Saturday, December 31, 2011

Associated Press: State flood plan calls for $17 billion in system repairs

Calif. flood plan calls for up to $17B in repairs
Associated Press Published: Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 - 10:31 am
Copyright 2011 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
FRESNO, Calif. -- California water officials recommended a historic investment in the state's aging flood control system Friday, saying more than half of the state's levees do not meet standards and the system needs up to $17 billion in repairs and investment.
The Department of Water Resources' release of the first statewide flood plan follows a call by Gov. Jerry Brown to refocus state efforts on preparing for the effects of a warming climate as floods from a faster-melting snowpack already place increased strain on the state's aging levees.
Officials and experts say the state's flood control system - a piece-meal collection of 14,000 levees and other infrastructure built along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers by farmers and local governments over the last 150 years - is no longer adequate.
Once a mostly agricultural region that was lightly populated, the Central Valley where the rivers meet has experienced rapid development and population growth.
"The system is based on antiquated technologies, so you have to upgrade it and keep in mind changing societal demands," said Jeffrey Mount, professor and founding director of Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.
Central Valley's flood risk ranks among the nation's highest. About 1 million Californians now live in floodplains and levees protect an estimated $69 billion in assets, including the state's water supply, major freeways, agricultural land and the valley's remaining wetland and riparian habitat, said Mike Mierzwa, senior engineer in the Central Valley Flood Protection Office.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a freshwater source for two-thirds of California's population and irrigates millions of acres of farmland throughout the state.
While officials have long known the flood control system was in disrepair, it's the first time they have studied it as a whole, come up with long-term solutions and a priority for investments.
More than half of 300 miles of aged urban levees do not meet modern design criteria, according to newly released analysis. And about 60 percent of 1,230 miles of non-urban levees have a high potential for failure from under-seepage, through-seepage, structural instability, and/or erosion.
In addition, about half of the 1,016 miles of channels are believed to be inadequate to handle projected flooding. And two bridges are in need of repairs.
In 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for California's levee system and ordered levee repairs to the 33 most critical spots. That same year, state voters approved nearly $5 billion in bond funds for flood protection projects statewide.
Legislators also mandated that the state develop a plan to reduce flood risks.
The plan calls for $14 billion to $17 billion in repairs and other investments - including the $5 billion in bond funds already approved. Investments would be spread over the next 20 to 25 years.
Officials said the money would come from a mixture of federal, state and local sources. Voters will need to approve another bond, Mierzwa said.
Most of the money - up to $6 billion - would be spent in urban areas, where thousands of homeowners and their property could be affected by a flood. Another $6 billion would go toward system-wide improvements.
The plan doesn't call for specific projects, but offers recommendations. Those include extensive bypass expansion and the construction of a new bypass; major improvements to intake, weir and gate structures; sediment removal projects; urban and rural levee repairs; fish passage improvements and ecosystem restoration.
The plan doesn't recommend building new reservoir storage, which is very expensive.
Focusing on other projects beyond levee repairs is a good step forward, Mount said.
"There's always the pressure to simply fix the problem, meaning just make the levies taller and stronger. That's the path of least resistance," he said.
By constructing and strengthening levees, Mount said, the state may actually induce development and growth behind the levees and hence increase flood risk. Thus the need, he said, to prioritize flood control investments to areas where risk reduction is greatest - and to choose wisely which areas to develop.
"Climate change has expanded our uncertainties," Mount said. "If trends associated with warming continue, we'll have to constantly upgrade the levees to match these conditions. So we have to consider this constant economic investment."
Environmental groups said the plan was a step in the right direction. Still, John Cain, Director of Conservation for California Flood Management at the nonprofit American Rivers, noted that one concern is the plan doesn't sufficiently tackle the effects of climate change, like sea level rise, and it isn't based on updated projections of what extreme floods could look like.
Another concern, he said, is that the state should not spend all the bond money on levees while leaving improvements such as bypass construction for a later date when funds may not be available.
But Mierzwa said the plan calls for working on levees and other improvements simultaneously. The state is already putting together a team to start feasibility work for two bypass expansions, he said.
Thus far, state officials say they have spent about half of the $5 billion in bond funds on more than 200 projects. Those include flood emergency exercises, 120 critical levee erosion site repairs, the removal of three million cubic yards of sediment from the bypasses and substantial levee improvement projects, among others.
The Central Valley Flood Protection Board must adapt the plan by July 2012.

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: Look back at momentous year in state politics

A momentous year in state politics

Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin 

The past year saw myriad conflicts within California politics as a returning governor took on the mantle of a state mired in deep financial shortfall.  
But it also saw substantial change in the form of redistricting of political lines and the passage of the Dream Act.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who last held the role of state leader in 1983, took on a Golden State reeling from a $26 billion budget deficit, and political discord over spending, taxes and a growing pension problem.
Before the end of the year, Brown introduced plans to rein in the deficit through shutting down redevelopment agencies, shifting prison responsibility to local authorities and increasing taxes.
Brown returned to Sacramento with the hope lawmakers could allow voters to extend existing tax increases, reduce spending, and pass a controversial plan to kill the state's redevelopment agencies.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans called for pension reform, fewer business regulations and more spending limits instead of a continuation of tax hikes.
Brown's initial budget plan proposed deep cuts with extensions of currently existing taxes.
But he said Republicans refused to allow the tax measures to come to a vote unless he agreed "to an ever-changing list of collateral demands."
Republicans countered that Democrats didn't want to allow voters to weigh in on a state spending cap or on reforms to public employee pensions.

