Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Randy Cunningham out of prison

Duke Cunningham released to halfway house

Dec. 12, 2012
Greg Moran

SAN DIEGO — Former Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who has been in federal prison since admitting to taking bribes, has been transferred to a halfway house in New Orleans for the final few months of his prison term.

Cunningham, 71, was transferred from the federal prison in Tucson, Ariz., on Dec. 5, according to Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Cunningham, who was from Rancho Santa Fe, was sentenced in 2006 to eight years and four months in prison, and has spent the majority of his term at the Tucson prison.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion in 2005. He admitted taking more than $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors, in return for using his congressional power to steer federal contracts to their companies.

Cunningham is scheduled to be released entirely from federal custody in June. His transfer to a halfway house is common for federal inmates who are close to their release date, Ross said.

“It’s meant to serve as a bridge between the individual being in prison and transitioning back into the community,” he said.

Halfway houses generally have much greater liberty for inmates than prisons. No walls or fences confine inmates, and they are able to go out into the community during the day, with permission of the staff, to seek work, go to counseling or other approved activities.

Ross said inmates are generally not accompanied when they go out into the community but are monitored by staff required to be accountable for all of the time they spend away from the facility.

There are curfews, rules and work requirements while staying at the halfway house. Cunningham could stay there up until his release date in June, or perhaps be released earlier and put on home detention.

In a letter in May to U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns, who sentenced the former congressman, Cunningham said he planned to live in a remote cabin in Arkansas when he is free. He asked the judge from San Diego to restore his rights to carry a gun so he cold hunt, but Burns said he could not do that.

His plan to live in Arkansas near his mother and brother could explain why he was assigned to a halfway home in New Orleans, Ross said. Typically the bureau tries to place inmates close to where they will live after their release.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012

I agree with Cristoph Wilcke that the perceived increase in corruption after the "Arab Spring" might be caused by people simply having higher standards and being more willing to judge public servants.

Newly Released Index Finds Perceived Corruption Increased After 'Arab Spring'
December 05, 2012

As demonstrations continue to rage in Cairo, nearing almost two years after the revolution's onset, perceived corruption in Egypt and neighboring countries has worsened, according to a newly-released index.

Transparency International's (TI) 2012 Corruption Perceptions index ranks countries from 0 to 100 based on perceived levels of public sector corruption — 100 meaning no perceived corruption. Egypt dropped six places and now ranks 118th out of 176 countries.

Following Mubarak's downfall and Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, hopes were high. But now, after Morsi's power grab yielding him near absolute power and a controversial draft constitution in the works, anger has once again consumed Cairo's streets.

"We know that frustration about corruption brought people out onto the streets in the Arab world," TI's Middle East and North Africa director, Cristoph Wilcke, told Reuters. A democratic transition has not easily come to Egypt. Morsi is now facing allegations similar to those that toppled Mubarak's regime, and protesters are now demanding Morsi be held accountable and step down.

"As far as we can tell, very little has happened on the ground ... as far as putting in place systems that we know work to prevent corruption," Wilcke said.

Syria, currently engulfed by bloodshed, fell 15 places in the index to 144th. Tunisia fell two places, now ranking 75th, and Morocco fell eight slots to 88th out of 176 countries. While the numbers across the board look bleak for the region, Libya climbed eight places to 160th, following the Libyan civil war that ended last October, a hopeful sign for the rest of the region.

In comparison, the United States ranks 19 on the list, just below the United Kingdom. Israel takes 39th, and Cuba ranks 58, following Jordan, which has recently seen an uptick in protests. Greece, where protests over unemployment and corruption have been exploding since 2010, ranks at 94, the same as Colombia and India. Somalia is perceived as the most corrupt country in the world.

Around 78 percent of the Middle East and North Africa is perceived as corrupt – though it's not the lowest on the corruption totem pole, compared to 95 percent of Eastern Europe and Central Asia seen as corrupt, and 90 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa. (See here for a series of interactive infographics).

While the effects of the Arab Spring have yet to fully surface, and the transition to true democracy is far from over, Wilcke stressed that a worsening in Middle Eastern countries' rankings may merely be a result of people acknowledging and addressing the issue of corruption, not necessarily because corruption is increasing. "It's not possible to change things over night," he said...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Scott Peters has pulled further ahead of Brian Bilbray in 2012 election results

NOV 09, 2012
Daily Kos Elections Live Digest (afternoon edition)
by David Nir

"...5:01 PM PT: CA-52: With the latest update from San Diego County, Dem Scott Peters now leads by 1,334 votes, almost doubling his 685-vote margin over incumbent Brian Bilbray from Thursday. The SD Registrar of Voters estimates 325,000 ballots left to be counted county-wide, which likely means 75-80K in CA-52 alone..."

Friday, November 09, 2012

Jess Durfee: Change has come to San Diego

Letter from Jess Durfee:

Ballots are still being counted, but I feel confident in saying that in one of the closest congressional races in the country, we defeated Tea Party Republican Brian Bilbray and elected Scott Peters in the 52nd District. Democrats will now hold a majority of the county's congressional delegation for the first time in recent memory.

When he takes office on the County Board of Supervisors, Dave Roberts will be the first Democrat with a seat at that table in almost two decades -- and San Diego's first openly gay County Supervisor ever.

Assemblymember-elect Shirley Weber will be the first African-American to represent our county in the state legislature. And with Marty Block's decisive State Senate victory, Democrats will hold supermajorities in both houses in Sacramento for the first time since 1933.

Statewide, we helped ensure that Prop. 30 passed and Prop. 32 was soundly rejected...  

--by Jess Durfee
Chair, San Diego County Democratic Party
Member, Democratic National Committee

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Utility group transaction under scrutiny

Mike Aguirre's clients expose problematic transactions at UCAN.

