Tag Archive: California High Speed Rail

Jan 22 2013

The California Flap: January 22, 2013

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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 is here.

Some important deadlines to remember:

  • January 25, 2013: Deadline to send bill ideas to the California Legislative Counsel for drafting.
  • February 22, 2013: Deadline to introduce bills.

Each member of the Assembly and State Senate are allowed to introduce up to 40 bills in this two year legislative session.

On to the morning’s California headlines:

  • California engineers question high-speed rail oversight – As California prepares to embark on its largest public works project in decades, a union that represents state engineers is questioning whether all the construction work will be thoroughly scrutinized.Contractors submitted bids this week to design and build the first 30-mile stretch of track for the $68 billion high-speed rail system, which eventually is designed to link Northern and Southern California by trains traveling up to 220 mph. The contract they sign is expected to be for up to $1.8 billion to build the initial segment in the Central Valley.The documents outlining the requirements for the bids say the independent contractor that would design and build the first phase of the project would hire the inspectors charged with testing the work on that segment, running from Madera to Fresno. The inspections would then be submitted to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.Critics, including lawmakers and a state engineers union, say the arrangement could present a conflict…
  • CalPERS nears a record $260 billion in assets – The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is poised to top a record $260 billion in assets, the market value it held before the global financial crisis wiped out more than a third of its wealth.The largest U.S. public pension, with half of its money in publicly traded equities, was worth $253.2 billion on Thursday, or about 97% of the pre-recession high set in October 2007. The fund returned 13% in 2012, about the same gain as the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.”A lot of the improvements in portfolio returns is simply reflective of the return of the market,” Chief Investment Officer Joe Dear said. “But there is still an important lesson there, which is that when the crisis was full on, we didn’t drastically reduce our equity exposure.”
  • Tobacco tax hike eyed for 2014 state ballot – Get ready for another round of tobacco tax wars, California initiative style.And count three big reasons for a do-over of the electoral skirmish in 2014: the relatively low level of the existing tax, the narrow margin of the vote in 2012, and the fact that it may now be a fight not over bureaucracy and research but rather college tuition.”I think the right measure, going to the right revenue source is going to be the magic combination,” says Democratic strategist Jason Kinney. “And that’s why I think so many people are looking at it.”
  • Jerry Brown’s budget is a boon to California’s unions – Gov. Jerry Brown continues to pose as an iconoclast who is willing to make the tough choices necessary to keep California afloat, but the budget he released recently is more evidence that he remains the cat’s paw for the state’s public-sector unions.“I want to advance the progressive agenda,” Brown said at the press conference unveiling his supposedly balanced budget, “but consistent with the amount of money people made available … I respect and embrace my role of saying ‘no.’”But he certainly has said yes to union demands. The budget is the culmination of Brown’s campaign to convince Californians to raise taxes on themselves. They complied by approving Proposition 30 to help the school kids, yet Brown has played games with that money — earmarking some of it for union pay hikes as a payback for all that help during the Nov. 6 campaign, according to GOP leaders.
  • California death penalty: Will state follow Arizona, which has resumed executions after a long hiatus? – When Arizona prison officials injected condemned rapist and murderer Richard Stokley with a single, fatal drug dose last month, it marked the state’s sixth execution of the year in the nation’s second busiest death chamber.Now that California voters in November narrowly preserved the death penalty, Arizona’s path could foreshadow the future for this state, where not a single one of the 729 death row inmates have marched to execution in seven years.As in California, interminable legal tangles once shut down Arizona’s death penalty system as the state executed only one inmate, who volunteered to die, from 2001 to 2010. But Arizona emerged from numerous court battles that removed all of the legal roadblocks that remain in California.The result has been 11 executions since October 2010, nearly the number California has carried out since it restored the death penalty in 1978. Significantly, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, often the last word for death penalty appeals in the …
  • Plenty of green carpool stickers remain available in California – Green stickers for plug-in hybrids: 9,022. Limit: 40,000. Expire: Jan. 1, 2015 White stickers for electric vehicles and those running on alternative fuels: 21,770. Limit: None. Expire: Jan. 1, 2015. Yellow stickers for hybrids: 85,000. Ended July 1, 2011.
  • Brown seeks to reshape California’s community colleges – With a slate of bold and controversial budget proposals, Gov. Jerry Brown has placed a renewed focus on the state’s struggling community colleges, the world’s largest system of two-year schools that are often overshadowed by the University of California and Cal State systems.The governor’s recommendations are aimed at keeping community colleges affordable, keeping classes accessible and moving students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. Brown’s spending plan must clear the Legislature, and some college officials have vowed to oppose — or at least try to modify — some portions.
  • Medicare Pricing Delay is Political Win for Amgen, Drug Maker – Just two weeks after pleading guilty in a major federal fraud case, Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, scored a largely unnoticed coup on Capitol Hill: Lawmakers inserted a paragraph into the “fiscal cliff” bill that did not mention the company by name but strongly favored one of its drugs.The language buried in Section 632 of the law delays a set of Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes Sensipar, a lucrative Amgen pill used by kidney dialysis patients.The provision gives Amgen an additional two years to sell Sensipar without government controls. The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts. But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period.
  • Dan Walters: Public debts cloud future for California cities – The tendency among local officials – much like their brethren in the state Capitol – is to make financial commitments with little thought to long-term consequences.That’s how our governments dug themselves into deep budget holes – spending revenue windfalls on new services, giving employees big pension and health care benefits retroactively, and borrowing for grandiose projects without economic viability.Three of California’s cities rode that path into bankruptcy. While one, Vallejo, has emerged, two others, Stockton and San Bernardino, are still ruminating over which creditors will take haircuts.Stockton’s situation is especially egregious because it committed all of those fiscal sins. Its biggest debt is money it borrowed to pay its pension obligations, a double whammy.