State Sen. Republican leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said the list was submitted because Republicans wanted to be on the same page with Brown on government reform.
"I wasn't making any demands," Dutton said at the time. "We laid out the challenges we had talked about in order to have a successful budget."
Failing to secure enough Republican votes for the tax-increase legislation, Brown and Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento went ahead in approving a budget that shuts down the state's redevelopment agencies in order to divert funds to education.
The ongoing budget deficit, according to officials, was cut by more than half, to $10 billion, with a reduction in the state's workforce by 5,500 positions and discontinuation of state cellphones and state cares.
But the new budget, approved in July, meant deep cuts to state spending on schools and other services. Further, automatic state funding cuts to public schools, higher education and social services are expected in 2012 because revenue projections are falling short of projections, according to a report by the state's financial analysts.
"The stark truth is that without new tax revenues, we will have no other choice but to make deeper and more damaging cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts," Brown said in a statement.
Having failed to reach legislative agreement on tax extensions earlier in 2011, Brown said he will file a state ballot initiative that would raise about $7 billion a year for five years to help pay for schools and public safety. Millionaires and other high-income earners would pay up to 2 percent higher income taxes for five years, according to Brown's plan.
Opponents said the proposal would mean more state government spending, less consumer spending and raise the cost of doing business in a challenging economy.
Prison system undergoes change
While the state dealt with less money, its prison system faced crowded conditions and a Supreme Court order to reduce its population in response to unconstitutional conditions.
Democratic legislators passed Brown's proposal to shift state responsibility of low-level inmates to local authorities in order to save billions and meet a federal court-order to lighten its inmate load.
The state must comply with a federal court order to reduce by 2013 its prison population by about 40,000 in order to relieve crowding and improve conditions. The 2011-2012 state budget provides $5billion from sales and vehicle taxes to local governments in order to implement the transfer plan.
Lawmakers delayed the program so it will now begin Oct. 1 to provide time for the state and local agencies to prepare for the transfers.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department houses 5,500 inmates, with a capacity for 6,100. Lance Clark, deputy chief in charge of detentions and corrections for the department, said realignment could bring up to an additional 8,500 inmates to the county, and local agencies are working to mitigate that impact.
But some local and law enforcement officials, like San Bernardino District Attorney Michael A. Ramos and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley fear a rise in crime as reduced space in the jails could mean existing inmates serving less time.
"I can tell you we send about 4,300 (low-level) prisoners to prison every year, so those 4,300 are going to come to local county jails, and there's no room in the jail, so something's gonna give," said Ramos earlier this year, before also expressing hope that a joint partnership between his office, law enforcement, and probation would help reduce recidivism.
Redevelopment agencies takeaway also not popular
While local officials deal with the additional costs of the unprecedented prison realignment, they have slammed the loss of property tax funds going to their local redevelopment agencies. As part of Brown's 2011-12 fiscal year budget, legislators in June passed two bills that would change or eliminate the more than 400 redevelopment agencies in the state.
Brown defended his plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies - local agencies that some praise as engines of economic development while others deride as bastions of corporate welfare.
Brown, the former mayor of Oakland, said he understands why local officials are up in arms over the proposal but that schools, public safety and other basic services are more important than redevelopment.
"Redevelopment funds come directly from local property taxes that would otherwise pay for schools and core city and county services such as police and fire protection and care for the most vulnerable people in our society," Brown said. "So it is a matter of hard choices, and I come down on the side of those who believe that core functions of government must be funded first."
The first bill eliminates redevelopment agencies altogether but allows cities to continue some form of redevelopment agency or go without. The second bill forms an alternate redevelopment agency for cities that decide to continue with redevelopment.
However, they will be required to pay 40 percent of its revenue to the state.
The payments to the state would total $1.7 billion in the first fiscal year and about $400 million per subsequent year.
California Redevelopment Association and League of California Cities filed a lawsuit in July citing the second of the two bills violates Proposition 22. Proposition 22 was passed by voters in November prohibiting the state from taking redevelopment fund money.
"Unless overturned by the courts, this legislation will result in the elimination of redevelopment agencies and also force `ransom' payments by local agencies to fund state obligations to schools," according to a statement by the League of California Cities. "This will devastate many critical local job-creating revitalization projects throughout California."
The state Supreme Court expects to have a decision by Jan. 15, which is the deadline for the first payment to the state.
Redistricting headed to court as well
As local officials take the redevelopment battle to court, Republicans have taken their issue over the electoral redistricting to court as well.
Voters tasked a Redistricting Commission to draw new legislative and congressional districts in response to decades of gerrymandering by lawmakers that preserved districts for incumbents and their parties.
In July, panel members approved final versions of the district maps for the House, the Assembly, the state Senate and the state Board of Equalization, which administers sales and use taxes.
The new maps are expected to lead to more Democratic- leaning districts than the current lines as a result of the state's demographic changes. In the Legislature, Democrats have a better chance at reaching the critical two-thirds majority in the state Senate than under the old maps. Such a threshold would move the party one step closer to the ability to pass taxes without Republican assistance.
The California Supreme Court rejected two lawsuits challenging newly drawn political districts for the House of Representatives and the state Senate.
Two petitions backed by Republicans had challenged the validity of new districts created by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The Supreme Court also rejected their requests for an emergency stay that would have halted use of the maps.
The court voted 7-0.
Opponents claimed the new maps didn't meet constitutional requirements for redistricting and obligations under the Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory electoral procedures. The Redistricting Commission, which drew the new districts after voters stripped the Legislature of its power to do so, said all criteria were reasonably considered and applied.
Additional lawsuits have been filed.
Dream Act leads to backlash
In one of the most contentious moves of the year, Brown signed the California Dream Act, which will provide state financial aid to undocumented college students.
The move sparked an immediate backlash from opponents.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, initiated an efforts to overturn the act.
A.B. 131 provides undocumented students in California who meet in-state tuition requirements the opportunity to apply for public financial aid to help pay for college.
The bill's author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said there's about $20 million to $35 million available for financial aid for the students - about 1 percent of the $3.5 billion in funds set aside for students in public education.
But opponents said the bill disenfranchises legal resident students at a time of deep fiscal difficulty for the state.
"We have 2.5million people out of work in California," Donnelly said. "You would think our priority would be to get these folks back to work. Why would we spend any resources for people who are here in the country illegally?"
Cedillo called the legislation reflective of American values and an inclusive vision important for the future of the economy.
"We have to make smart decisions, and this is one we need for an educated workforce to compete with the global economy," Cedillo said.
A referendum needs about 504,000 signatures, Donnelly said, but the assemblyman expects to obtain more than a million.
Occupy movement hopes to change status quo
The constant partisan nature in politics played a part in the rise of the Occupy movement that made its way to the Inland Empire.
Local groups - such as those in Claremont, Redlands, Fontana and Riverside - were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest, which began in the latter half of the year in New York City to protest corporate greed and bring attention to increasing poverty and wealth disparity in the nation. The movement swept across the nation with participants camping or "occupying" in their respective cities.
Occupy meetings throughout the nation take place as a "general assembly" in which participants meet to air concerns and grievances. Decisions are made through group consensus, participants said. The use of social media is another major means of communication between Occupy groups throughout the nation, in a way that mirrors the Arab Spring movement of North Africa and the Middle East.
Sara Goose is a public school teacher who participates in the Occupy Redlands group, which meets off Cajon Street across from City Hall. Goose, 33, said she's lucky to be employed, but worries about her college loan payments and being able to pay for her daughter's college education in a few years.