Utility group transaction under scrutiny
Nov. 2, 2012
Jeff McDonald

Back in 2005, the Utility Consumers’ Action Network collected $2 million from a class-action lawsuit against Rent-A-Center, a furniture and accessories retailer based in Plano, Texas.

Terms of the award to the San Diego-based consumer protection group required UCAN to keep the money in California. The funds were to be set aside for nonprofit efforts to educate people about their legal rights.

The agreement was signed by former UCAN Executive Director Michael Shames seven years ago last month.

Shames invested $1 million of the award in a money-market account and later in an out-of-state hedge fund called Red Rock Capital Fund LP.

The manager “isn’t promising, or even seeking, big returns,” Shames told UCAN board members three weeks before making the investment. “His is a very controlled form of risk-avoidance through 2-5 day investments in a diverse set of sectors.”

The $1 million investment sank in value by $287,000 within a year. The rest was withdrawn in a series of transactions, leaving a zero balance by the close of 2006, according to documents obtained by The Watchdog.

Shames has denied doing anything illegal or improper at the nonprofit group. He says allegations against him were independently investigated and found to be unwarranted.

UCAN Chairman Kendall Squires said he does not remember approving the investment in the fund, even though he was copied on an email regarding the buy-in.

“Recognizing that I was unaware of it at the time, as my memory serves now, yes, I’d be troubled by it,” Squires said. “I think it is a pool to be examined.”

Documents related to the Red Rock fund were specifically cited in a grand jury subpoena issued earlier this year as part of a federal investigation of the nonprofit.

Agents also sought records on Death by China Productions, an Orange County firm cofounded by Peter Navarro, the University of California Irvine economics professor and former San Diego mayoral candidate who consulted Shames on investment strategies.

Having Navarro involved in the decision to invest in Red Rock “was a huge advantage and kept the analysts’ pitches very exciting,” Shames told UCAN directors in that same December 2005 email.

North Carolina steelmaker Nucor Inc. made a $1 million donation in 2011 to UCAN, which later agreed to turn over the same amount of money to Death by China. Documents of that transaction were also sought in the federal subpoena.

Earlier this year, UCAN filed for dissolution in state court after two employees raised questions about Shames’ management of the organization.

Among other things, they alleged Shames kept secret bank accounts, practiced law without an active state bar membership and accepted bonuses without telling the board or reporting the payments on UCAN tax filings. Shames says the allegations were all investigated and found to be without merit.

Shames declined to respond to questions about why he invested UCAN revenue in an out-of-state hedge fund.

In a statement he said: “The money market account to which (you) refer was a UCAN account, not a personal one. It is reflected in all of UCAN’s books and records and authorized by the board.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not discuss the status of the federal investigation into UCAN business practices.

San Diego attorney Frank Fox was the lead lawyer in the Rent-A-Center case. He was responsible for filing periodic reports with the court detailing how settlement funds were spent.

Fox told The Watchdog that he only recently became informed about the UCAN investment in an Oregon hedge fund.

“I just learned of these allegations last week, and we are looking into them,” he said.

Michael Aguirre, the former San Diego city attorney who now represents two UCAN employees who came forward with allegations against Shames, suggested federal investigators should pay close attention to the transaction.

“Misdirecting consumer education trust money to an out-of-state hedge fund is a storm warning that regulators cannot prudently ignore,” Aguirre said.

Other records obtained by The Watchdog raise questions about the depth of the independent review commissioned by UCAN in response to the 2011 allegations by the two employees, David Peffer and Charles Langley.

According to attorney Paul Dostart, who billed UCAN more than $360,000 between April 2011 and July 2012, his review found no merit to the charges lodged by Peffer and Langley.

In an April 2011 email to Squires, Shames said Dostart “specifically instructed the auditors NOT to investigate any embezzlement or misuse of UCAN monies by me.”

Dostart last week said that assertion was untrue. “At no time have I ever instructed an auditor to not investigate and report any fraud, embezzlement, or misuse of UCAN funds,” he said.

Shames stood by his 2011 email.

“Mr. Dostart can explain why he made the decision he made,” Shames wrote in an email.

UCAN has not released an independent audit in years, even though state law requires charities with more than $2 million in annual revenue to do so. A draft audit for the year ending June 2011 cites numerous problems.

“In 2011, there was a discovery of three investment accounts held by the organization that were not included in the statement of financial position at June 30, 2010,” the draft states.

A separate letter to UCAN board members recommends sweeping reforms, including stricter controls and improved record-keeping. It also notes the charity still owes Death by China $350,000 and states, “We recommend that in the future transactions of this natured be discouraged.”

Squires said issues raised in the draft audit are being addressed and a completed review will be released this month.

UCAN also is seeking a new executive director to succeed Kim Malcolm and Pat Zaharopoulos, each of whom sought to succeed Shames this year but resigned in the face of ongoing challenges...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Carl DeMaio and taxpayer dollars

Carl DeMaio is hilarious when he demands that Filner not accept his government pension. DeMaio made his millions off the government, pulling in big bucks for giving training to government workers. How about DeMaio promise to turn over to the City of San Diego pension fund the interest from his investments of all those tax dollars?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Laura Duffy should apologize to Bob Filner as well as Carl DeMaio

It's okay to lie, but not okay to call someone a liar? I think Laura Duffy should also have apologized to Filner for Carl DeMaio's making a false statement about Filner's pension. I like the fact that Filner doesn't spew pre-packaged statements. He responds to what is actually said. For years I've liked this trait of Filner.

