Sunday, July 31, 2011

Inland Valley Bulletin: City of Pomona Council move to save Revdevelopment

Pomona council hopes to save RDA

City plans financial analysis on continuing redevelopment
Monica Rodriguez, Staff Writer
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

POMONA - City Council members are expected to take a series of steps Monday night to let the state know that Pomona intends to continue having redevelopment activities in the future.  
In late June, as part of the adoption of the state's 2011-12 budget, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill x126 calling for cities and counties to dismantle redevelopment agencies by Oct. 1, according to a city staff report.
However, the governor also signed Assembly Bill x127, which left a window for the continued operation of redevelopment agencies - but at a high financial cost.
If Pomona chooses to continue carrying out redevelopment activities, it would have to pay the state close to $8 million in addition to annual payments estimated at about $1.7 million, said Raymond Fong, Pomona's redevelopment director.
The money would go to schools and other local government uses.
Local governments must make final decisions this fall on how they will proceed.
"We're approaching (the situation) with an abundance of caution," Fong said.
City administrators will use August to review Pomona's finances and those of its redevelopment agency and determine if they have the means to make the payments the state requires and still meet other commitments, Fong said.
"We need to do the analysis and be able to come up with a set plan" before a recommendation can be presented to the council, he said.

Monday night council members will have a preliminary vote on a proposed ordinance and resolution declaring the city's intent to participate in a program to keep redevelopment activities going and comply with accompanying regulations, the staff report said.
While cities explore their options, others, including the California Redevelopment Association, are preparing to go to court seeking to overturn A.B. x126 and A.B. x127.
Some council members said at this stage it's hard to say what route the council will take.
"The cost factor is high," said Mayor Elliott Rothman. "The state take-away is huge."
Rothman said once an analysis is complete, he and the rest of the council will have a better idea as to whether the agency should fold or continue operating.
He is concerned if the city continues operating the agency, it may have to pay the state so much there may not be enough funding to carry out projects.
Among those projects is one that calls for turning the site of the Pomona Auto Center in southwest Pomona into a retail area anchored by a Target store.
When it comes to the Target development, "I worry we've been dealt a death blow on that," said Councilman Steve Atchley.
The city has a number of projects it would like to carry out, but one Atchley is particularly interested is improving the area around Foothill Boulevard and Towne Avenue in north Pomona.
Many local elected officials are waiting to see what happens to the lawsuit filed by the California Redevelopment Association, Rothman said.

But it could take time before the suit is resolved, he said.

LA Times: The economy's high toll on education, nationwide

Education takes a beating nationwide

More layoffs, bigger classes, fewer programs and higher tuition are nothing new to U.S. educators, but analysts say this year stands out.

Education cuts
Teachers and supporters protest planned layoffs in Philadelphia. Similar scenes are playing out across the country in a year of especially brutal cuts to education funding. (Photo by Matt Rourke, Associated Press / July 31, 2011)

July 31, 2011
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

After a particularly brutal budgeting season this summer, states and school districts across the country have fired thousands of teachers, raised college tuition, relaxed standards, slashed days off the academic calendar and gutted pre-kindergarten and summer school programs.

Slashed budgets are nothing new for educators, but experts say this year stands out.

Last year, K-12 budgets were cut $1.8 billion nationwide. According to estimates by the National Assn. of State Budget Officers, cuts to K-12 for the new fiscal year may reach $2.5 billion.

A year ago, higher-education budgets across the nation were trimmed $1.2 billion. The expected cuts this year: $5 billion.

"They've long since been cutting deep into the bone," said Michael Leachman of the nonpartisan Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, based in Washington.

At least 22 states have scaled back K-12 funding and at least 24 have made cuts in higher education for fiscal year 2012, the center found.

To cover such shortfalls, experts say, school officials often reduce, or eliminate, personnel and programs vital to the most vulnerable populations: lower-income and minority students.

In California, many school districts cut spending for adult education, libraries, textbooks, arts and music, gifted students, tutoring for low-performing high school students and other programs, according to two major surveys, including one by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. Many districts shortened the 180-day school year by five days.

"These are extraordinarily inequitable cuts for low-income communities of color," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy group.

He said that a shorter academic year and cuts to summer classes exacerbate their generally lagging achievement because many low-income students cannot afford the enriched activities enjoyed by their middle-class counterparts, such as museum visits and private tutoring.

In Florida, state funds for 15,000 children to attend a school-readiness program for low-income families have been cut, and college tuition was raised 15% for the fourth consecutive year. Texas eliminated funding for pre-kindergarten programs that serve about 100,000 at-risk children.

Though cuts in education reach all demographics, they do not affect all students equally, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington.

"If we're worried about the future, we have to be worried about these equity issues," Jennings said. "Who's going to be the employees, the industry leaders in the future? Increasingly, they will be children of color, and they're not going to close the achievement gap."

Across the country, education officials are finding ways to save money:

In California, many districts have cut back on high school counselors, leaving many students to sort out the college application process on their own.

In New Mexico, some school districts have gone to four-day school weeks.

In Illinois, high school juniors will no longer be evaluated on writing skills after the state eliminated a writing test, saving about $2.4 million.

University of California students will pay $1,818 more in tuition this year than last, after increases of 8% and 9.6%, and Cal State University tuition will rise by $294, to $5,472.

In Washington state, lawmakers cut more than $1 billion in class-size reduction, early learning programs and teacher development.

Reaction to such cutbacks has varied. Outside Sioux Falls, S.D., teachers and administrators in the Brandon Valley School District worked without pay during summer school to stave off cancellation of the summer program.

At Wonderland Elementary School in Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon, parents have managed to raise $450,000 a year to retain science, art, physical education, teachers' assistants, yard supervision and a librarian for a library completed two years ago, parent leader Teri Levy said.

But they have not been able to prevent class sizes from swelling, as they have around the state. At Wonderland, classes in the lower grades have grown from 20 to 28 students in the last few years.

"It's so packed that teachers can't focus on all of the kids in the class," Levy said.

In many parts of the country, parents and teachers have taken to the streets to protest, but to little effect.

In Philadelphia, parents mustered 400 signatures on a petition in hopes of saving the job of Hau Chau, a bilingual counseling assistant at H.A. Brown Elementary. Chau was the only Vietnamese-speaking employee at a school where 18% of students speak the language at home.