    In fact, most public debt in California is in the form of pension promises whose dimensions depend on assumptions of pension fund earnings.

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Jan 18 2013

The California Flap: January 18, 2013

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Hilda SolisFormer Secretary of Labor and Rep. Hilda Solis

These are my links for January 8th through January 18th:

  • Hilda Solis considering a run for L.A. County Board of Supervisors – U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis confirmed Friday that she is considering running for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, plans to “get my footing back in the community” and remain politically active in Los Angeles.”I’m going to take a look at it,” she said of her potential run for the eastern Los Angeles County seat that will be vacated late next year by Supervisor Gloria Molina, who will be termed out of office.Solis declined to offer a date when she will officially announce her decision, saying she wants to take time to “reflect, relax” and spend more time with her 87-year-old mother.

    Solis, 55, has spent 12 years in Washington, first as a San Gabriel Valley congresswoman and, since 2009, as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet.

  • Manufacturing stages U.S. comeback, but not in California – Manufacturing is staging a big comeback in the United States, according to a new U.S. Commerce Department report, but a new state employment report indicates that manufacturing is continuing its years-long slide in California.The federal report says that between the start of 2010 and the end of 2012, manufacturing accounted for 500,000 new jobs. But a state-by-state survey indicates that the effects are being felt mostly in the Upper Midwest and the South.In Indiana, for example, manufacturing accounts for 13.1 percent of jobs and 22.3 percent of earnings, making it the No. 1 state in terms of economic impact. All other states with high-impact manufacturing sectors, except for New Hampshire, are in the two regions.
  • California unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.8% last month – California’s labor market slowed last month as employers shed 17,500 jobs in December and the unemployment rate remained unchanged.The state’s jobless rate, which fell below 10% in November for the first time in nearly four years, stands at 9.8%, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.In addition, job figures for November were revised upward to show a net gain of 6,100 jobs that month.
  • Amgen to spend $200 million on Singapore manufacturing facility – Amgen will invest about $200 million to build a manufacturing facility in Singapore to produce clinical and commercial products, with an initial focus on expansion of monoclonal antibodies, the company announced Wednesday.”Amgen is pleased to be planning for a new world-class facility in Singapore as part of our global expansion strategy,” said Madhu Balachandran, executive vice president of operations. “Singapore is an ideal location to further our manufacturing efforts based on its rich talent pool and friendly business environment.”
  • California lawmakers use Lady Gaga to attract campaign cash – Are Democratic state Sens. Ricardo Lara and Ron Calderon “Little Monsters,” the term Lady Gaga uses affectionalty for her loyal fans.The two state lawmakers will be at Staples Center on Sunday night to see Lady Gaga in concert. They are holding a joint campaign fundraiser at the event, with a $3,900 VIP contribution also including a hotel room for the night. Calderon, a Montebello resident, is raising money for his 2014 state controller campaign while Lara, who lives in Bell Gardens, is hoping to bring in cash for his reelection to the Senate.