U.S. Attorney: Members Felt Filner 'Embarrassed Himself' at Temple Forum
October 18, 2012
Voice of San Diego

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, the federal government's top law enforcement official in San Diego, was not very happy with U.S. Rep. Bob Filner Sunday.

Filner appeared with his rival for the mayor's office Carl DeMaio at Temple Emanu-El Sunday in a forum designed to let a number of candidates speak and take questions from the audience. Duffy, as a member of the temple, helped organize the event. She was not working in her capacity as head of the Justice Department's presence in San Diego.

The candidates had been told not to treat it as a debate. Filner, Duffy told me, "had issues."

"I know the event that was intended and it went far afield from what he was invited to do and I was sorry to see that happen," she told me.

Wherever Filner took it, DeMaio helped him get there. DeMaio challenged Filner to say he would not take a city pension if elected mayor. DeMaio said it would be a $120,000 pension and cited a Voice of San Diego report, which actually shows the majority of that pension would not come from the city.

DeMaio didn't mention that part.

It set Filner off.

"I wanted this to be a civil debate, but he's a liar. He knows he's a liar," Filner said from the podium at the temple. DeMaio's team posted a video of the exchange here.

Duffy sent an email apologizing to DeMaio's campaign, which the campaign then passed on to reporters. It was underneath an email with story ideas and links to that YouTube video and others.

Campaign Manager Ryan Clumpner claims forwarding the email to reporters was inadvertent. It showed Duffy was not pleased with Filner in the apology she sent DeMaio's team.

"Our apologies that Filner had to be admonished about his uncivil 'debate-style' remarks," Duffy wrote in the email to a DeMaio aide, Tommy Knepper. "If it is any consultation (sic), I heard more than one temple member express their view that he embarrassed himself and that they thought Carl appeared far more mature and capable of addressing the challenges San Diego faces."

If Filner was guilty of making “’debate-style’ remarks,” it’s hard to see how DeMaio didn’t also bend the rules (though he kept a cooler head)...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Web cam shows San Vicente Dam project; world's largest roller-compacted concrete dam raise

Joe Pacheco, who apparently figured that the way to get a reputation as someone concerned about safety was to frequently put workers on suspension, has been moved out of his job at San Vicente Dam. It seems that while Joe created the appearance of concern for safety, his workers were put at risk.

Some Shimmick Construction workers have been burned by the chemicals in the slurry as it is pushed out between the forms during compaction by the rollers. Also, some of the slurry reaches the water in the reservoir.

Link: Time lapse movie of construction of San Vicente Dam.

San Diego County Water Authority

A new web cam system at San Vicente Dam allows the public to witness progress on the world’s largest roller-compacted concrete dam raise. Two cameras offer different views of construction activities, enabling viewers to see weeks of dam raise work compressed into a brief time-lapse video.

Click on Topside View or Downstream View for two vantage points of construction. These high-resolution photos are updated every 30 minutes, providing a current snapshot of dam raise construction. The time-lapse sequences combine these photos, illustrating the construction process.

During construction, we will be offering a limited number of public tours. Guests will view the project site from the downstream, or dry side, of San Vicente Dam as work is under way to raise the dam 117 feet. Tour participants must be 18 years of age or older and will be required to follow site safety and security procedures.

To be notified of future public tours of the San Vicente Dam Raise, please forward your contact information to

About This Project
The San Vicente Dam Raise is part of the Emergency Storage Project, a system of reservoirs, interconnected pipelines, and pumping stations designed to make water available to the San Diego region in the event of an interruption in imported water deliveries.

LAKESIDE: San Vicente dam project passes milestone
May 16, 2012

Construction on a $450 million project to raise San Vicente Dam has entered its final phase, as workers began pouring concrete above the level of the existing dam.

The project, by the San Diego County Water Authority, will more than double San Vicente Reservoir's capacity, said Kelly Rodgers, project manager for the dam raise.

"It is the largest single increase in water storage in the county's history," Rodgers said Tuesday in an on-site interview.

As of Tuesday, the project has extended two feet above the existing dam height.

The $450 million price tag for the dam raise and its associated projects comes to nearly one-third the $1.5 billion cost of the Water Authority's Emergency Storage Project, the umbrella name for the authority's plan to boost local storage to a six-month supply.

Set amid East County's boulder-strewn mountains off of State Route 67, San Vicente Reservoir is owned and operated by San Diego. It would also be the terminus of a pipeline to San Diego County from the Imperial Valley, if that pipeline is ever built.

The pipeline, which could cost more than $2 billion, is now under study by the authority. It would allow the authority to circumvent using the infrastructure of Metropolitan Water District. The authority is suing the giant Southern California water wholesaler on the grounds that Metropolitan is charging the authority illegally high fees, a charge Metropolitan flatly rejects.

The Emergency Storage Project began in 2000 as a response to a severe drought about a decade earlier, which briefly threatened homes and businesses with the loss of half of their water. That would have been catastrophic for businesses such as life science companies, which require water in their manufacturing process and in research.

The authority says the increased local supply will help the county weather any crisis, such as an earthquake, that interrupts its supply of imported water.

Until recently, construction workers have poured concrete below the level of the dam. Now, the workers will pile on the concrete in terrace fashion to boost the dam's height from 220 feet to 337 feet.

That 117-foot increase will increase the reservoir's capacity from 90,000 acre-feet to 242,000 acre-feet, an increase of 152,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, enough for two average single-home families of four for one year.

The original storage belongs to San Diego; the additional storage belongs to the Water Authority.

"This is the largest component of the fourth and final phase of the Emergency Storage Project," Rodgers said. "The cornerstone of the Emergency Storage Project was the construction of Olivenhain dam and reservoir."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Vista Congressman Darrell Issa makes group's list of dishonor

Issa makes group's list of dishonor
Jeff McDonald
Sept. 12, 2012

Vista Congressman Darrell Issa received a "dishonorable mention" Wednesday on a list of the most corrupt lawmakers published Wednesday by a Washington D.C. advocacy organization that he criticized as a liberal interest group.