"I feel like I'm what's left of the middle class," Goose said. "I feel fortunate enough to still have a job and health care insurance, but I look around and the prospects are not the same for many of the people in my demographic."

Los Angeles Times: Governor Brown tax campaign quickly raises $1.2 million

Jerry Brown tax campaign takes in $1.2 million from big donors

Friday, December 30, 2011

San Francisco Chronicle: Police use gunfire alert systems to aid safety

Gunfire alert systems aid safety, Calif. cops say

Copyright San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fresno Bee: Fresno Federal judge invalidates portion of CA greenhouse gas law

Fresno judge invalidates part of state's greenhouse gas law
By John Ellis - The Fresno Bee Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 | 07:25 PM

A Fresno federal judge on Thursday dealt a setback to California's landmark global warming law, which went into effect this year with the goal of reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill ruled that California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard violated the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause.
The standard aims to gradually cut the carbon content in gasoline 10% by 2020 and replace up to 20% of the total gasoline used annually in the state with renewable fuels such as ethanol.
Several groups -- including the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League and the Fresno County Farm Bureau -- filed a lawsuit in December 2009 that challenged the state regulation, saying it violated the Commerce Clause by seeking to regulate farming and ethanol production practices in other states.
A similar suit that involved oil production was filed last year by groups including the National Petrochemical Refiners Association and the American Trucking Association. It was later consolidated with the first lawsuit.
It was clear Thursday that O'Neill's ruling will be appealed. But what will happen to the state's greenhouse gas law wasn't clear -- representatives of both sides of the debate were still digesting O'Neill's complicated ruling.
In a joint statement released Thursday, Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said California "overreached in creating its low carbon fuel standard by making it unconstitutionally punitive for farmers and ethanol producers outside of the state's border."
Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy are both organizations that represent ethanol producers. They were plaintiffs in the first case.
The state Air Resources Board and the Natural Resources Defense Council -- which intervened in the case on behalf of the state -- promised an immediate appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
"We respectfully disagree with the court's decision," ARB spokesman Dave Clegern said in a statement.
He called the state's Low Carbon Fuel Standard "an evenhanded standard that encourages the use of cleaner low carbon fuels by regulating fuel providers in California. It does not discriminate against any fuels on the basis of geography."
The global warming law -- which was written in the state Assembly and is often referred to by its bill name, AB 32 -- sets a statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions.
David Pettit, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said a key decision will now be whether the 9th Circuit holds off on implementing O'Neill's order while it takes up the appeal.
If the appellate court lets the ruling stand while the appeal proceeds, he said it will be harder for the state to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"California's low carbon fuel standard will help reduce harmful air pollution from the fuels used by our cars and trucks, reduce our dependence in petroleum and protect public health," he said.
What O'Neill's ruling won't do, Pettit said, is completely derail the law.
Pettit said the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is only part of AB 32 and represents about 15% of all the greenhouse gas reductions that are part of the law.
He added that it hasn't generated the scrutiny of another part of the law -- the cap and trade program. That program limits the amount of carbon emitted by the state's biggest polluters and creates allowances that can be bought and sold on an open market.
In the original lawsuit, the groups including the Renewable Fuels Association and the Nisei Farmers League said "one state cannot dictate policy for all the others, yet that is precisely what California has aimed to do through a poorly conceived and, frankly, unconstitutional \."
As with the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Pettit said he expects "a lot of litigation" coming on the cap and trade program that also will invoke the Commerce Clause and the argument that "California is trying to regulate out-of-state business."

San Francisco Chronicle: Some of the New laws taking effect on January 1

California: new laws on shark fins, gas pipelines

Copyright San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune: Redevelopment decision means big changes

Redevelopment decision could change how business is done in Industry

By Ben Baeder, Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The state Supreme Court ruling eliminating redevelopment agencies will have a big impact in Industry, much of which has been built with redevelopment money. Auto dealerships, such as Industry Auto Mall, shown above, are a major source of revenue and jobs. (Photo by Keith Durflinger / San Gabriel Valley Tribune Staff Photographer)
INDUSTRY - Thursday's California Supreme Court decision allowing state to wipe out redevelopment agencies could have a $250 million impact on the San Gabriel Valley's least populous city.
For years, Industry, population 219, has used its redevelopment agency to buy property all over the city. The Industry Urban-Development Agency had $257 million in equity at the end of fiscal year 2009-2010, which is the most recent year with complete financial records at the State Controller's Office.
That same year the city raked in $95 million in tax increment funds.
Industry currently has at least eight redevelopment agency deals in the works, including several to help food companies expand, said Mayor Dave Perez.
Perez wondered how the city should proceed.
"That's the quagmire and that's what's got everybody confused," he said.
Redevelopment agencies are created when a city declares an area blighted. After the declaration, cities are able to keep most of any increase in property tax money from the blighted area. In theory, the increased taxes, referred to as tax increment, are then plowed back into the area to spur development.
Most of Industry is included in one of four project areas, according to state records.

Municipal Attorney James Markman, who represents several local municipalities on redevelopment matters, said that the Industry Urban-Development Agency and agencies across the state hypothetically will have to sell all their property.
"Their job will be to sell off the proceeds and give it to the state of California," he said.
He criticized the court for not explaining how cities are supposed to unwind their redevelopment agencies.
"It's glossed over," he said. "There's really nothing on it."
Pasadena Attorney Chris Sutton, who specializes in fighting local governments, said Industry will be turned on its ear by the Supreme Court decision.
"What will poor Ed Roski Jr. do?" he said, referring to Roski's hopes of attracting a National Football League team and building a stadium on the eastern side of the city.
The nearly 600-acre site of the proposed stadium is owned by the Industry Urban-Development Agency. The city leased the property to a company controlled by Roski's Majestic Realty Co. in exchange for half the profits from parts of the stadium development.
Industry also has used its redevelopment agency to assemble the Puente Hills auto mall and to help businesses expand and relocate.
Perez said he figures the state Legislature will work out a deal to give cities financial flexibility.
"I think the state made a decision of passion and I don't think they thought it through," he said.
Cities will mobilize and try to craft new legislation, he said.
The agencies create union jobs and have been used to revitalize downtowns all over Southern California, he said.

