The Sacramento Bee: A healthy re-evaluation of the militarization of local police
It took two weeks of civil unrest in Missouri, but the nation has started the hard and healthy discussion about the appropriateness of outfitting local law enforcement with military tools.
Images of Ferguson police officers clad in military gear and carrying assault rifles when confronting protesters angry after an officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in August prompted a national outcry about the militarization of police.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held hearings examining the U.S. Department of Defense's donation of surplus military equipment through Program 1033, as well as other federal grant programs that provide equipment to state and local police agencies.
The month before, President Barack Obama ordered a comprehensive review of the $500 billion in equipment Program 1033 has provided to local police over the last 20 years. Legislation curtailing the donation of excessive military equipment is in the works.
Closer to home, two California cities — Davis and San Jose — are looking at dumping armored military trucks worth $700,000 that their police departments recently received from the Department of Defense for free, minus the cost of delivery.
These actions together signal an important shift in the public's tolerance of militarized local police departments for the first time since 9/11.
On the eve of the 13th anniversary of that terrible tragedy, it's a good time for a re-evaluation of whether we want Officer Friendly with a clipboard and pen or a GI Joe with camouflage and riot helmets patrolling our communities and neighborhoods.
The Davis City Council on Aug. 26 instructed its Police Department to come back four weeks later with a plan to get rid of its mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, known as an MRAP, just weeks after it took delivery of it.
The police had defended the new tool, saying it could be used to serve warrants on "high-risk" people or if the city had an "active shooter" situation. That's what authorities call mass shooting incidents like Sandy Hook.
Residents were appalled by the idea of a war machine on the streets of peaceful Davis. MRAPs were developed for use in theaters of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The same week, San Jose police officials announced plans to give back their MRAP as well.
We hope this gives other cities and police departments the courage to examine their own use of donated military equipment, especially armored trucks. Certainly some police departments can justify the need for a bulletproof troop transport. Los Angeles, Chicago and New York police departments come to mind.
But probably not more than 600 cities.
Among the fact revealed in Tuesday's Senate hearing was that, in the past three years Program 1033 has given 624 armored vehicles to local law enforcement agencies across the U.S., about a dozen of which went to police departments with fewer than 10 full-time sworn officers.
In other words, Mayberry PD.
Lodi News-Sentinel: Can we turn a Lodi eyesore into an artistic asset for Downtown garage?
So a piece of public art that cost $100,000 has become an eyesore in Downtown Lodi.
What can be done? We believe this sow's ear might be turned into an aesthetic silk purse. We have a few suggestions along those lines — and a thought, too, on how Lodi's public arts projects generally can be more successful.
Let's back up a bit.
In case you missed it, here is the "eyesore" story in a nutshell. When the three-story parking structure on Sacramento Street was created in 2001, it included a work of public art on its eastern face: A sizable steel trellis in the shape of grape bunches. The idea was for wisteria to grow up and fill in the trellis. But the wisteria was deemed a fire hazard and was cut off at the base.
So now, we have a $100,000 wall of ugly, decaying foliage.
What was the initial vision here?
Apparently, it seems the goal was for lush, living work of art that would mimic Lodi's most revered crop.
We say "apparently" because it isn't very clear today just what the idea was, exactly.
The wisteria did in fact grow up and cover a sizable part of garage's gray flank. As might be expected, though, the wisteria did not neatly limit itself to the trellis. It grew over it and around it, so the framework became hidden under the foliage.
Looking for answers about the trellis has proven challenging.
According to our report by staff writer Wes Bowers, F&H Construction built the garage but didn't design the grape grid. The architectural firm of Gordon H. Chong Partners designed the project, and presumably the trellis, but that firm was bought by a Canadian firm. Calls placed to Mr. Chong were not returned.
Councilman Alan Nakanishi was mayor when the structure was approved. He recalled approving the structure, but not the giant trellis.
Current Public Works Director Wally Sandelin said records indicate that $100,000 was spent on the artwork. He authorized removing the wisteria because it had become a fire hazard. Though the wisteria was chopped off at ground level, remnants of desiccated wisteria, brown and scraggly, cling to the side of the garage.
What was intended to be pleasing to the eye has become a visual blight.
We suppose a rant might be in order, as it is plain this artwork was expensive, ill-conceived and poorly vetted.
But let's move on in a more constructive direction.
What can be done now?
Maybe something special. The side of the parking structure is large. The metal trellis and adjacent mesh, as far as we know, is intact.
Once the scraggly crust of wisteria is removed or finally rots away, is there a chance that something striking might be born on the concrete side of the parking building?
Might some color be added to this drab slab? Some additional designs or ornamentation? Could a mosaic be integrated into the steely loops? Could some artistically applied paint liven things up the trellis in an artful way?
Lodi has an Art in Public Places Advisory Board that might take up this challenge, seek ideas and develop a plan of remedial action.
Here's the suggestion we think might help produce more successful projects moving forward: Why not place public art proposals online for the public to review and comment upon? We'd be happy to link to these at www.lodinews.com, too.
Not that the public comment would be the final word. But we'd bet broader community review would improve the quality of public art in Lodi.