"The students feel comfortable, feel protected when I'm there," Chau said. "I try to guide them and talk to their teachers to find a way for the students to feel comfortable and happy while they are in school."

But nearly half of the 103 bilingual counseling assistants and 16 of the 275 teachers of English as a second language in the School District of Philadelphia were laid off. One of them was Chau. (The district says it will move another Vietnamese speaker to H.A. Brown.)

In all, the district laid off 1,228 teachers and 1,277 non-instructional staff members to close a $629-million shortfall after the state slashed about $851 million in funds for Pennsylvania public schools.

Pennsylvania highlights a problem nationwide. Many districts relied on the $787-billion federal stimulus, the Recovery Act of 2009, to make ends meet. The stimulus included $97.4 billion for education. That money is running out.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, says it was the school districts' insistence in recent years on crafting budgets with federal funds — not the Legislature — that caused more than 3,000 teacher layoffs across the state.

"We will not be laying off the school district teachers," Corbett said. "And the school districts have their own financial decisions that they have to make. I would note that many of them took the federal money, were told that the federal money would go away, made their budgets in the past based upon that, and now that money is not there."

In California, state budget cuts and declining enrollment have delivered a one-two punch, pushing more than 140 school districts into financial jeopardy. In the last three years, schools have lost $18 billion they otherwise would have received in state funding and cost-of-living increases — the largest reduction in recent history, according to fiscal experts.

Funding has increased a bit in the last few years — including a $200-million increase for the 2011-12 school year. Federal aid has helped cushion the blow, but per-pupil funding is still 20% lower than in 2007, according to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The Legislative Analyst's Office calculates the reductions differently, putting the decline at 11.6%.

The disparities have heightened the challenges of educating the state's 6.2 million schoolchildren, 20% of whom live in poverty and one-third of whom are learning English as a second language.

"It's the worst crisis ever in California schools," Torlakson said.

Sacramento Bee: Surplus wate flowing in California following long draught

Surplus water flowing to state's farms, reservoirs

Published: Sunday, Jul. 31, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
California water agencies, after suffering three years of drought, are now enjoying an unusual benefit: a tide of cheap water declared "surplus" after a bountiful winter.

State and federal agencies made the water available this year, under special contract terms, for the first time since 2006. The aim is to find a productive use, in cities and on crops, for the weather anomaly that brought more water than state dams can hold.

The water is refilling reservoirs and aquifers all over the state, and putting thousands of acres of farmland back into production.

At times, there literally has been no place to put all the water nature brought to California this year. The surplus sales aim to find new places for that abundance. By dropping the price, state and federal water managers hope an urban water agency might decide to fill its local reservoirs, or that a farm irrigator will be tempted to temporarily flood some land to recharge groundwater.

To that end, they offer this water for a song, relatively speaking. In some cases, surplus water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta this spring was sold by the federal government for as little as $9 an acre-foot, or about 75 percent off already low agricultural rates.

State and federal agencies together have sold more than 660,000 acre-feet of surplus water this year, all at steep discounts. That is about equal to the total annual demand of Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city, with 3.8 million residents.

The abundant water has dramatically changed the fortunes of the San Joaquin Valley farm economy.
Shawn Coburn, a farmer near Firebaugh, planted processing tomatoes this year on 500 acres that had been fallowed the last two years due to water shortages.

This will yield about 40,000 tons of a relatively high-value crop, which also required a substantial investment on his part, including the purchase of a new tractor and harvesting equipment.

"In essence, it's another $2 million that I'm going to spend (on equipment) that I wouldn't spend if I didn't have the water," said Coburn, who also grows almonds and wine grapes. "It's definitely a year where it's pretty easy to convince us that water equals prosperity, and not just for the farmer but the overall farm economy."

The surplus water also acts as a buffer against the next drought. For example, the Kern County Water Agency, which provides irrigation to a vast, arid farm region, is using the bonus water to recharge its groundwater banking aquifer, which was drawn down during the drought.

The agency purchased 245,000 acre-feet of surplus water this year, or about a third of all the surplus water sold.

"This is an extremely important supply for the water users in Kern County and, frankly, for all the water users throughout the state," said Jim Beck, general manager of the water agency.

Westlands Water District has used the surplus for its immediate irrigation needs, allowing some of the water purchased under its regular contracts – at full price – to be stored in reserve at San Luis Reservoir in case of dry conditions next year, said general manager Tom Birmingham.

Native fish still at risk

Conservation groups agree that capturing excess flows in wet years is important to help the state endure droughts.

But some express concern that this water may not be truly "surplus" to the needs of the environment, especially amid an unresolved population decline of numerous fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They assert the state simply hasn't done the research to know.

About three-fourths of the surplus water this year was pumped out of the Delta. The rest came via Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River and did not pass through the Delta.

"If you look at the population graphs for just about any fish species over the past 30 years, it looks like a pretty continuous decline," said Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist at the Bay Institute. "That's because when times are tight, we really hammer them. And when times are good, we don't let them get off the mat."
Bill Kier, a fisheries consultant and former assistant secretary of the state Resources Agency, noted surplus pumping this year contributed to shockingly large fish kills at the state and federal water diversion systems in the Delta.

According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the pumps "salvaged" or killed 8.9 million Sacramento splittail from Oct. 1, 2010, to July 17 this year. Nearly 37,000 chinook salmon and 90 sturgeon also met their demise.

All are native species whose survival remains a subject of ongoing concern.

"Are we really taking an ecosystem advantage of an abundant water year, or are we simply pouncing on that water to meet out-of-stream demands?" said Kier. "I don't doubt for one minute that we are missing the opportunity to do some substantial rebuilding (of fish populations)."

Peter Moyle, a fisheries biologist at the University of California, Davis, said the large numbers of fish killed at the Delta pumps this year don't necessarily indicate danger to the species. Rather, they indicate larger populations, another result of ample river flows.

This is especially true for those 8.9 million splittail deaths, Moyle said. He called the splittail a "very resilient" species that tends to surge in population in wet years when it can access floodplains, like the Yolo Bypass, for breeding and feeding activity.

"It's a big number, but it's not a big deal to splittail," Moyle said. "Basically, the number of splittail salvaged at the pumps is a direct reflection on the success of spawning."

Record year for pumping

Those buyers include farm and urban water agencies, small and large, that collectively serve 25 million Californians and more than 1 million acres of farmland.