"I look at this as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves," he said.

San Diego Union Tribune: State schools hope court ruling won't bring more cuts

Schools hope ruling won't lead to more cuts

by Maureen Magee
San Diego Union Tribune
2:20 p.m., Dec. 29, 2011

Schools throughout San Diego County and statewide are working to figure out what Thursday’s California Supreme Court ruling on redevelopment money means to their lean budgets.

The court ruled the state could dissolve the local agencies that subsidize construction in blighted areas. Gov. Jerry Brown has argued that redevelopment money could better spent on schools and other agencies.
Brown had been counting on $1.7 billion in redevelopment money to balance the state budget this year. He called the ruling a victory.

“Today’s ruling by the California Supreme Court validates a key component of the state budget and guarantees more than a billion dollars of ongoing funding for schools and public safety,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

Uncertainties linger over how the $1.7 billion will be spent this year and whether or not schools will once again be tapped for more cuts.

“We are still analyzing this," said Bernie Rhinerson, chief of staff for the San Diego Unified School District. "We are hoping this is good news."

The court’s ruling could mean more money for schools in the coming years from property taxes that would have otherwise gone to redevelopment agencies.

Schools could be vulnerable to cuts this year if the state has no access to the $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds to balance this year's budget, said Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, an education consulting firm in Sacramento.

"Anything that makes the budget gap bigger is potentially harmful to schools. The state will now be down about $1.7 billion," Bennett said. "The big question is who gets the $1.7 billion if the state doesn't?"

Education leaders have largely kept out of the debate over redevelopment money, perhaps to avoid straining their relationships with city and county officials.

“The value judgment to be made here is: bricks and mortar that creates jobs and does good things for neighborhoods or allow schools to keep teachers and continue to educate students at the same level,” Rhinerson said.

The ruling is the worst-case scenario for cities and redevelopment leaders, who had sued the state over two bills approved by lawmakers and signed by Brown.

The first law abolishing redevelopment agencies was ruled legal. But the second law was ruled unconstitutional because agencies have a right to retain local revenues.

San Jose Mercury News: State Supreme Court allows elimination of redevelopment

California Supreme Court allows redevelopment money grab

A state Supreme Court ruling Thursday wiped out the existence of redevelopment agencies, leaving local governments across California in an unenviable game of "Biggest Loser."

Santa Clara city officials are looking at a $40 million hole in their share of the San Francisco 49ers stadium project, with no Plan B in place. Oakland's hopes to build a new baseball stadium near Jack London Square to keep the Oakland A's from moving to San Jose appear doomed. Downtown upgrades in Sunnyvale, affordable housing in San Mateo, a regional theater in Livermore, a shopping center in Pleasanton -- all are now in the redevelopment rubble.

California's high court concluded the Legislature had the authority earlier this year to raid redevelopment funding to plug a hole in the state's budget, rejecting arguments from redevelopment advocates that the budget gambit violated voter-approved Proposition 22, a 2010 measure designed to bar the state from seizing local funding to pay its bills. The budget maneuver will divert more than $1 billion into the state's coffers, a key component in Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to solve California's chronic deficits.

The justices, however, struck down a separate state law approved as part of the legislative package that would have allowed redevelopment agencies to stay afloat if they agreed to relinquish a large share of their funding to the state to pay for schools. Most redevelopment agencies had planned to take advantage of
that safety net to survive, although San Jose warned it could not afford the option.

Dealt a death blow in the courts, local governments now plan to urge the Legislature to salvage redevelopment agencies. But given that any such effort would need backing from a governor who has soured on redevelopment taking money from schools, counties and state services, saving the state's nearly 400 agencies from extinction may be a long shot.

And most redevelopment experts agree there is no local solution, given that cash-strapped cities and counties do not have a pot of money comparable to the property taxes that had poured into redevelopment coffers to pay for urban renewal, affordable housing and other projects.

Legislative leaders were cautious Thursday about what may unfold next for redevelopment. Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, conceded the ruling was a "mixed result," and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said "all viable options" for local economic development should be explored.

"There's lots of play in the joints for the Legislature to act," said Steve Mayer, the lawyer for the California Redevelopment Association. "This result is not what the Legislature intended."

In the ruling written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, the Supreme Court concluded the Legislature had a right to dissolve redevelopment agencies because it created them more than six decades ago. But the court did find Proposition 22 trumped the ability of the state to enact the second law forcing redevelopment agencies to essentially pay the state to survive.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye dissented from that part of the ruling, saying the Legislature had a clear intent to keep redevelopment agencies in business.

For the governor and state lawmakers, the ruling was crucial because they otherwise would be scrambling to find ways to fill a $1.7 billion gap in funding for the current budget. The ruling comes in time for a Jan. 15 deadline, when half of the redevelopment money is slated to be turned over to the state for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Redevelopment advocates say the state may not get as much money as it hoped if the redevelopment agencies are abolished altogether, estimating California could lose as much as $600 million this year alone.

But H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said the state overall will fare well because so much property tax money will be diverted to schools that otherwise would go to redevelopment agencies.

The decision is about the worst outcome possible for the agencies, which sued to block the state's redevelopment raid. San Jose and Union City joined the statewide redevelopment association in the lawsuit.

In San Jose, the demise of redevelopment is not expected to impact two of the city's most important projects, including the effort to lure the A's, which does not depend on redevelopment money. But the ruling does spell the death knell for a once powerful agency that backed such projects as the HP Pavilion and Tech Museum. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed called the ruling a blow to "job creation efforts in San Jose at the worst possible time."

Other city leaders across the Bay Area were scrambling to determine the impact. In Santa Clara, city officials now must find up to $40 million in redevelopment money pledged toward the 49ers proposed $1 billion stadium, although city leaders have insisted it would not jeopardize the project.