  • California High-speed rail critic Rep. Jeff Denham to chair House railroad panel – High-speed rail skeptics gained new traction Wednesday with the promotion of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, to chairmanship of the House panel that oversees railroads.A sharp critic of California’s ambitious high-speed rail plan, Denham can use his post to challenge one of the Obama administration’s top public works priorities. Future rail legislation must pass through Denham’s subcommittee, which can also hold hearings to shed potentially unflattering light on specific projects like California’s.”I’m opposed to it, but I’m going to work with the California High-Speed Rail Authority on going forward,” Denham said Wednesday. “I want to work together with them, though I still have doubts about their funding and ridership numbers.”

    Underscoring his new leadership position, as well as his stated willingness to keep an open mind, Denham met early Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill with the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s two top officials, board chairman Dan Richard and chief executive officer Jeff Morales. In a statement, Richard described the meeting as “collegial and productive

  • California State misses prison benchmark on overcrowding – ‘s official. In a federal court filing Tuesday, California told federal judges that its prisons remain crowded beyond benchmarks set by the court nearly two years ago.The state said its 33 prisons on average are at 149.4% of design capacity. Nearly half of the individual prisons are much higher than that: 172% at North Kern State Prison, 187% at the Central California Women’s Facility, and the men’s section of Valley State Prison in Chowchilla is now at almost 352%.The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Wednesday that the last female inmates at Valley State have been moved out, freeing up 1,536 beds that can now be used for the male prisoners housed there. Starting next week, the state will begin moving female inmates into a converted 403-bed women’s facility adjacent to Folsom State Prison.
  • Picking a Republican to challenge Brownley – It’s way too early to start writing about the 2014 campaigns, but with the reported statement by former Republican Sen. Tony Strickland that he’s “seriously considering” taking on Rep. Julia Brownley in a rematch of the 2012 campaign, a few preliminary observations seem in order.
  • California lawmaker pushes driver’s licenses for more illegal immigrants – A week after California began issuing driver’s licenses to a select group of young illegal immigrants, a state lawmaker has proposed that licenses be provided to many others who are unlawfully in the country.A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 allows driver’s licenses to be issued to those given a work permit as part of an Obama administration program that suspends deportation for many people who arrived illegally as children.Now, Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D- Salinas) has introduced AB 60, which would provide California driver’s licenses to anyone who can show they pay taxes, regardless of their immigration status.

    Alejo estimates there are up to a million illegal immigrants who are driving without licenses and thus many are on the road without proper training, testing or insurance. His bill would allow licenses if someone provides the Department of Motor Vehicles with a federal individual taxpayer identification number or other document deemed proof of paying taxes.

  • Speaker Pérez modifies Assembly restrictions on press access – Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez has modified newly imposed restrictions on reporters’ floor access to legislators by designating a section in the back of the Assembly’s chambers for interviews.The development marks a significant change from Monday, when Pérez ended the longstanding practice of media interviews in the back of chambers during floor sessions. Reporters were required to conduct such talks in a hallway.
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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:

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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 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 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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