The Republican lawmaker was targeted by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for placing information from a sealed wiretap into the congressional record earlier this year.

Twenty members of Congress -- 12 Republicans and seven Democrats -- were singled out for what CREW said was unethical or illegal behavior over the past year. Eight of those, including Issa, received the dishonorable mention citations.

“Rep. Issa not only pursued a politically motivated witch hunt against Attorney General Eric Holder, he broke the law while doing it,” said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan.

“Nothing better illustrates the American people’s disgust with Congress than a member like Rep. Issa, who claims to defend the law but then places himself above it to suit his political agenda,” she said...

Ray Lutz Sues San Diego, Officer for False Arrest, Battery in Occupy Incident

Photo by Julie Kramer

Ray Lutz Sues San Diego, Officer for False Arrest, Battery in Occupy Incident
By Ken Stone
La Mesa Patch September 14, 2012

Last November, former candidate for Congress was arrested while doing voter registration.

Ray Lutz, a 2010 candidate for Congress known for his 11-day hunger strike, has filed a second lawsuit over his arrest last November in connection with Occupy San Diego.

His first legal action—targeting CB Richard Ellis Group as manager of the Civic Center property—was dismissed at Lutz’s request Jan. 27. One-time San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre represented Lutz.

But according to a nine-page civil complaint filed Thursday in San Diego Superior Court, Lutz is expanding his suit to include the city of San Diego, a police officer and two dozen others not yet named. His new attorney is Bryan Pease of downtown San Diego.

The suit says he was at a “small, unobtrusive table in Civic Center Plaza for registering voters,” when he was arrested by private security “that was then accepted” by police Officer Tony Lessa.

No monetary figure is mentioned in the suit, but Lutz seeks damages for the care and treatment of physical injuries and “emotional distress,” attorney fees, costs of suit and punitive and general damages.

No trial date has been set, the La Mesa native said in a statement Friday.

A video of the arrest was uploaded to the YouTube account of Julie Kramer the day Lutz was arrested. It has been viewed more than 18,500 times.

In the statement, Lutz says he put his registration table in an area of the square designated as private property open for public use.

He says the San Diego Municipal Code limits trespassing on private property but explicitly allows “peaceful political activities” in areas that are normally open to the public.

“Certainly, registering voters must be considered peaceful political activity that is a sacred right in our democracy,” Lutz said Friday.

He says he came armed in late November with a copy of a 1980 Supreme Court decision known as the Pruneyard case, “which clearly states that the public has the right to use privately owned malls for peaceful political activity, such as gathering signatures or handing out political literature, with time, place, and manner restrictions.”

Lutz, 55, said he had registered five voters and was in the middle of registering a woman who had just turned 18 when managers from the office building interrupted him and asked police to arrest him for trespassing...

See arrest video.


By Miriam Raftery and Ron Logan
East County Magazine
November 2011

“This is what they do in banana republics and undemocratic societies.”—former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre, calling arrest a violation of the Civil Rights Act and the First Amendment

November 29, 2011 (San Diego) Updated November 30, 2011—Attorneys, civil rights activists and community leaders tonight are expressing outrage at the arrest tonight of Ray Lutz, former Democratic Congressional candidate who ran against Duncan Hunter in 2010 seeking to represent East County...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

San Diego Board of Supervisors hypocrisy

MERCURIO: Board of Supervisors hypocrisy
Aug. 13, 2012

Property rights. Taxpayer protection. Fairness.

Supervisors Bill Horn, Ron Roberts and Greg Cox tout these principles, but recent actions show hypocrisy at its worst.

The three supes voted to give land speculators a free ride to trash the new general plan. What would be free to the developers may cost us taxpayers $1.56 million.

It is a long, sordid story, and the shameful saga continues. The county's general plan was adopted a year ago after $16 million had been spent on many years of hearings, studies, and professional planning. Difficult compromises were reached among builders, environmentalists, and planners. The plan encompassed "smart growth" concepts, which encourage more density in town centers and lower density in outlying areas.

Horn cast the lone dissenting vote, but didn't accept his defeat.

Before the ink was dry, Horn, who is tied tightly to outside developers, began lobbying his fellow supervisors to make exceptions to the new zoning in the plan. Roberts and Cox agreed, asking the professional planners to magically manipulate the plan's guiding principles in order to accommodate speculators.

Horn's justification was that "downzoning" deprived property owners of their development rights. Of course, the properties that had received lower zoning were largely unbuildable, requiring taxpayer subsidized infrastructure in the backcountry.

More significantly, the two biggest developments affected ---- Merriam Mountains and Accretive ---- were not downzoned at all. To the contrary: Under the previous general plan, these rugged, rural properties were properly zoned for a fraction of the houses that the developers wanted.

The property rights that Horn, Roberts and Cox have hurt are those of existing residents, whose lifestyle and choice of location was premised on the county living up to its general plan.

How can Horn justify using taxpayer dollars to hand over an enormous gift of increased density, and therefore profits, to his developer buddies?

As for taxpayer protection, on June 20 Roberts did an end run. Normally, landowners must pay their own costs when seeking an amendment to the general plan. The public had been advised via the Agenda that a super-majority of four votes would be required to increase the current budget to approve funds to trump the new General Plan.

When Roberts realized that Pam Slater-Price and Dianne Jacob would not go along with his scheme, he left the meeting while public testimony was still in progress, and quietly directed staff to add the $1.56 million to the budget. He knew that this maneuver would only require three votes.