"This is devastating and disappointing," said Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said Thursday her office already had been in touch with legislators to devise a fix.
"Without immediate legislative action, [Thursday's] decision effectively eliminates funding for affordable housing statewide," Quan said in a statement. "It will severely hamper Oakland's ability to support new developments."

Some local governments, anticipating the end of redevelopment agencies, moved quickly earlier this year to finalize projects in order to shield money from any state raid. Santa Cruz County, for example, approved $75 million in projects, including a new $44 million public safety center, to keep the money out of the state's clutches.

But barring a lifeline from the Legislature, even such well-positioned agencies will phase out. Redevelopment advocates, however, say they had no choice but to sue over the issue, rejecting the suggestion they may have avoided the most devastating result by staying out of the Supreme Court.

"I don't have any regrets in hindsight," San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle said. "The state's whole scheme was illegal."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Associated Press: California pesticide use rises after many years of decline

Calif. pesticide use rises after years of decline

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011 - 2:40 pm

Copyright 2011 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

FRESNO, Calif. -- Pesticide use in California rose in 2010 after declining for four consecutive years, according to state data released Wednesday.

The data released by the Department of Pesticide Regulation shows an increase of nearly 10 percent in pounds of pesticide used from 2009 to 2010. More than 173 million pounds were applied statewide, an increase of nearly 15 million pounds from the previous year.

Most of the growth in use was in production agriculture, where applications increased by 12 million pounds. The increase reflected a 15 percent jump in acres treated with pesticides - a total of 75 million acres were treated in 2010.

Pesticide use fluctuates from year to year due to weather and economic factors, said department spokeswoman Lea Brooks. Last year's increase was mainly due to an abundant rainfall, better water availability for crop irrigation and the pricing of crops, Brooks said.

An especially cool, wet winter and spring required more fungicide use to control mildew, she said. Low summer and fall temperatures resulted in late harvests and led to more insect damage to some crops and additional treatments.

Water allocations for irrigation also played a role, said Les Wright, Fresno County's deputy agricultural commissioner. The county, which is the state's top agricultural county, ranked as the highest in pesticide use, followed by Kern, Tulare, San Joaquin and Madera counties.

"When we have water, we're able to plant more acreage, and more acreage equals more pesticide use," Wright said.

Pesticide use depends on the type of crops planted, he said, which in turn depends on projected crop prices.

This year, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley planted more cotton, which increased the use of some pesticides, he said. In addition to cotton, crops that showed an increase in pounds of pesticides applied included wine grapes, carrots, almonds, and table and raisin grapes.

Sulfur, a natural fungicide used by conventional and organic farmers to control mildew, was the most used pesticide in the state. Its use grew by 10 percent and accounted for 27 percent of all reported pesticide use.

The fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene, also known as Telone, saw the greatest increase in pounds applied - its use went up by 37 percent. Telone is used on strawberries, almonds, sweet potatoes, carrots, and table and raisin grapes. It's an alternative to methyl bromide, which is being phased out under an international treaty to protect the ozone layer.

Environmentalists decried the increase in pesticide use.

"The numbers released indicate that we're stuck on the pesticide treadmill," said Paul Towers, spokesman of Pesticide Action Network. "Instead of providing support and forward thinking policies to help farmers transition from pesticide use, our state is continuing the use of unsafe and outdated chemicals."

Most alarming was the increase in the use of fumigants, Towers said, which are prone to drift and some of which are linked to cancer and groundwater contamination. Pesticides include fumigants, insecticides, herbicides, anti-bacterials and other chemicals.

The data covers only pesticides used in agriculture, termite treatment and professional landscaping. About two-thirds of the pesticides sold in California, including chlorine used for municipal water treatment and home-use pesticide products, are not subject to reporting.

Los Angeles Times: City of Stockton struggles with debt, fights police union

Debt-ridden Stockton a battleground for police union, City Hall

Officers have paid for billboards and bought a house next to the city manager in a fight to stop cuts in one of the nation's foreclosure capitals, which is near bankruptcy and has 20% unemployment.

Police union fights Stockton City Hall
Steve Anderson installs one of the billboards the police union is using in its fight over cutbacks. (Photo by Craig Sanders, The Stockton Record / December 29, 2011)

The first eyebrow-raising salvo in the fight between the cops and this city was the billboards.

"Welcome to the 2nd most dangerous city in California: Stop laying off cops!" read one at the city's entrance. Other billboards posted by the Stockton Police Officers' Assn. depicted splattered blood, gave a running tally of the city's record number of homicides — and the city manager's phone number.

Since then, the fight moved closer to home: The police union bought the house next to City Manager Bob Deis.

"In 30 years of labor negotiations I've never seen anything like this," said Jonathan Holtzman, a San Francisco lawyer representing Stockton. "Tires slashed; late-night phone calls — but buying the house next door to the boss?"

As cash-strapped cities up and down the state demand concessions from employees, the police union in nearly bankrupt Stockton is fighting hard — and some say dirty — to keep the fiscal crisis from breaking its contract.

"Everybody knows that revenues in cities are down because of the recession. But in Stockton, it is more than that," said Officer Steve Leonesio, the union president. "The city spent money they didn't have on a sports arena and downtown structures and then when it all hit rock bottom they went after public safety. We're sticking up for what is right."

Born during the Gold Rush, Stockton, an inland port city of 292,000 where much of the Central Valley's agricultural exports set sail, doesn't have a "good" side and a "bad" side of town. Instead, there are pockets of inner blight and leafy, gracious neighborhoods intertwined throughout the city.

Leonesio, a SWAT team member, insists without a wink or a nudge that the location of the union's first real estate purchase is a coincidence.

He said that when the union was seeking to buy a house to diversify its investments, this home on North Country Club Boulevard was the only one it could find not surrounded by other foreclosures. Stockton, with a 20% unemployment rate, has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country (flip-flopping with Las Vegas for the dubious distinction of first).

Deis doesn't buy it.

"This is right out of 1930s Chicago, hardball union politics," he told the local paper, the Stockton Record.