And reduce the number of eventual eyesores.
Marin Independent Journal: Cheaper, greener power a better strategy
The latest political power play by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to curtail the growth — and competition — from community-based public power agencies wound up stalled in the state Senate.
PG&E, instead of trying to change the rules by state proposition or legislation, should alter its strategy by offering electricity that's greener and cheaper than its competition.
California private power corporations' latest maneuver was a bill that sought to change the rules for the formation and expansion of "Community Choice Aggregation" agencies, such as our homegrown Marin Clean Energy.
The bill initially sought to put limits on agencies' geographical expansion and to require customers to sign up for the CCA instead of being automatically rolled into the public service unless they filed the paperwork to "opt out."
While probably the most controversial element of the CCA law, there's no question that the "opt out" provision is vital to the future of CCAs. That's because few people go to the trouble of "opting out," providing the fledgling agencies with the numbers and economics they need to start service.
When the bill drew widespread opposition, including from Marin Clean Energy, lawmakers watered down the legislation, limiting it to setting a geographical limit on the expansion of CCAs.
Marin's CCA already has grown beyond the confines of the county, stretching its service and customer base to Napa County and Richmond. Other neighboring communities have also expressed an interest in joining Marin Clean Energy. Agency officials say its growth benefits ratepayers by expanding green power-buying opportunities, helping keep rates competitive with PG&E.
CCAs, created by the state Legislature in 2002, are public agencies that acquire power that's delivered to the grid. In Marin's case, customers are still plugged into PG&E, but they pay Marin Clean Energy for the power. Although power companies did not fight the legislation, today they claim CCAs pose unfair competition in the way their pool of ratepayers is created, and because the state Public Utilities Commission is not required to investigate complaints.
The legislation was authored by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, a Gardena Democrat who once worked as a public relations executive for Southern California Edison. He argued that CCAs were created in response to California's power crisis as a way to lower rates and promote creation of renewable energy and jobs, and that it's time for mid-course corrections in the law.
His bill, however, set the stage for undermining the economic foundations for CCAs and, in that sense, denying ratepayers choice, competition and an opportunity to promote green power.
The bottom line is that the state Legislature has established tough environmental goals for local government to meet; the adoption of CCAs is seen as a large step toward reducing communities' reliance on nonrenewable power.
Curtailing and crippling CCAs would send a mixed message from Sacramento as communities seek ways to meet the state's goals.
California power companies already have spent too much of their financial resources and political collateral on trying to undermine CCAs, including a misguided proposition that would have written power companies' monopolistic hold on California markets into the state's constitution.
Voters saw through that manipulative measure and rejected it. In Marin, ratepayers have stayed with Marin Clean Energy.
It is time that power companies get the message that rather than running to Sacramento to change the rules, they should win ratepayers with lower bills and demonstrably greener power. So far, PG&E has not been able to convince ratepayers it provides either.
San Bernardino County Sun: Here's a vote against politicians who wish for low turnout: Editorial
In an interview with the editorial board last week, a candidate for statewide office spelled out his plan for victory in November. He's hoping for low voter turnout.
"The less the better for us," said Greg Conlon, who is running for California treasurer.
Conlon's statement may not be incorrect. But it's wrong.
Voters should take a dim view of any candidate for any office who wishes for less public interest in a major election, especially any who's so cynical as to think it's OK to express that wish in an on-the-record session such as the meeting in which Conlon sought the Los Angeles News Group's endorsement.
Now, we understand why Conlon might feel as he does. He's a Republican campaigning against an established Democrat, twice-elected state Controller John Chiang.
In California, the latest voter-registration statistics give Democrats a 43.4 percent to 28.4 percent advantage over Republicans, which is the big reason Democrats hold all of the statewide offices and large majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
That means a Republican office-seeker, hoping to break through, must win over some voters from the Democratic Party, from other official parties and from the ranks of the independents. Or, failing at the persuasion game, he or she must win the turnout game, hoping Republican voters cast ballots in higher proportions.
For the second scenario to happen, it would help the Republican candidate if a lot of Democratic voters decided to sit out the election. Hence the tactical logic: Lower overall turnout for the state general election on Nov. 4 would be good for Republicans because it probably means many members of the dominant party are staying home.
And Republicans think this could happen. Not necessarily because Democratic voters are unexcited by their candidates, but because the Democrats' major-office candidates such as Gov. Jerry Brown are so far ahead in polls that their supporters may conclude their votes aren't needed.
Californians may assume that conversations about the supposed benefits of low turnout are going on in Republican campaign war rooms, in party offices, and among the political analysts quoted in news reports about the parties' election prospects; strategists' job is to help their candidates win, not to think about what's best for society.
But we should expect the candidates themselves, the people vying to lead the state, to aim higher. We should expect them to encourage public participation, to try to excite voters about going to the polls, to try to persuade members of the other party — not cheer for large numbers of Californians to skip the exercise of democracy.
As shown by the record-low 25.2 percent turnout of registered voters in the June state primary, California and many other places face a crisis of community engagement. Candidates and office-holders should be fighting this trend by trying to earn voters' support.