Letting Companies Settle While Denying Guilt Reconsidered by F.T.C.

Letting Companies Settle While Denying Guilt Reconsidered by F.T.C.
New York Times
August 10, 2012

The Federal Trade Commission finished a settlement with Facebook on Friday over allegations that the company had violated its privacy policy, and in the process said it would re-examine its own practice of allowing companies to settle charges of wrongdoing while denying that they had done anything wrong.

J. Thomas Rosch, an F.T.C. commissioner, dissented from the Facebook settlement.

The F.T.C.’s turnabout came in response to a blistering dissent from the Facebook settlement by one commissioner, J. Thomas Rosch, who said that allowing the company to deny charges it was agreeing to settle undermined the commission’s authority.

In November, the F.T.C. said that Facebook had deceived consumers by telling them that their personal information would be kept private, while “repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.”

The commission voted 3-1, with one abstention, to impose a 20-year consent order requiring Facebook to protect its users’ privacy. The company agreed to give consumers clear and prominent notice and to obtain their express consent before revealing information beyond their previously stated privacy settings, to maintain a comprehensive program to safeguard private information, and to obtain an independent privacy audit every two years...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

CREED v. Chula Vista, Groundbreaking greenhouse gas case in California

Groundbreaking greenhouse gas case in California
Amanda Monchamp and Melanie Sengupta
Holland & Knight LLP
October 26 2011

Supreme Court Denies Review and Depublication of Case Establishing Significance Thresholds for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under CEQA

On October 19, 2011, the California Supreme Court denied the petition for review and requests for depublication of the Court of Appeal, Fourth District’s decision in Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development v. City of Chula Vista (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 327 (CREED).

CREED captured great attention because of the only four published cases that address climate change, it is the first one to address the pivotal issue of a lead agency’s analysis of significance thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CREED, along with several notable environmental advocacy groups and the Attorney General of the State of California, sought review as well as depublication to overturn the Court of Appeal’s sanctioning of a lead agency’s use of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) as the significance threshold to assess greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts under CEQA. The critical take-away of the CREED decision is that the lead agency has the discretion to set a significance threshold, and it is proper to use AB 32 and the “business as usual” methodology for assessing the significance of impacts from greenhouse gas emissions.

City's "Business-As-Usual" Threshold OK For Evaluating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under CEQA
Jeffrey W. Forrest
Ashley T. Hirano
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP - San Diego Office
July 20, 2011

Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development ("CREED") v. City of Chula Vista, Docket No. D05779

In this clean-tech era, Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development ("CREED") v. City of Chula Vista marks only the third time that a court has published a case addressing greenhouse gases in California. In CREED, the City of Chula Vista certified a mitigated negative declaration ("MND") and approved development permits for a project that would demolish an existing Target store, a smog check facility, and a small market, and construct in its place a larger Target store. CREED filed suit, claiming that CEQA required the City to certify a full environmental impact report because the project would have a significant environmental impact on hazardous materials, air quality, particulate matter and ozone, and greenhouse gas emissions. While the court held that an EIR was likely required for other reasons, the court also held that, to demonstrate the project’s consistency with the GHG emissions reduction goals established by California's "Global Warming Solutions Act" (AB 32), the City had properly relied upon evidence the project’s emissions were below the GHG threshold of significance. The City established this threshold of significance using what has become known as the "Business-As-Usual" ("BAU") method. The court also held that the City properly relied on the thresholds of significance in the South Coast Air Quality Management District's CEQA Air Quality Handbook to conclude that the project's air quality impacts (particulate matter and ozone) were not cumulatively considerable even though the San Diego air basin is in non-attainment for particulate matter pollution.

...Finally, even though the percentage reduction from BAU necessary to meet AB 32's emissions reduction target has varied from time to time, agency to agency, and report to report, this court's decision indicates that when a public agency chooses to rely on a particular source's BAU percentage from a particular expert or agency report, it is important for the lead agency to require the project to meet at least that specific percentage if the lead agency's purpose is to demonstrate there is evidence the project is consistent with AB 32's reduction targets. To require less breaks the logical chain in the threshold and normally would require both a finding that further mitigation was infeasible and a statement of overriding considerations. Here, the permittee and the City were fortunate that the air quality report demonstrated that the project would achieve and exceed the report's stated 25 percent BAU standard.

Environmental Review Suffers Setbacks, Divides Officials

Environmental Review Suffers Setbacks, Divides Officials
Voice of San Diego
May 4, 2007

Local environmentalists have made strides in several recent lawsuits against the city of San Diego over its supervision of local development, with the city's top two elected officials consistently at odds over a key environmental safeguard.

Recent legal setbacks have drawn scrutiny to an issue that has already proved divisive at City Hall. In the last two months, the city has lost or settled four cases, forcing it to more thoroughly study the impacts of growth and development on surrounding communities.

The lawsuits contend the city did not properly measure the impacts of certain development plans: a blueprint to triple downtown's residential population over the next two decades; the planned Regents Road Bridge in University City; a Jewish student center in La Jolla; and thousands of condo conversions that have been proposed citywide.

At the heart of the lawsuits is the city's alleged inability to accurately and thoroughly gauge the effect those projects would have on the nearby environment, such as water resources, animal life, air quality, traffic or the displacement of residents.

"It's a continuation of 'let's get away with the bare minimum, and if the public doesn't like it, just sue us,'" Councilwoman Donna Frye said.

In each of the four instances, the lawsuits prompted concessions by the city, ranging from paying the environmentalists' attorney fees to taking on further work that will delay the building plans at the center of the complaints.