An earlier version of this article said that Stockton recorded the second highest homicide rate in the state last year among large cities, with 1,381 deaths, just behind Oakland, with 1,530. In fact, Stockton had the second highest violent crime rate in the state last year among large cities, with 1,381 violent crimes per 100,000 population, just behind Oakland, with 1,530 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

The city is suing the union to force the sale of the house. In court documents Deis states, "I believe the SPOA purchased the property ... for the sole purpose of coercing me in the exercise of my duties as city manager."

He describes a union member using a backhoe to clip trees during his wife and daughters' backyard birthday party.

The 315-member police force is down more than 25% from its highest staffing levels in 2008; and the city forced wage and benefit reductions on officers while trying to close a deficit of more than $20 million.

The union is suing the city, challenging its declaration of a fiscal emergency that allows it to break employees' contracts. If the union wins, the city — which is already flirting with bankruptcy — could owe up to $10 million in back wages. City leaders declined to comment on pending litigation.

Meanwhile, the union has rented the house — spiffed up after what neighbors describe as noisy repairs — to a "nice county retiree with two dogs," Leonesio said.

To his mind, the real estate more central to the dispute is the 10,000-seat sports arena, waterfront hotel, marina and other development the city helped finance in more prosperous times. Stockton has $87 million in outstanding redevelopment bonds that were sold in 2006.

On a recent evening, the glow of retro-style lampposts reflected in the waters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

A few blocks away, neon lights announced a gleaming plaza of shops and a movie theater. The 16-screen theater and surrounding restaurants had less customers than the number of screens.

In front of a Starbucks, two policewomen struggled to handcuff a homeless woman who had punched a passing stranger.

"Another Wednesday night in Stockton," Mike Sota, 23, said as the woman, still screaming obscenities, was placed in the squad car and he returned to his job as a waiter at Moo Moo's Burger Barn. "At least this time, the cops got here in less than an hour."

Sota saves $50 from every paycheck toward moving out of town. He dreams of living on the other side of the coastal range, near the ocean.

"The people there are too glamour-like for me. But I'll just be that quiet guy out surfing at 4 a.m."

The restaurant's manager Jodi Cantrill, 33, has $2,000 saved for leaving.

"It's all the panhandlers and crackheads, the pop-pop-pop of gunshots. North, South, I'll flip a coin, I just don't want to be here anymore," she said.

Things used to be better at Moo Moo's. Even weeknights were packed. But the recession hit and business dwindled. The city cut bicycle officers from the plaza, the center of the city's redevelopment plan.

In June, an 11-year-old girl was shot in the leg while sitting on a bench with her brother outside the theater. Since then, the plaza has been nearly empty. Cantrill tells customers seeing a movie after dark to have the theater's security guard walk them to their cars when they leave.

In the early mornings, Cantrill walks the elegantly refurbished waterfront along the port where the state's cherries and almonds and rice leave California. She says the birds and the boats — and on the days that she is lucky, a seal — are antidotes for what she will see during the rest of her day.

"They did a good job of giving the waterfront a face-lift," she said. "But the city tried to dig for gold and they dug our grave."

Fresno Bee: Fresno County pension costs could impact county services

Fresno County pension costs could squeeze services Payouts expected to hit $184m.
By Kurtis Alexander - The Fresno Bee Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011 | 11:00 PM

Fresno County's retirement costs are expected to hit $184 million next year. After debt payments are factored in, that could account for as much as a record 14% of the county government's annual budget.
County leaders had anticipated that retirement expenses would grow.
Amid the lagging economy, the pension fund's investments simply have not kept pace with payout promises. But the county has yet to figure out how it will cover the growing liability.
The county already is stretched thin -- jail floors have been closed, parks go without maintenance and library operations have been scaled back. With no clear recovery in sight, financing the retirement system next year all but guarantees more cuts to public programs and possibly cuts to positions, too.
"It means people won't receive the direct services they're paying for," county Supervisor Judy Case said, adding that retirement expenses could hamper public safety, tax collection and other core services. "This is a problem. It's just not reasonable that so much of the total expenditures of government are being used to pay pensions."

The county's retirement costs next fiscal year are laid out in an actuarial report released this month by Segal Co. of San Francisco.
The expense, which will come due between July 2012 and July 2013, is based on how much is needed to make sure future pension obligations are met.
Next year's projected $184 million tab, which comes alongside $36 million the county will owe on pension debt, represents a $10 million increase over last year's costs. It's more than double what the county paid for retirement six years ago.
And, the costs aren't likely to let up soon. According to a Virginia-based financial consultant contracted by the county, the retirement expense will peak between 2014 and 2020 and won't drop below the current level until 2024.
"It's a big chunk going to their retirement plan," said Joe Nation, a former state Assembly member and public policy professor at Stanford University who has criticized the expense of California's many pension programs.
How much a public agency should spend on retirement is relative, say government experts like Nation. But recent comparisons of local government show Fresno County's pension system, as a percentage of payroll, is among the state's most costly.
"At some point, people are going to wake up and understand the connection between pensions and social services, education and so forth," Nation said.
According to the Segal report, the county's pension fund has 73.5% of the money it needs to meet future pension obligations, as of June 30.
Most policy experts consider a fund financially healthy if it's at least 80% funded.
Becky Van Wyk, acting administrator of the county's retirement program, said despite the low funding ratio, the fund's stability is improving.
The recent investment losses that are largely responsible for the fund's shortfalls are beginning to be offset not only by the county's larger retirement contributions but by better investment returns.
Last fiscal year, the pension fund earned 23% on its investments, higher than most funds in the state, according to a recent survey by Portland, Ore.-based financial consultant R.V. Kuhns & Associates. As a result, the county's retirement system had nearly 1 percentage point more of the money it needs to meet its future obligations than the prior year.
While Van Wyk manages the county's pension fund, the major costs associated with the fund are determined by the Board of Supervisors, which establishes benefit levels.

While the Board of Supervisors is in the unenviable position of addressing growing retirement expenses, it's the board's policies that are partly to blame for the cost.
Little more than a decade ago, with a pension fund flush with investment returns, county supervisors, including Case, agreed to bump up retirement perks to settle a legal dispute with labor groups. Supervisors were already providing among the most generous benefits allowed under state law.
Under the county's pension program, most employees are eligible for retirement at age 50 or 55, and for every year worked, they receive 2.5% or more of their highest annual pay.
The formula makes for high costs.
While employees are required to put about 9% of their salary toward their retirement, the deduction covers only a fraction of the expense.