After Kern County, the biggest buyers this year are the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas; and Westlands, which serves farms in a huge swath of the San Joaquin Valley.

In addition to surplus sales, water agencies are also taking delivery of more water under regular contracts than they have seen in several years.

Spreck Rosekrans, an economic analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund, estimates total Delta water pumping will set an all-time record this year of 6.6 million acre-feet.

That compares to levels near 4 million acre-feet over the past three years, mostly a result of drought.
The terms of each surplus program are different, as are the discounts available.

The state program is offered only to existing state water contractors, which include the Kern County and Metropolitan agencies. These contractors pay only the energy cost required to move surplus water. They pay nothing for the water itself, and none of the capital costs of the diversion system, which are covered by payments under their regular contracts.

Kern County pays about $12 per acre-foot for the surplus water. Its regular contract water costs $57. Metropolitan, which must pay the stiff cost of pumping over the Tehachapi Mountains, purchased surplus water at $100 an acre-foot, compared with its normal contract price of $281.

The federal program is offered first to current contractors, such as Westlands, and then to non-contractors only if there is an extraordinary amount of water available. This was one of those years.

The Bureau of Reclamation also offered special deals on limited amounts of Delta water. Westlands was able to buy nearly 18,000 acre-feet of Delta diversions at just $9.34 an acre-foot. That is almost 80 percent off its regular contract rate.

Two other agencies, the San Benito County Water District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District, got similar deals.

"There was so much water hitting our system, we wanted to move it out," said Valerie Curley, chief of the contracts branch in the bureau's San Joaquin Valley unit. "We offer it to more and more people, and if that still doesn't help us, then we start adjusting the price scheme."

Rosekrans objects to such deep discounts. Customers of the bureau's Central Valley Project, he said, still owe federal taxpayers more than $900 million from the subsidy that built the system, which occurred mostly in the 1950s and '60s.

A portion of their regular water contract rates go toward repaying this debt. The cheaper surplus water rates discount this capital repayment charge.

This year, during April and May, the Bureau of Reclamation went even further and eliminated the capital charge to boost sales from Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River, which was literally overflowing with storm runoff.

Birmingham defended the discounts, noting their important dual benefit: a relief valve for water officials during rare high flows, and a buffer for farmers in case next winter is not so grand.

"We have to take advantage of every opportunity we can," he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manages the federal surplus program, while the state program is managed by the Department of Water Resources. Both agencies hold legal contracts with water buyers.Yet some of the arguments over water that play out in dry years continue to resonate amid abundance.

Torrance Daily Breeze: "Big box" retail store bill faces challenges

`Big box' stores bill draws fire

By Eric Bradley Staff Writer
Torrance Daily Breeze 

Washington Post: Any debt-ceiling deal will squeeze state budgets

Why any debt-ceiling deal will squeeze the states

No matter how the debt-ceiling fight is resolved in Congress, it’s going to end poorly for the states.

If the country defaults, the states will be plunged into an immediate financial crisis: Investor confidence in government assets across the board would plummet — including the municipal bonds that states and local governments have traditionally relied upon to pay for new schools, roads, utilities, sewage systems and other basic infrastructure.

According to Dan White, an economist for Moody’s Analytics, states and local governments would see their credit ratings drop and their borrowing costs rise, and they would be forced to abruptly slash services and employees for the near future.

What’s more, one out of every three dollars of state spending comes from the federal government — $478 billion alone in 2010, according to the Pew Center on the States. And if the federal payouts slowed under a default, the states would struggle mightily to pay their existing bondholders. National default could lead to state default.

But what’s been largely ignored is how the very solution to the debt-ceiling crisis could also squeeze state and local governments that are already strapped for cash.

Among the biggest items on the chopping block in Congress are education and Medicaid spending — federal dollars that make up the largest parts of most states’ budgets. Nearly every state government has already set its budget for the next year — some for the next two years — under the assumption that federal spending would remain more or less consistent. If such money is abruptly pulled, states won’t suddenly be able to change their spending obligations or raise taxes.

“They’re going to have to eat that in some way, and many will pass [the cuts] onto local governments,” said Frank Shaforth, director of the Center for State and Local Government Leadership at George Mason University.

Amid the recession and dropping revenues, there’s already been an uptick of bankruptcy filings by cities, towns and rural districts across the country over the past two months and there could be more if Washington follows through on its promise to slash spending as soon as possible.

“The cities and counties that already in bad shape — they’re the first ones to go,” White said.

Even if state governments hold special sessions to cut spending further, their cuts will still “filter through to the local government,” he added. “Public-sector workers get laid off. There’s higher employment and lower spending.”

Local governments will try to raise property taxes to raise revenue, which could be yet another drag on a housing market that’s yet to recover. Those who fail to meet their fiscal obligations could see their credit downgraded, making it even harder for them to borrow money to build basic local infrastructure, while both the president and the GOP have threatened to pull funds for state infrastructure. What was once an ideological abstraction — “austerity” — will have very real effects on everyday life for average Americans.

Some state and local officials are already bracing for the worst. As the Pew Center on the States notes, Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has proposed borrowing money fromthe state treasury to cover federal Medicaid funds, and the California state treasurer is considering a Wall Street loan to help the state make ends meet in August.

With state and local voices largely absent from the Washington debate, officials and advocates are struggling to make their concerns heard — and remind Congress that slashing federal spending could have a massive, unanticipated ripple effect on every level of government.

Meeting with Sen. Mark Warner (R-Va.) on Tuesday, Shaforth told the ex-governor, “I want you to put your governor hat back on…This is the United States — this is not just the federal government.”

Friday, July 29, 2011

Riverside Press Enterprise: Mojave Desert Wind Farm Dispute

MOJAVE DESERT: Proposed wind farm triggers opposition

The Riverside Press-Enterprise

10:04 PM PDT on Thursday, July 28, 2011

Residents near Joshua Tree National Park celebrated last year's demise of a controversial electrical transmission project that they said would have marred the scenic vistas and sensitive plant and animal species of their desert outpost.

Now homeowners in the Mojave Desert community of Pipes Canyon, northwest of Yucca Valley, are gearing up for a showdown, this time over a proposed wind farm on top of ancient volcanic mesas.