For Greg Conlon and any like-minded candidates, stoking supporters' hopes by encouraging the further erosion of democracy may be smart tactics in the short run. (In that it implies desperation, it could even be praised as rare honesty.)
It's bad for the state, though. To hear a supposedly serious candidate for high office talk that way is chilling.
Imperial Valley Press: Fast-food wages cannot rise when the middle class falls
All told, more than 125 people were arrested around the nation Thursday in a show of solidarity for raising the pay of fast-food workers. With most of their ire aimed at McDonald's, hundreds of low-wage fast-food workers and their supporters staged sit-ins, marches and other forms of protest to draw attention to raising their pay to, in most cases, $15 an hour.
The arrests were but a small percentage of the thousands who turned out on both coasts and all points in between, showing but a fraction of the fastest-growing segment of wage earners in the current economy.
We feel for them; it's not an easy job, nor a fun one, and attempting to survive on fast-food wages, let alone raise a family, is nearly impossible.
But simply paying them more is unrealistic and is a problem that cannot be rectified without first addressing other wage disparities in this country that are sending a whole class of trained and educated middle-wage workers into the ranks of the working poor alongside the fry cooks and drive-through cashiers of America.
When a young man or woman has bought into the message from generations back that the only way to succeed is through education, it's upsetting to be shaken by the hard reality that the post-college jobs just aren't there. But the huge student debt is. That's a tall order to then rally the rest of the nation to summon $15 an hour for the fast-food workers.
In many cases, in many places — especially Imperial County — a college grad with an associate's or a bachelor's is hard-pressed to find a job that pays 15 bucks an hour with benefits and vacation. To think that the economics we live under in this country would support that wage for an often undereducated and unskilled workforce is not going to engender a lot of sympathy in private.
We realize that sounds cruel and callous, but it's the truth that none of us want to publicly acknowledge.
Education and job skills are still the pathway to success, to a bigger slice of pie, but until those jobs resurface and are created at the same clip as low-wage service industry jobs and high-wage upper management and refined technical positions, the "fast-food nation" will remain poorly paid.
There is not one part of what we have written that gives us any solace. In an ideal world, the men and woman who cook our burgers and fries, who fry our chicken and serve our sodas, would earn that livable wage. But that can only be realized when there is a strong middle class in this country, the foundation that supports those jobs and creates the real economic engine that defines American prosperity.
Lompoc Record: Hunger in midst of plenty
It seems strange when you look at Santa Barbara County's sweeping vistas and hillside mansions, but there are a lot of hungry people living among us.
We don't mean hungry for success, fame or fortune. We're talking about hungry for food — as in, simply not having enough to eat. And Santa Barbara County has more than its share of people without enough to eat.
Here's a sobering fact — this county has a greater percentage of its population living with hunger on a day-to-day basis than in the overall U.S. population. Santa Barbara County's population hovers around 430,000, and it is estimated that just more than 100,000 of those residents don't have enough to eat.
One in four people living with hunger is not the kind of information local chambers of commerce or tourism organizations would want to publicize.
Yet, the facts are undeniable. Last year, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County doled out supplies to more than 300 nonprofit organizations, which in turn provided food assistance to more than 100,000 local residents.
A "perfect storm" of events has become almost a cliche, but frankly, that's what happened with regard to feeding the hungry.
The Great Recession not only cost people their jobs and homes, it also caused those still working to tighten down on expenses. In many households, donating to charitable organizations was relegated to the "not-at-this-time" list. The Foodbank was hit especially hard, as donations of both food and money dropped off as the recession deepened.
Then came California's drought, which has put even more people out of work, reduced crop yields, thus forcing up prices at the supermarket. The recession may have run its course, but the drought drones on.
Then the U.S. Congress decided to make things worse for America's down-and-out population by reducing food stamp benefits for nearly 50 million Americans. As usual in recent years, Congress' poor timing was impeccable.
But Americans are nothing if not resourceful, and despite so many factors working against them, the folks at the Foodbank continue to come through. Last week they received a truckload of produce provided by a consortium of California organizations. It was one of 15 truckloads donated by growers from San Diego to Merced.
Fresh produce is part of the Foodbank's feed-the-hungry formula, and last year the organization distributed about 4 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. That truckload delivery last week was vitally important, because Foodbank officials say donations so far this year are running about 40-percent below normal.
All of which compels us to ask you — beg, really — to think about the needs of more than 100,000 fellow residents when you're grocery shopping, or cleaning out a kitchen cupboard that probably contains canned foods you're likely to never use or need.
The only food the Foodbank can't accept are home-canned products, cans without labels, candy and soft drinks — the Foodbank is committed to promoting a healthy diet, even when hunger is at issue — and no pet food.
Monetary contributions are also welcome, and the Foodbank's shoppers are quite adept at turning a $1 donation into a purchase of anywhere from $4 to $7 worth of food, thanks to bulk buying.
It's easy to help out. You can send a monetary donation to: Foodbank, 490 W. Foster Road, Santa Maria 93455, or drop food donations off at that location. For more information on how you can help, call 937-3422.
It seems like all this shouldn't be necessary in a land of such plenty - but it is.