The county's contributions, combined with returns the county makes on its investments, are responsible for the rest.
The recent troubles for the county came when the stock market took a dive in 2008. That left a big gap in the pension fund that the county is still working to fill.
Meanwhile, the county made bigger pension payouts as employees live longer and make more money.
County supervisors have long discussed ways to reduce retirement costs by scaling back benefits. But their hands are tied by past commitments to employees.
The board this year put in place a new, less-expensive tier of retirement benefits.
The new tier, however, applies only to new hires who aren't likely to retire for years, meaning little financial reprieve in the short term.
"The take-home message is we can't afford our retirement program. ... We have to start reducing costs somewhere, and this is the only way we can do it," said county Supervisor Phil Larson, who also sits on the county's retirement board.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the retirement contribution recommended in the Segal report in January.
The county's total budget this fiscal year is projected to be $1.64 billion. Next year's budget has not been set.
County labor groups acknowledge that retirement is eating into the budget. But they say the retirement benefits are hard-earned by employees and often came only by sacrificing higher pay.
Tom Abshere, director of the county chapter of Service Employees International Union, blames county supervisors for mismanaging the finances of the pension system, adding that employees have been wrongly scapegoated for the problems.
He said, for example, the county should have socked away more money for retirement during the booming '90s to avoid the shortfall it has today; instead, the county cut its retirement contributions then.
"It's like not paying your housing mortgage for a year," Abshere said. "You're going to have to catch up for the next 29 years."

KQED-FM: Podcast on a look back at state politics in 2011

Capital Notes -- From KQED's John Myers
A glimpse of the policies, people, and politics of California state government, from John Myers of The California Report

Podcast: Adios 2011

A new governor. Sort of. The long saga over a special election, never to be. Trigger cuts. The single sales factor. And more.

This week's Capital Notes Podcast is our final look at the year in California politics and public policy. Marisa Lagos of the San Francisco Chronicle and Kevin Yamamura of the Sacramento Bee join me in assessing the good, the bad, and the budget-y.

And thanks to all of you for your kind comments about the podcasts in 2011. Happy New Year!

Listen to the podcast by clicking here!

Los Angeles Times: Columnist Skelton on Governor's look ahead to 2012

Gov. Jerry Brown looks ahead to 2012

The California governor says he'll schmooze more with Democrats in the Legislature. But he plans to bypass lawmakers and put an initiative to raise taxes on the November ballot.

Gov. Brown
Gov. Jerry Brown holds a news conference in Sacramento to discuss his first year in office. (Photo by Autumn Cruz, Associated Press / December 27, 2011)

From Sacramento
Sitting on a hard wood bench for an hour listening to Gov. Jerry Brown field questions, it's often difficult to tell whether he's articulating a conviction, hiding something or sorting out his thoughts as he speaks.

All of the above, I suspect, but mostly the latter.
Brown on Tuesday invited into his cabinet room a gaggle of Capitol reporters who had asked for year-end interviews. Rather than meet with each one individually, he agreed to a group sit-down — on very uncomfortable seats. (The Times ran an article on the Q&A on Wednesday.)

Past governors furnished the Ronald Reagan Cabinet Room with a handsome mahogany table and restful leather chairs. Brown replaced all of it with a long picnic table — the former Jesuit seminarian calls it a "monastic table" — and benches.

It's apparently supposed to convey discipline and austerity, although the setup cost in the range of $7,500.

I'm thinking that if this is the table he and Republican legislators tried to negotiate around last winter, it's no wonder everyone walked away without closing a deal. The new/old governor has similar furniture in his Sacramento loft, where he occasionally wined and dined GOP lawmakers.

Whatever. Brown said one important thing he learned in his first year back as governor after a 28-year absence is that these Republicans simply will not vote for a tax increase — or even vote to put the question on the ballot.

"I'll meet with the Republicans. I find them sociable and pleasant," the Democrat said. But the political problem in California and the nation is the lousy economy. "Politics works when everything is good. When you have to sacrifice in lean times, then it's difficult."

Brown said he'll schmooze more in 2012 with Democrats. This year, as governors tend to do, he seemed to take members of his own party for granted. And privately, some are among his biggest critics.

"There's tension between the Legislature and the governor. That's the way the process works," the career pol observed. "But it also works when you can form relationships. Those relationships are based sometimes on appointments" — known as spoils — "sometimes on signing bills" — called rewards and punishment — "sometimes on friendships, social relations."

"You have to do all of that. That's part of being a governor. It's not just laying your mark on the ground and saying, 'Here I stand.' Reagan didn't do that. No governor who's successful does that. I don't do that either."

Relationships or not, however, Brown intends to bypass the Legislature next year and go directly to the November ballot with an initiative to raise income taxes on the rich and sales taxes on everyone. In drafting the proposal, his goal was to keep it simple.

"Simple is good. Complexity gives fodder to the opposition."

Without the nearly $7 billion annually his tax hike would generate, Brown warned, the necessary spending cuts "will be very, very drastic." Even with the tax increases "it's going to be unpleasant.… We're cutting back to where we were at the time of [Gov.] Reagan."

If voters reject his tax proposal, what will be their message? "The skepticism about public service is very deep…. If people vote it down, they will have concluded that the common institution that we call government is not something they want to invest in….

"You need a certain minimum unity throughout the country, throughout California or a local community. And if fragmentation reaches a point, you get much worse trouble."

Would he still want to be governor in such a depressing situation? "I don't want to not be governor," he answered with a grin.

Although he has filled half the $25-billion deficit hole he inherited, Brown said, "it may take a term or two before we complete the job."

So is he committed to running for another term in 2014? "Not at this point," the 73-year-old replied. "I don't know how I'm going to feel in a couple of years because this could get pretty tiring or frustrating.

"So far it's very exhilarating and exciting. I mean, I can't tell you how much I like being governor of California…. No matter what you write and what they do here, I still enjoy it."

If he's able, there's no way Brown doesn't run for a fourth term.

But first, there's next year. Brown volunteered that he intends to address the murky issues of water and education. If he has anything specific in mind, however, the governor didn't reveal it. He implied that his ideas haven't yet jelled.

On education, Brown called himself "a reformed reformer. While I want to make things better, I don't want to fall into the trap of reform for the sake of reform. Education is hard sledding."