They say the development would ruin the unique and scenic flat-top mesas that rise from a boulder-strewn valley. It would damage plants and the habitat of endangered animals, and destroy Native American cultural sites that include nearly a thousand petroglyphs, they say.

proposed wind farm, desert
Photo by Stan Lim/The Press-Enterprise
Jon Nolte, left foreground, and Michelle Myers, of Pioneer Town, stand along the top of Black Lava Butte in the Pipes Canyon of the Mojave Desert on Thursday. Nolte hikes the 4,000-foot butte at dawn with his wife, Cherry Good

Last month, a renewable energy development company installed two steel masts -- each nearly 200 feet tall -- and guy-wire supports, one on Black Lava Butte and one on Flat Top Mesa, public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. The towers will be used to measure air patterns and determine the feasibility of erecting turbines to generate electricity.

Company officials said they have performed exhaustive surveys and found no evidence that sensitive resources would be damaged.

But the testing towers come as an affront to Cherry Good and her husband, Jon Nolte, who hike the 4,000-foot butte at dawn each day with their two dogs. The couple lives on 43 acres at the western flank of Black Lava Butte, in a solar-powered, straw-bale house they built themselves.

"There are better ways to go green than destroying the wilderness, and if we allow this project to go ahead, it sets a precedent for many other areas of wilderness to be destroyed," Good said.

She founded Save Our Desert, a residents' group dedicated to fighting the project.

In addition to harming habitat, cultural resources and irreplaceable scenery, a wind farm would hurt property values and increase traffic and fire risk, Good said. She is angry that residents weren't notified or consulted on the project before the masts went up, and she questions safety after two loads of materials were accidentally dropped from a helicopter near the area where she walks.

Officials at BLM , which permits renewable energy development on public lands, said the project is in the testing phase only. An environmental review and public comment were not required because the company said placement of the masts by helicopter would not cause significant disturbance to the land, BLM spokesman Steven Razo said.

Rock Art Evidence

The developer, Desert Mesa Power LLC, a subsidiary of Portland, Ore.-based Element Power, was issued a three-year right-of-way on Sept. 15, 2010, for 4,030 acres on the plateaus, which are west of Highway 247. The company leases the land for $1 per acre, per year.

"If they decide they want to go forward with the project, our environmental process begins and all the cultural issues and others will be addressed, and the public will have an opportunity to provide their concerns and input," Razo said.

In 2008, the company did its own environmental assessment, which has not been approved by the BLM. The assessment said there was no evidence of prehistoric Native American archeological sites, based on contact with eight area tribes, the San Bernardino County Museum and walking surveys of 52 acres that would be affected by the masts.

That finding is contradicted by an amateur archaeologist.

Project manager Jaclyn Kossmann denied there is an increased fire risk and cited a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Energy showing that wind farms did not affect the value of nearby homes. The company is dedicated to being a responsible steward of the environment and would minimize or mitigate impacts from development, she said.

"As we continue to evaluate the potential of the land for wind energy development, we will perform further field studies throughout the site to determine the existing environmental and cultural conditions," Kossmann said.

Jeff Dickman, who has been studying rock art on Black Lava Butte since 1982, says the mesa contains at least 800 petroglyphs of various sizes. The pictures are made up of lines, grids, circles and simple symbols, either pecked into the dark rock using a hammerstone or scratched into the surface, he said.

"I've heard it said that when you peck onto the stone, you're literally communicating with the other world," Dickman said.

Now a trail planner for Orange County, Dickman happened upon the buttes while cataloging pictographs in a nearby wash. He said he has not submitted archaeological site forms on the butte to the museum because of the time involved. In the 1970s, he categorized an early man site for the San Bernardino County Museum and has worked as an archeological site surveyor.

Areas Unexplored

Dickman photographs the images then uses a computer program to enhance them.

Surveyors could easily miss the images, since many are buried under a foot of sediment and wind-blown soil and others have broken off and moved down the slopes, he said.

Dickman also found grinding stones where the Indians may have pounded yucca, seeds or bone. He has not found evidence of human remains, pottery shards or chipped stone.

The oldest petroglyphs, from 2,000 years ago or more, are gone; and the most recent, up to about 1820, are decaying, he said.

Dickman suspects the art was made for ceremonial purposes. The parallel lines may portray the Milky Way in the night sky and the grids could relate to mythical figures that represent ancestors, he said.

"The mesa is so rich that it probably should be designated a prehistoric archeological district," he said.
Duncan Bell, a field botanist with the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, said the mesas' plant life is unexplored and undocumented.

Still unclear is how energy would be transmitted to the electrical grid if a wind farm were built. The company would have to submit a plan for how its power would tie in to the grid, Razo said.

For critics, the project brings back memories of Green Path North, a proposal by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to string high-voltage lines across 80 miles of unspoiled desert and forest in San Bernardino County.

Opponents posted anti-Green Path billboards along freeways, sponsored an email and postcard campaign to the Los Angeles mayor and spoke against the project at community meetings.

Utility officials said public outcry was partly behind the decision to abandon the plan.

Sacramento Bee: California set to move Presidential primary back to June

California set to move its presidential primary back to June

Published: Friday, Jul. 29, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
 © Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.
Tired of presidential candidates treating California like an ATM, raising vast sums of money here but spending it in states where campaigns cost less and matter more, state officials four years ago agreed to hold the 2008 primary in February.

The early date, they hoped, might focus more attention on the Golden State. "Now California is important again in presidential nominating politics," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the time.

But more than 20 other states moved their primaries up, too, and California, if not the afterthought it was in previous elections, was marginalized yet again.

Now, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign legislation moving next year's presidential primary back to June, consolidating it with the statewide primary election.

"We've learned that shifting a date doesn't matter," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. "Only if we had a more competitive balance between the two parties, then I think we would play a larger role … Then they simply wouldn't drop in, parachute in to get money, and leave."

Assembly Bill 80, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, to shift the primary election to June, moved through the Legislature with bipartisan support, though some Republicans said they voted for it reluctantly only because of the cost savings involved.

Political parties have moved to sanction states that hold early primaries, and consolidating the presidential and statewide elections, supporters say, will save state and local elections officials about $100 million.
The move was an easy political call for majority Democrats in the Legislature: President Barack Obama should be easily renominated, while the Republican primary is wide open.

Fong said Thursday that he expects Brown to sign the legislation, if for no other reason than "he's a penny pincher."

But three Republican senators voted against the measure, and many Republicans complained it would further minimize California's role in presidential politics.