Beyond their cost to the city, the legal setbacks are demonstrative of the very extraordinary dynamics that sprout from these land-use decisions. The city's process for studying the impacts development projects have on traffic, air quality and other facets of the environment has driven an ideological wedge between Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

"It's a very awkward situation as sometimes the city attorney's advice comes very late in the process or it comes as political advice, not legal," Sanders said. The reviews are initiated by the development staff of Sanders, an ally of local real estate developers, and are regularly approved by the City Council. But the city's analyses are also subject to the scrutiny by Aguirre, who often sides with environmentalists.

Also, the environmental reviews seem to have blurred the line between policy and law, as both Sanders' staff and Aguirre have tried to make the case for more control over the reviews.

With both of those conflicts at work, the city's efforts to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, have produced some of the more contentious instances of infighting within the city camp. As a result, the city has sent mixed messages about its interpretation of the law, as well as who's to fault over its related blunders.

The recent legal developments could foreshadow the impending challenge to the environmental study on the controversial Navy Broadway Complex, which was crafted in 1990. The setbacks may also prompt the city to step up its forthcoming environmental report on the city's general plan update, which will outline San Diego's growth citywide.

Aguirre said the city's inability to wholly defend the lawsuits indicates the weakness of its environmental policies.

"There's been a real policy in the past of looking at compliance with the law as a policy choice, and that has been so thoroughly discredited now," said Aguirre, referring to the recent courtroom outcomes.

A Thin Line Between Policy and Law

Every development project reviewed by the city undergoes a CEQA review so the public and policy makers know its impacts. The Mayor's Office supervises the staff that initially decides the scope and scale of an environmental review.

In his role as the city's lawyer, Aguirre is tasked with advising the city on CEQA issues when they reach the courtroom. But he has also made efforts to influence the city to back off the courses of action suggested by Sanders' development staff by publicly issuing legal opinions that counter the mayor.

In November 2005, Aguirre issued an opinion backing up the claims by one environmental group that the city needed to conduct a comprehensive study of the impacts condo conversions had on traffic, parking and the displacement of former renters on the San Diego landscape. The opinion marked a drastic change from the city's policy of not spending time or money on a study.

Jim Waring, the top development aide for Sanders, partially attributed the settlement of the condo-conversion case to Aguirre's proclamation, claiming it fueled Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development's challenge.

"The plaintiffs in that case cited the city attorney letter in their complaint," Waring said. "It was highly unusual, and it clearly put the city in a difficult position in defending the case."

The city concluded its fight against the condo conversion challenge March 27, when the City Council preliminarily agreed to settle. In the settlement, which has not gained final approval, the city agreed to limit the conversion of housing units to 1,000 per year, issue an annual report on the developments, and pay C.R.E.E.D. $75,000.

Waring criticized Aguirre's handling of the environmental lawsuits, saying his legal advice "reflects his political bent."

"The city attorney doesn't like being an attorney. He wants to make policy," he added.

On the contrary, environmental advocates are skeptical of the Sanders administration, saying they believe his political alliance with the building industry now plays a larger role under the new strong-mayor form of government. All city departments, including the Development Services Department, now report to the mayor, hypothetically putting the influence over the CEQA decisions at his disposal.

Before, the mayor represented just one of the nine City Council votes.

"It seems to me that decisions are being made upon politics and the environmental review is being skewed to align with a predetermined outcome," said Coast Law Group attorney Marco Gonzalez, who represented the plaintiffs in the cases involving the downtown, Regents Road Bridge and La Jolla student center.

Gonzalez said the city is missing warning signs along the way, an indication that they could be bowing to political influence. He pointed to the Regents Road Bridge lawsuit, which challenged the environmental study of spanning Rose Canyon with a street that would connect the two ends of University City. Gonzalez said red flags were raised by Aguirre, members of the public, planning commissioners and the local planning group.

"And for whatever reason, both the mayor and the council approved this project," he said.

Frye, who has regularly voted against the mayor's determinations, said the she didn't think the city's environmental review process is any worse than before strong-mayor. She attributed the recent success of CEQA challenges to a more active opposition. "I think where the changes are coming is that the communities are becoming more organized and are better able to raise money to challenge projects," Frye said.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Parks boss steps down over secret $54 million hidden from budget makers

Obviously, we need more transparency in government. Parks boss steps down over secret funds
The state discovered $54 million hidden from budget makers
By Ashly McGlone and Matt Clark
July 20, 2012

The discovery of $54 million stashed away in the state parks department has resulted in the resignation of the agency’s director and the firing of a top assistant.

The state is launching an agencywide audit of the parks department — and is reviewing all 560 special funds in the state budget, which hold upwards of $33.4 billion.

...“I am floored,” said Rick Barclay, chairman of the Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park, a group that spent the last year gathering donations to insure that one of the most popular local state parks in the county would remain open. “If that money really was there and could have been used to keep parks open, then we will all be scratching our heads wondering, why did we go through all that.”

Some 70 parks were threatened with closure this year in anticipation of $22 million in cuts to the department’s $364 million operating budget.

In late June the parks department announced that, at least for the time being, enough money had been found to keep all 70 parks open. Those included the San Pasqual Historic Battlefield museum near the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and two large state recreation areas in Imperial County: Salton Sea and Picacho on the Colorado River.

Bill Meister, president of the nonprofit Sea and Desert Interpretive Association which has been fighting to keep the Salton Sea State Recreation Area open, said he was shocked by the news.

“An awful lot of people — employees, lovers of the park — have had a lot of sleepless nights not knowing if they were going to have jobs or if the park would close,” he said. “We’ll have to see how this all plays out, but it doesn’t look good.”

State investigators in January began looking into a secret $271,000 vacation cashout program for parks staffers. Officials tapped the department’s new deputy director of administrative services, Aaron Robertson, to examine agency finances. He is credited with finding the hidden funds.

