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.