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said it "takes us out of play," and Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, said California will have "no voice when it comes to national elections."

California voters came closer in 2008 than they had in years to the level of attention typically afforded competitive states, enjoying – or enduring – a flurry of rallies and TV ads before the election.

But the significance of California's participation isn't clear. Voters chose Democrat Hillary Clinton, who did not win the nomination, and Republican John McCain, who did. In the Democratic primary, which remained competitive after Super Tuesday, California might have fared better if it had weighed in later, observers said.

"The idea of the early primary was a huge bust," said Tony Quinn, a political analyst and former Republican legislative aide. "We're just out of luck when it comes to affecting presidential politics."

It isn't just the date that keeps primary candidates from spending significant time in California. The state's large size and distance from other states makes it expensive to run here.

"They're not going to spend their money campaigning in this state when they can get so much more attention winning in New Hampshire and South Carolina," Quinn said.

Fong's bill would return California's presidential primary to June, where it lasted for decades before being moved to March in 1996 and 2000. The February vote in 2008 was the earliest in state history.

Turnout in that election was historically high, but without the presidential candidates at the top of the ticket in June, turnout for the statewide primary plummeted.

Critics in 2008 said the switch to February was motivated at least in part by lawmakers' hope that a proposition to alter the state's term limit rules could pass in time for termed-out lawmakers to file for re-election.

Debate about Fong's bill has not been without political overtones. With Obama in the White House, the presidential primary next year matters to Republicans far more than Democrats.

"The Democrats right now, I think, will feel a little bit differently four years from now, because they already have their nominee," Strickland said. "I guarantee you four years from now the same state Legislature – different players, obviously, because of term limits – will argue to move it forward."

Kim Alexander of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation hopes they don't. Holding one primary instead of two is less confusing for voters, she said. If Brown signs the change, she'd like California to stick to it.

"From the voters' perspective, the one thing you can anticipate about primaries in California is that it won't be the same as last time," Alexander said. "What benefits voters is consistency, and we do not have that in California."

San Jose Mercury News: Lt. Governor Newsom unveils economic plan

Newsom unveils plan to fix ailing economy

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom arrives in San Jose Friday to unveil his plan to hoist the state out of its economic abyss -- borrowing on the successes of Silicon Valley's global reach and the need to restore long-absent state leadership in job creation.

The plan aims to expand exports, green industry and new manufacturing in a state with a foreclosure-riddled housing market and the nation's second-highest jobless rate. It comes after several months in which the Democratic second-in-command searched for effective economic-development strategies in dozens of countries, from Singapore to Germany. Newsom also traveled to six other states, even making a trip to Texas with 14 Republicans.

In California, dozens of agencies oversee some aspect of employment, but they have no coordination or accountability -- something that left him "dumbfounded," Newsom said in an interview Thursday.

And despite the dictates of the global economy, California has no trade or export agency and no overseas representation, unlike 35 other states. Pennsylvania alone has 23 state representatives in foreign capitals, Newsom noted.

As far as jobs and economic development, "there's no agency and there's no plan," Newsom said after surveying dozens of economists, academics, and business and labor leaders. "I was stunned. I just couldn't believe it."

The future economy should be "more export-oriented, more new manufacturing-oriented, more clean economy-oriented, and more high skill-oriented," said Lenny Mendonca, a former chairman of McKinsey & Co., a San Francisco-based economic think tank that contributed to the report.

"The most important thing is that the state actually has a plan and does something about it," he added. "California can no longer rest on its laurels of a history of being a beautiful place with great talent and great universities -- that's terrific, but we're in a global marketplace now and we've got to compete for jobs just like everybody else."

Newsom calls for a 180-day "action plan" aimed at prompting longer-term reforms through legislation and executive orders. The recommendations, which will be presented today at the San Jose-based Wyse Technology firm, include:

  • Creating a single Cabinet-level office with a "jobs czar." The office would serve businesses and promote regionally distinct economic development strategies.

  •  Eliminating a bevy of state commissions with overlapping and fragmented missions.

  •  Forming "regulatory strike teams" to resolve problems businesses face in receiving permits and navigating often-conflicting local, state and federal rules.

  • Newsom calls for stepping up exports and re-establishing an official state presence in international markets, beginning with China. He would promote innovation through patent expansion and smooth the way for increased manufacturing.

    California's economic competitiveness was a major issue in last year's gubernatorial battle between Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman.

    Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, argued that California's regulations were strangling economic growth and that the state needed to be more like freewheeling Texas. Brown conceded that there was a need to streamline regulations but cautioned that California needed to be cautious in jettisoning rules designed to protect the environment.

    Stephen Levy, a report contributor from the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, said focusing on "a high-road innovation strategy for California" is a better approach than bashing its bad business climate, or pretending California is Texas or Arizona.

    The report's focus on "innovation, entrepreneurship and exports rises above the level of the stale business climate debate we've had that mirrors what's going on in Washington, D.C.," Levy said. "It develops a strategy based on our strengths."

    Several other observers noted that while the plan sounds good, it could well join a pile of dusty reports and commission findings on what should be done in California.

    But Newsom, a former gubernatorial candidate who is widely expected to run for governor in the future, promised that won't happen this time.

    "I want no association with anything like that," he said. "Nothing disturbs me more than politicians preaching jobs, jobs, jobs but not producing."

    While the report highlights the need for a better-trained and -educated state workforce, it also points to the necessity of foreign-born workers -- particularly those with engineering expertise.

    Although 52 percent of Silicon Valley technology firms were started by foreign-born entrepreneurs, the nation's H1-B guest worker visa program is limiting the flow of critically needed skilled workers. The program reached its 65,000-person quota in the first four months of 2011 fiscal year, according to Newsom's report.

    California's $1.9 trillion economy is the largest in the nation and one of the largest in the world. The state is home to 50 Fortune 500 companies and leads the nation in venture capital.

    Yet the new report says "the state remains unable to effectively educate and train a workforce skilled enough for the Next Economy, leaving positions unfilled in the midst of record-high unemployment." It blames "every segment of the education pipeline" for "producing an inadequate supply of the skills needed."

    Wyse Technology CEO Tarkan Maner, whose company specializes in cloud computing, lamented his ability to hire locally because of the state's educational system.

    "In China, South Africa, Indonesia and Brazil, the government is spending money to connect every single student to the Internet," Maner said. "But in San Jose, in the capital of Silicon Valley, the mayor was nearly in tears in my office recently telling me only a small percentage of San Jose students are connected."