State investigators have determined that nearly $20.4 million, or 39 percent of the money in the State Parks and Recreation Fund, was not disclosed to state budget officials. Nearly $33.5 million, or 20 percent, of the money in the parks’ Off Highway Vehicle Fund was also not reported. Both accounts subsist on revenue from park visitor fees.

The finance department and the attorney general are reviewing whether criminal activity was involved in hiding the assets. Officials said preliminary findings suggest the reporting errors date back at least 12 years.

Ruth Coleman, state parks director for the last eight years, resigned Thursday, even as she said she had no knowledge of the hidden funds.

“I have always taken the public trust to heart and honored it and I am personally appalled to learn that our documents were not accurate,” Coleman wrote in her resignation letter to the governor.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Is a marine morally obliged to remain a Republican for life?

A Newspaper Frets Over Fletcher and the GOP Brand
May 3, 2012
By Scott Lewis
Voice of San Diego

On Sunday, U-T San Diego implied in an editorial that Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher's integrity as a Marine was in question after he abandoned the Republican Party in the middle of his run for mayor. While that point seemed to get the most attention in the discussion the editorial provoked, it was the part right before that I found most intriguing (emphasis added):

And in leaving the Republican Party as he did, criticizing it as equally to blame for political dysfunction, he essentially left his colleagues behind, harming Republicans running for office. Does this demonstrate a Marine’s loyalty?

I asked U-T editorial page editor Bill Osborne, over Twitter, how Fletcher was hurting other local Republican candidates. His answer: "... the editorial was saying he damaged the GOP brand."

The paper also says he's got some questions to answer.

Fletcher has decided to hit the U-T back, saying he already answered them in an interview shortly after leaving the party.

His campaign released the audio and a transcript of a March 29 on-the-record interview he did with the editorial board. Here's a link to the transcript of it, produced by Fletcher's campaign team. And here's audio (mp3).

The conversation opens a window into the newspaper's worry about the Republican Party and a broader confusion in the community between party and principle.

As people discuss Fletcher's defection from the party, these two concepts seem to have become interchangeable. They are not.

And if we can understand them better, we might be able to understand what's going on.

Take this question from U-T editor Jeff Light to Fletcher during the interview:

I think this whole thing is interesting. Let me ask you this. I think you’ve put us sort of in a tough position. We as an editorial board do not want to see Bob Filner get through to the general election, because the environment around the general election is much more favorable to Bob Filner. So we certainly want to keep that from happening. On the other hand, some of the things you said, it was a little more than just 'hey I just want to be an independent voice.' And I think this was what Pete Wilson was reacting to. It was sort of that message that 'well, the Republican Party is bad.' How can we get behind you given that we've got a lot of Republican backing and Republican tradition? I think that puts us in a tough position.

Fletcher's response:

Well I think you’ve got to go and look at what I actually said. And what I said is that I’m rejecting the partisan environment of today. People say ‘well did you ever consider becoming a Democrat.’ I didn’t. Because I think there’s unwillingness on that side as well to step out and solve problems, whether we’re talking about pensions or managed competition or some of these other types of issues.

And the other thing is that there’s not one position of mine that’s changed. There’s not one issue that’s changed. There’s not one principle that’s changed. The only thing that’s changed is the party label. And folks that have a tremendous amount of consternation in the move, it’s more of an adherence to that label than to what I represent and what I’ve been. I’m the exact same person today as I was yesterday as I was the day before.

Many folks have struggled with this point and say things like "But he's still a Republican! His wife worked for George W. Bush!" Even Tony Krvaric, the chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, put it this way in a recent U-T story: "This is somebody who was a partisan Republican and is trying to sell himself as something different."

Actually, a partisan, with its strict definition, is exactly what he no longer is.

A party in this country is a collection of individuals and interests who organize together in order to gain power. Here, our parties are not ideologically pure.

What Fletcher was doing was not saying he was becoming more liberal or more like the Democratic Party. What he was just saying was that he was sick of working with the Republican Party and trying to please them.

And what the U-T appears to be saying, in many, many words, is that it is now partisan above other considerations. I know, it's not exactly news that the U-T prefers Republicans. But it wasn't that long ago that the paper endorsed a Democrat named Mike Aguirre for city attorney. It has endorsed others.

Fealty to the GOP would be a new litmus test for support from the paper.

Liberals who are suspicious that Fletcher has not actually become more progressive in the last two months should be. He insists time and time again, in this extraordinary discussion with the U-T, that he has not changed his positions...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Port execs eat well, fly first class: Port execs eat well, fly first class

Port execs eat well, fly first class
Amid cuts, travel budget is $713,400, up from $416,100 a year ago
Jeff McDonald
March 24, 2012

Chairman Lou Smith flies first class when he travels on port business. Last March, at a top steakhouse in Washington, D.C., he ordered a $49 roast prime rib for dinner and the Port of San Diego picked up the tab.

Commissioners Dan Malcolm, Ann Moore and Robert “Dukie” Valderrama also took first-class flights last year - to Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Costa Rica, respectively. Valderrama visited Hawaii each of the past two years.

Commissioner Bob Nelson traveled first class from San Diego to San Francisco on his way to Europe in May and switched to business class on the ensuing flights to Frankfurt, Germany and Bilbao, Spain.

Nelson, a board member of the San Diego Middle Class Taxpayers Association, billed the port more than $18,400 for the two-week trade mission to Europe, including $308 for international phone calls and text messages and $126 for laundry...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Big Water Fight and a "Secret Society"

I suspect that the people in power at Metropolitan Water District aren't doing this simply because they want their personal water bills to be lower. There must be some benefit to them that is not readily apparent.

