2008 presidential primary, turnout reached almost 58 percent.

If turnout today falls below 40 percent of registration, as Field expects, it will be for the first time in the modern era. The previous record low turnout for a presidential primary was 41.9 percent in 1996.

Dan Walters: California’s primary election stakes are minimal

Primary elections are, by their nature, not conclusive political events, but rather stage-setters for the real showdown in November.

For the political cognoscenti, however, this particular primary carries some unusual interest because it’s a first test of two major structural changes.

They are legislative and congressional districts drawn by an independent commission rather than by politicians themselves, and a new voting system in which two top finishers will face each other in November, regardless of party.

In a handful of the 153 legislative and House seats up this year, that could mean that two Democrats or two Republicans, or perhaps even an independent, could qualify for the November runoff.

It will, however, almost certainly eliminate minor party candidates from competing, which strikes many as unfair.

Californians to test new primary system

Californians heading to the polls Tuesday will decide whether to tweak term limits for state lawmakers and raise cigarette taxes to fund cancer research — even as they try out a revamped primary system designed to reduce partisan gridlock here and in Washington.

Under new primary rules, the top two finishers in races for state and federal offices will face off in November, regardless of party affiliation. The presidential contest is an exception. Candidates also are competing in new voting districts drawn by a citizens panel rather than the Legislature, which formerly engineered those districts to protect incumbents and maintain the influence of party bosses.

The outcome could reshape the way power is wielded in two capitals long defined by gridlock and brinkmanship. If more moderates are elected, it could eventually break the hold of labor unions on Democrats and anti-tax groups on Republicans.

Brown seeks to reduce environmental protections for bullet train

With legal challenges to the California bullet train mounting, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday began circulating proposed legislation designed to significantly diminish the possibility that opponents could stop the project with an environmental lawsuit.

Brown’s office sent the proposal to a group of powerful environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Planning Conservation League and the Natural Resources Defense Council, hoping to win their support for the special legal protection.

The proposal puts environmental groups in a tough spot. Brown is asking them to agree to water down one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in history, but for a project they support because of its potential to help reduce vehicle emissions and global warming.

The legislation would most immediately affect suits brought by Central Valley agricultural interests, which have been among the project’s leading critics because of potential effects on farms, dairies, processing plants and other holdings.

Enjoy your morning and please remember to vote!

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