    Sacramento Bee: State tax board in spotlight in fight

    Amazon tax dispute puts California tax board in spotlight

    Published: Friday, Jul. 29, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
     © Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.
    George Runner thinks California's new Internet sales tax law is a terrible idea – and he's one of the people in charge of enforcing it.

    The former state senator sits on the State Board of Equalization, the agency that oversees the collection of sales tax in California.

    The board, which normally labors in obscurity, has been thrust into one of the hottest political dramas of the year: the fight between California and over Internet taxes. And the five people who govern the agency can't agree on the tax, either.

    Runner, a Republican from Lancaster, is rooting for a ballot referendum Amazon is pushing to overturn the tax. He says the tax hurts the business climate, and legislators who pushed it "should be ashamed to appear in public."

    Democratic board Chairman Jerome Horton calls Amazon "morally wrong" and predicts the online retailer from Seattle will get clobbered at the ballot box. Other board members have weighed in on both sides of the issue.

    Board officials say the philosophical split won't undermine the board's ability to administer the new tax. But the schism does create something of a spectacle: dueling press releases from board members and tart exchanges at board meetings.

    Even seemingly mundane matters turn partisan, as when the board voted 3-2 this week to hold hearings on how to implement the Internet law. The three Democrats voted yes, the two Republicans voted no.
    "Sometimes we disagree," Runner said afterward. "It's just what it is."

    If it seems odd that leaders of a state agency are so publicly at odds about an issue, remember that this is no ordinary bureaucracy.

    The Board of Equalization is "the nation's only elected tax commission," according to its website. Four of the five board members are voted into their jobs; two of them are former legislators. The fifth member, John Chiang, sits on the board by virtue of being the state controller, also an elected post.

    "These are politicians," said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies think tank in Los Angeles.

    ABx1 28 says out-of-state Internet retailers must collect sales tax from California customers. The law is designed to generate $300 million for state and local governments, and remove the built-in price advantage over brick and mortar stores that Internet merchants get by not charging tax.

    Online retailers with stores in the state already had to collect the tax. The new law extends to retailers like Amazon, which has no stores but operates subsidiaries in California.

    But Amazon refused to collect the tax and launched a voter referendum to repeal it.

    Amazon, like many other Internet retailers, also severed ties with thousands of California affiliates – businesses and individuals who earned commissions referring customers to the retailers' websites.
    That prompted cries of "job killer" from critics of the new law, including the two Republicans on the Board of Equalization.

    "I was against this Internet tax to begin with," board member Michelle Steel told her colleagues at Tuesday's meeting. Steel is married to Republican power broker Shawn Steel and has signed activist Grover Norquist's famous anti-tax pledge.

    On the other side, Horton and fellow Democrat Betty Yee have wasted little time calling Amazon a scofflaw.
    "Amazon is morally wrong," said Horton, a former assemblyman from Inglewood. "They're out of state, they're a non-California entity refusing to comply with California law."

    Horton dismissed Amazon's argument that collecting sales tax in hundreds of jurisdictions would be a logistical nightmare.

    "That may have been true in the Stone Age, but now in the age of technology it's as easy as pushing three buttons," he said.

    Even as the rhetoric escalates, however, Horton said board members "are all unanimous on enforcing the law" regardless of their political opinions.

    "We have a responsibility as a tax collection agency," Runner said in an interview. "I get that."
    Still, the partisan divide was on full display at Tuesday's board meeting.

    Staff members came to the board seeking permission to schedule hearings on implementing the new law.
    Runner objected. His reasoning had to do with Amazon's ballot challenge.

    Amazon is out collecting signatures to place the issue on the ballot, probably next February or June. Because of a wrinkle in the California referendum process, the new tax could be suspended for several months leading up to next year's vote if Amazon gets the necessary signatures.

    At the board meeting, Runner said the BOE shouldn't be holding hearings on a law "that is on pause."
    Yee tried to cut Runner off and reminded him that the law is currently in effect.

    "The bill's been signed, Mr. Runner," the San Francisco Democrat said.

    Eventually, Yee and the other two Democrats prevailed.

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Capitol Weekly: California utility ratepayers will pay for renewable energy

    Renewable energy found in the wallets of ratepayers

    Sacramento Bee: Sacramento region - 20 percent fewer home foreclosures

    Sacramento region has 20 percent fewer foreclosures in first half of 2011

    Published: Thursday, Jul. 28, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 6B
     © Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.
    New foreclosures in the Sacramento region were down more than 20 percent during the first half of the year, following a trend of sharp declines in filings nationwide.

    Irvine-based RealtyTrac said that notice of default filings – the first step in the foreclosure process – tumbled in the capital region to 21,721 in the first six months this year, from 27,275 a year earlier.

    But the report also noted that the Sacramento area was the nation's 10th most active market, as one in every 39 homes entered into foreclosure proceedings during the half.

    "Foreclosure activity continued to slow in the first half of 2011, especially in the most foreclosure-saturated markets," said James Saccacio, RealtyTrac's CEO.

    Nationally, the number of foreclosure filings was down 29.3 percent to nearly 1.2 million.

    While an improving economy may contribute to declines in some markets, Saccacio believes a "glut" of already-foreclosed properties and roadblocks created by "a mountain of improperly filed foreclosures" contributed to the sharp drop.

    "These dramatic decreases indicate the foreclosure pipeline continues to be clogged in many local markets across the country," he said.

    During the first half of this year, Las Vegas saw the highest foreclosure rates, with the owners of one of every 19 homes receiving a notice of default.

    Las Vegas was followed by Phoenix, where new foreclosures accounted for one in 28 homes.
    Closer to home, an area starting at Reno, running southwest down Interstate 80 through Sacramento to Vallejo and southeast toward Fresno resembled a Bermuda triangle for foreclosures.

    According to RealtyTrac, seven of the 11 most active foreclosure markets in the country can be found in this area. They included:

    • Modesto, the nation's third most active foreclosure market, with one in every 30 homes entering into foreclosure during the first half.

    • Stockton, fourth on the list with one in 31 homes the object of a default notice.

    • Vallejo-Fairfield, sixth, with one in 32 homes.

    • The Reno-Sparks area, seventh, with one in 34 homes.

    • Merced, ninth, with one in 36 homes.