Added the former Oakland mayor who started two charter schools: "Government has limited power when it comes to altering the impact of family breakdown."

He's somewhat of a fatalist. And he used a sprinkler analogy. A governor, he said, is "like a ping-pong ball sitting on a sprinkler. He's not in charge of the water. The water goes up, you go up. The water goes down, you go down. You're kind of a bouncing ball here."

Brown clearly enjoyed batting around questions bounced off him by reporters. He should do it more often — and all over the state, not only with reporters but with civic groups. But not on wood benches.

Associated Press: More in need as state welfare programs are deeply cut

More in need as welfare is cut

STATE: Californians feel toll of dismal economy, shrinking aid checks.
By Sheila V Kumar
The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - Advocates of welfare reform in California often cite one eye-popping statistic as they have pressed for cuts and changes to the program in recent years: The state has one-eighth of the nation's population but one-third of all welfare recipients.
Yet steps taken in recent years to cut costs and get more recipients back in the workforce have run head-on into the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Recipients have been left with fewer training programs, shrinking welfare checks and a shorter period during which they are eligible to receive assistance at a time when employment prospects for even highly qualified job-seekers are dim.
That has led to fear and uncertainty among welfare recipients, many of whom have spent a year or more in job-preparation programs without success.
"I've been trying to look for work, but everyone has been losing their jobs and work was hard to find," said David Balaba of Sacramento, who has been on welfare since being laid off in 2009 as a merchandiser for a beverage-packaging company.
His wife lost her job working at a cafe in the Sacramento Zoo a month before his layoff, and their daughter was born shortly after.
"From there, it started to go downhill," said Balaba, 27. "We couldn't find work, we lost everything. It was like a snowball effect."

To help cut their childcare costs and living expenses, his family moved in with his parents in south Sacramento, a few miles from the state Capitol. For almost two years, Balaba has been drawing welfare checks while participating in state-funded programs designed to help him find work.
None of those programs has paid off, and with state spending cuts to welfare programs, he is receiving $300 a month from the state, less than half his previous check of $661.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Balaba is one of 4.6 million Americans on welfare amid a lasting recession that has forced lawmakers to slash budgets across the country, including for many safety-net programs.
California will spend $6 billion this fiscal year on its welfare programs, or roughly 7 percent of a general fund budget that has shrunk by $17.5 billion over the past three years.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican lawmakers pushed successfully for welfare reforms in 2004 and have won other cutbacks and concessions since then.
Funding for CalWorks, the welfare-to-work program that is the state's main welfare service, was cut by $1 billion this year. The legislation that reduced the spending also shortened the amount of time a recipient can stay on welfare, from 60 months to 48, while also reducing monthly checks by at least 8 percent.
Lawmakers also suspended a program called Cal-Learn, which offers incentives and services for teenage parents who had dropped out of high school.
Many Republican lawmakers say the cuts need to continue because California can no longer afford all the program's costs. They say the relatively generous benefits have made California a magnet for those seeking welfare assistance.
The Legislature's budget cuts and reform measures in recent years are steps in the right direction but don't go far enough, said state Assemblyman Brian Jones, a Republican from La Mesa, near San Diego.
He said he would support cutting the amount of time adults can remain on welfare even further.
"By the time someone is on welfare for 48 months, I think they're trained to be on that system," he said. "I think we need to make it more attractive in California to get folks off of welfare instead of onto it."
The Legislature focuses too much on trying to micromanage people's lives, he said, while failing to devise productive ways to get Californians back to work.
"The welfare numbers are high because the economy is in the pits, and there doesn't seem to be a political force in Sacramento to push the reforms we need to get our economy going," said Jones, vice chairman of the Assembly Human Services Committee.
Yet recipients say a persistent recession that has given California the nation's second highest unemployment rate is just the reason not to cut welfare benefits further.
Theresa Hooks had been working as a mobile notary in Arizona when she decided in 2009 to move to California, where her grandmother had offered to help care for her children.
Shortly after the 35-year-old divorced mother of three moved to Hemet, her grandmother developed an illness that left her unable to care for Hooks' children. Hooks said she then lost the three-bedroom apartment she had been living in because she couldn't afford the rent.
"That's when I ended up homeless," she said. "I could not find a job anywhere, and I applied everywhere. Not Kmart, not McDonald's. There was not one company in Hemet that would hire me."
She is among the 1.5 million Californians who depend on monthly welfare grants. California's caseload far outnumbers the rest of the country, with 3.8 percent of its population on welfare in 2010.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services, Maine, the state with the second-highest percentage, had 2.9 percent of its population on welfare. Tennessee, New Mexico and Washington, the next three states, were at 2.5 percent.
The states with the lowest proportion of residents on welfare - Wyoming, Idaho, Georgia, Texas and Illinois - had less than one half of 1 percent of their population receiving state assistance.
The main reason California has such a high percentage of the nation's welfare cases is because it is one of the few states that continue to provide welfare checks for children once their parents are no longer eligible.
About three-quarters of California's welfare recipients are children age 18 and younger. Just three other states - Indiana, Oregon and Rhode Island - provide assistance checks to minors after their parents no longer qualify for welfare.
Yet even with the state's promise to support children, families are finding it harder to move from welfare to employment amid a stagnant job market.
California's unemployment rate has been dropping in recent months but is still second highest in the nation behind Nevada, at 11.3 percent, and remains far higher than the national rate of 8.6 percent.
After applying for welfare, Hooks moved her family into a one-bedroom apartment in the San Fernando Valley. For the past two years, she has been studying for a degree in public relations while struggling to pay her bills with a welfare check that shrank by $76 a month to $752 in the latest round of state budget cuts. She said her ex-husband sends a little money, but she still finds herself short of cash every month.
She said her job prospects are uncertain, at best.
"I'm not trying to stay on this," she said of the state's welfare rolls. "I'm trying to get off as soon as possible."
California's lowest number of welfare recipients was in 2007, when an average of 1.2 million people applied for state assistance.
The numbers have been creeping up since the recession began in 2007, said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project.

California's relatively high cost of living and its large number of low-wage jobs make it difficult for residents to make ends meet, she said. By 2009, California saw 1.3 million apply for state assistance, and the number has continued to climb.