    • Fresno, 11th, with one in 42 homes.

    LA Times: LA and OC property tax rolls increase for the fist time in 3 years

    L.A., O.C. tax rolls up for first time in 3 years

    The uptick in values gives reason for optimism that the real estate market 'is growing stronger and continues to recover,' the L.A. County assessor says.

    Home construction
    In Los Angeles County, property rolls gained $16.2 billion in value in the last fiscal year to reach $1.1 trillion. Above, construction workers on a residential housing work site in Burbank. (Photo by Fred Prouser / Reuters)

    For the first time in three years, the assessed value of all property in Los Angeles and Orange counties has increased, according to assessors.

    The uptick in values gives reason for optimism that "the real estate market in Los Angeles County and California is growing stronger and continues to recover," said Los Angeles County Assessor John R. Noguez.

    "I think I'm probably the breath of fresh air that hope is finally resurfacing…" Noguez said. "When I shared this information with Gov. [Jerry] Brown, he was very happy."

    In Los Angeles County, property rolls gained $16.2 billion in value in the last fiscal year to $1.1 trillion — driven largely by sales and changes in ownership of residential property, as well as new construction. In Orange County, the rise was $3.6 billion, raising the county's total taxable value to $420 billion.

    The increase in assessments using the formula established when voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978 was tempered, however, by the fact that the true sales value of properties declined over the same period.

    In Los Angeles County, the median home price was $318,000 in June, down from $335,000 a year earlier, according to DataQuick of San Diego.

    Government leaders said they continue to worry about high joblessness and the resulting effect on sales and income tax revenue, but the increase in assessed property value removes a significant headwind that has worked against them in recent years.

    "While it's a small increase in assessed value, the assessor's report is good news and signals there may be better days ahead," said Ryan Alsop, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Chief Executive William T Fujioka.

    "Continuing to maintain service levels, avoid layoffs and produce a balanced budget, long term, will only be possible to the extent recent economic indicators showing signs of improvement are sustained," Alsop said.

    Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, "What we have here is the deepest and most prolonged recession in my memory. Overall, everybody is being cautious. We don't know where we'll be in a year."

    Like the county overall, the region's largest cities also saw gains. In Los Angeles, the assessed value increased 1.5% to $432 billion. In Long Beach, the value rose 1.4% to $44.6 billion. But Noguez noted that not all cities saw gains.

    "I live in Huntington Park, where the market is still struggling," he said. "It's one of those places that has not stabilized yet, where the foreclosure crisis is not over."

    Yet economists agreed that the news was good overall and said that the positive effect would reach the private sector as well.

    John J. Blank, deputy chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said "the banks [that] have liens on all these properties are going to have a little more margin of safety so the loan-loss reserves can finally gain some clarity."

    "This is good news and potentially very good news," Blank said. "There's never been a strong recovery without housing coming back."

    Bay Area News Group: Grassroots, high tech push for election reform

    A high-tech, bipartisan presidential ticket?

    By Steven Harmon
    Bay Area News Group© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group

    Politicians in the nation's capital are courting the wrath of voters by refusing to budge on the debt-ceiling issue -- a stark example of the crying need to fix a long-broken system of entrenched interests and uncompromising elected officials.

    So says Elliot Ackerman, an Iraq war veteran with a Silver Star who is leading a high-tech movement that he hopes will ultimately elect a centrist president unencumbered by the long reach of powerful money players.
    Ackerman's group, a non-partisan, non-profit political startup called Americans Elect, on Thursday is expected to begin submitting 1.6 million signatures, a possible record, in all of California's 58 counties -- a significant step to gaining ballot access for a presidential ticket that voters would nominate through an online convention next June.

    Americans Elect, already qualified for the ballot in eight states, is trying to get a ballot spot in all 50 states.
    "What we're seeing in California is that folks really want more choice in politics, and they want to be more active participants," said Ackerman, 31, the chief operating officer of the group. His father, Peter Ackerman, an online food distributor, has, with the aid of 50 donors, loaned the organization $20 million.

    "California just shows us what an appetite there is for this nationwide," Elliot Ackerman said. "So if we sound confident about ballot access, that's why, because we've already cleared the most difficult hurdle, which is California."

    As the group lays the groundwork for landing a place on the ballot of every state, voters are already taking the first steps toward finding and nominating candidates.

    Once registered as "delegates" on its website,, voters are asked a series of "core" questions on political priorities to determine where they fall on the political spectrum. That will enable Americans Elect to get like-minded voters in touch with each other so they can eventually settle on a candidate aligned with their views.

    Voters would be able to draft presidential candidates with the proviso that the candidate select a running mate who isn't from the same party.

    Colin Powell, meet Howard Dean?

    By next April, the field of candidates will be reduced to six after three rounds of online voting. The six will then name their running mates, who must come from the other party. An online convention, which Americans Elect officials say will be technologically secure, will be held in June to determine the national ticket.

    On its website, voters are asked: "What if there were a better way to choose our president? Americans Elect is harnessing the power of the Internet to ask every single voter one simple question: Who would you nominate in 2012?"

    The group's hope is that the nominee will take part in every presidential debate and challenge both Democrats and Republicans from the "radical center" with ideas on how to grapple with issues that seem so intractable: jobs, the national debt, Medicare and Social Security.

    "We're trying to create more political space for better ideas," Ackerman said. "The two parties have been around for a long time without any major competition -- and the extreme stability of the parties is what's serving up unstable solutions."

    The "American people are living in a very difficult political space now,'' he added. "People are hurting, and they're looking to elect leaders with solutions."

    Is it doable? Could a nascent political group whose foundation lies in the frustration of disaffected voters really overcome the entrenched power and money of the two-party system?

    Or is it, as one national writer put it, a techno-utopian fantasy?

    Some political analysts are highly skeptical that an Americans Elect candidate could win.

    "You can get on all 50 ballots and maybe you attract the right people to run, but if you don't have the money for organization, consulting, advertising and marketing, logistics, advance people, message strategists -- if you don't have that kind of infrastructure, it is very hard to compete and to be taken seriously," said Joe Tuman, a professor of political and legal communications at San Francisco State University.

    "If you draft people with higher name recognition, that will help, but will they have the budget to compete?"
    Even if a candidate emerges who is wealthy enough to self-fund a national campaign, he or she risks becoming a spoiler a la Ross Perot, who divided the conservative vote in 1992 and helped elect Democrat Bill Clinton, Tuman said.

    "It's going to be difficult to unseat a century's domination by the two main parties," he said.

    Associated Press: Poll shows Californians support for nuclear power drops

    Support drops for nuclear power in California, poll shows

    But survey shows offshore oil drilling growing in popularity over the past year

    | Associated Press

    SACRAMENTO — Californians' support for building more nuclear power plants has eroded since Japan's nuclear crisis, with less than one-third of adults now in favor, according to a poll released Wednesday.

    The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found 65 percent of adults oppose more nuclear plants while 30 percent are in favor. The number supporting more nuclear power dropped 14 percentage points from the same poll a year ago and marks the lowest level of support since the institute began asking the question in 2001.

    Meanwhile, support for oil drilling off California's coast increased 12 percentage points in the last year as gasoline prices rose and memories have dimmed of the disastrous BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Of those surveyed, 46 percent backed more offshore drilling, up from 34 percent a year ago when workers finally capped the Gulf oil well.

    The poll found a partisan and geographic split, with twice as many Republicans as Democrats in favor of drilling. Fifty-four percent of inland residents supported seeking more offshore oil, compared with 42 percent who live along the coast.

    "A year has passed, and attention has now focused on the failure of the nuclear power plant and less attention on the offshore oil problems," said Mark Baldassare, the institute's president and chief executive officer. "We're talking about energy proposals that can swing within a range, and are subject to a wide partisan divide in which Democrats are much more likely to oppose than Republicans."

    By comparison, Baldassare said support for increasing renewable energy and fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles has remained consistently high across political, regional and demographic boundaries. Overall, the poll found 84 percent supported raising fuel economy standards, including 90 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans.

    Similarly, 80 percent backed more federal money to develop renewable energy from the sun, wind and hydrogen, with support spanning party, regional and demographic lines.

    Nearly as many — 77 percent — favored California's requirement that one-third of the state's electric power come from renewable sources by 2020. But support dropped to 46 percent when residents were asked if they would still be in favor if it meant an increase in their electricity bills.

    "I think that reflects an underlying concern about the economy today and people's financial condition," Baldassare said.

    Despite respondents' financial concerns, a majority said the state should not delay its efforts on developing renewable energy sources and believe doing so will create more jobs, he said.

    The Public Policy Institute interviewed 2,504 California adults by telephone in six languages from July 5 to 19. The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Among its other findings:

    • Most Californians believe climate change threatens the state's future, with 47 percent calling it a very serious threat and 28 percent viewing it as somewhat serious. But there is a partisan split, with 82 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of independents perceiving climate change to be a serious threat, compared with 45 percent of Republicans.

    • 57 percent say the state should take its own steps to combat climate change instead of waiting for the federal government.

    • 61 percent say the effects of climate change already are being felt, up 7 percentage points from a year ago but more in line with findings from earlier years. Another 22 percent say it will begin having an effect sometime in the future, while 12 percent say there will never be an impact.

    • 58 percent think the state should act now to reduce emissions that promote global warming, while 38 percent say the state should wait until the economy improves; 47 percent say the state's efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions will create more jobs, while 23 percent say it will lead to job losses.

    • Pollsters found a racial split about the perceived dangers of climate change. Fewer than half of whites where very worried, while blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be very concerned about each of the possible effects, including wildfire, drought and increased air pollution.

    • Blacks and Hispanics also were more likely to perceive regional air pollution as a major problem and to see air quality as worse today than a decade ago.

    The racial divide is partly a result of geography, Baldassare said. Air pollution remains California's paramount environmental problem, and it is most pronounced in Los Angeles and the Central Valley, home to many blacks and Latinos. It is also worst in industrial and agricultural areas that have a disproportionate minority population.

    Public Policy Institute of California:

    Sacramento Bee: County Supervisors seek to close medical pot shops

    Sacramento County supervisors to look at new ways to shut pot stores

    Published: Thursday, Jul. 28, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
    © Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.
    Fed up with a surge in marijuana dispensaries, Sacramento County supervisors called Tuesday for enhanced measures to shut them down – at least until the county decides whether it wants to permit them.

    Sacramento County has been grappling for two years with how to deal with a continuing influx of medical marijuana stores officials say aren't allowed under any county ordinance.

    Last January, at least 27 dispensaries were operating in incorporated areas despite orders to close. On Wednesday, supervisors were told that the county's code enforcement division has now served closure notices on 51 marijuana stores.

    But despite seeking $60,000 in fines and preparing to take 11 cases to court, county officials said the population of unlicensed dispensaries continues to increase – and there may be 80 or more in the county.
    On Wednesday, supervisors voted 4-1 to study remedies, perhaps including giving enhanced resources or funding for legal action to the code enforcement division.

    Supervisors, who are considering passing a new law to allow some dispensaries in the county, argued they can't deal with the matter until they first stop the influx and close those operating illegally.

    "We've had a proliferation because our ordinance is perceived to be soft," said Supervisor Don Nottoli before the board voted to discuss additional measures Aug. 10 to shutter marijuana stores. "I'm concerned that this thing continues to bloom out of control. We need to take a stand for what's currently in the law in this county."

    The supervisors were greeted by a procession of medical marijuana advocates, who argued that the county has made things worse by not approving a plan to allow – and regulate – dispensaries serving legal medical marijuana users.

    "This is a hidden agenda. This is discrimination against a class of medicine that helps thousands of people," said Dr. David Allen, a former cardiothoracic surgeon who now recommends marijuana to patients at a Sacramento clinic.

    George Mull, an attorney for the California Cannabis Association advocacy group, asked supervisors to give a six-month reprieve to dispensaries while it considers a permanent plan.

    Mull argued that the county could raise up to $400,000 to oversee dispensaries by charging a temporary $5,000 permit application fee. He said it could also require dispensaries to submit required state sales permits and prove payment of sales taxes.

    Two supervisors, Jimmie Yee and board Chairwoman Roberta MacGlashan, said they would support an ordinance to ban dispensaries altogether. Supervisor Susan Peters suggested "hefty fines" against landlords who lease space to "illegal businesses."

    But both Peters and Supervisor Phil Serna said the county should consider allowing a specified number of dispensaries and ask county voters to approve taxes on their operations.

    "I think we should give ourselves a chance to explore this further," Serna said.