Five Takeaways from a Big Water Fight
March 21, 2012
By Rob Davis
Voice of San Diego

...If you're a public official and you're going to call your exclusive group something secret, you'd better not do it by email.

A group of 20 water agencies that are members of Metropolitan has been meeting and discussing the County Water Authority's lawsuit and even hired a former Metropolitan general manager, Ron Gastelum, as a consultant. Their meeting agendas and many emails the authority released blandly refer to the group as the "Member Agency Managers MWD Working Group."

But in one email the County Water Authority obtained, a public works official for the city of Beverly Hills, an agency participating in the effort, calls the group "The Secret Society."

"It's what I briefed you about from the last Secret Society Meeting," the official, Chris Theisen, says in the email. "Ron Gastelum is the former [Metropolitan] CEO that the Secret Society hired as an advisor."

Metropolitan has said the meetings aren't secret. But they're not open to the public or to the County Water Authority...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Study: Statehouses at High Risk for Corruption

Study: Statehouses at High Risk for Corruption
Associated Press
March 19, 2012 (AP)

State governments lack transparency and accountability to citizens, and remain at high risk for corruption, according to a new study of all 50 statehouses.

Not a single state received an A in the State Integrity Investigation ranking, a product of the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity.

"It's telling that no state received an overall grade of A," said Caitlin Ginley, a staff writer for the Center for Public Integrity and a project manager on the study. "In every state, there's room to improve the ethics laws, the level of transparency on government proceedings, the disclosure of information, and — most importantly — the oversight of these laws.

"One of the major findings was that even when ethics laws are passed, they are difficult to enforce and lack meaningful consequences for violators."

Only five states got rankings of B, led by a surprising recipient: New Jersey. It got a B-plus, with an overall score of 87 out of a possible 100.

Despite — or perhaps because of — recent corruption scandals, New Jersey got the top ranking because of steps it took to combat corruption, including tough ethics and anti-corruption laws it adopted in response.

New Jersey has a colorful tradition of corruption in government, including a U.S. congressman taking a bribe from an FBI agent posing as a wealthy Arab sheik, a Jersey shore councilman caught on tape bragging to an undercover officer that he would never get caught because "I could smell a cop a mile away," and a decade-long string of 150 state and local officials who were either convicted or pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. The cases ranged from Motor Vehicle Commission employees selling fraudulent licenses to politicians peddling their influence for kickbacks.

Cases stemming from the 2009 roundup of 44 people in what was dubbed by the feds as "Operation Bid-Rig" are still working their way through the courts.

But that history of corruption also led to strong reforms designed to prevent it in the future. Among them was a law prohibiting campaign contributions by most firms doing business with the state.

"It's nice to be recognized for being ahead of the curve," said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted many of the recent cases. "The governor is proud of the changes he's made and the resources he's made available to the public in terms of government transparency. Government operates and behaves better when it's open and transparent, and taxpayers feel informed and a part of the process when they can see how their money is spent, who is getting contracts and who's on the payroll and such."

The report found that states with well-known scandals or histories of corruption often have the toughest laws and enforcement that bring them to light. Conversely, the report found, so-called "quiet" states may be at higher risk for corruption, with fewer means to bring corrupt practices to light.

Reporters in each state researched 330 corruption risk indicators across 14 government categories, including access to information, campaign finance, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, budgeting, civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, pension fund management, ethics enforcement, insurance commissions, and redistricting.

Rounding out the top five states were: Connecticut (B, 86), Washington state (B-minus, 83), California (B-minus, 81) and Nebraska (B-minus, 80).

Nineteen states got grades of C, and 18 got a D. Eight states got an 'F,' with grades of 59 or lower: North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.

Individual reports for all 50 states can be found at

Sunday, March 11, 2012

San Diego lawmakers received overseas trips

Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, went to the Fairmont Kea Lani resort in Maui for a week. The $2,415 junket was courtesy of the California Independent Voter Project, a San Diego nonprofit with funding from oil companies, utilities, pharmaceutical companies and a cigarette maker, according to the newspaper.

...Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, took a $10,735 Italy trip paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and Economy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit made up of oil companies, utilities and environmental groups. The trip included plant tours and meetings on energy issues, from solar power to smart meters.
Block also went on a $3,883 trip to Israel sponsored by Faith2Green, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit made up of faith-based organizations interested in environmental issues.

...Not all the trips had big budgets. Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, reported accepting a $219 gift of lodging and meals from the California Independent Petroleum Association as part of a symposium.

Report: SD lawmakers received overseas trips
Associated Press
March 11, 2012

Several San Diego County legislators received all-expenses-paid trips last year to Hawaii, Mexico, Israel and Italy _ renewing calls from critics that state gift-giving rules should be tightened.

Disclosure reports show the treks, bundled with meetings and plant tours, were sponsored by nonprofits that receive contributions from influence peddlers with a stake in legislation and the budget, according to an investigation by UT San Diego ( published Sunday.

Representatives from the corporations, utilities, labor unions and environmental groups often joined the excursions, giving them access to lawmakers, the newspaper said.

State law limits the value of gifts. But travel, if funded by a nonprofit, can be accepted as long as lawmakers participate in a meaningful way _ by giving a speech or sitting on a panel, for example.

California Common Cause, a government accountability group, says it's a loophole that should be closed. The group has lobbied for tightening gift-giving rules and providing full disclosure of who is contributing how much to the nonprofit group listed as the trip's sponsor.

"This is another way to get money into politics," Phillip Ung, policy director of California Common Cause, told UT San Diego.

The newspaper cited 10 lawmakers who reported accepting trips in 2011. Among them was Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who took a $5,866 trek to Israel to discuss homeland security and Iran. It was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Whistleblowers, Aguirre Sue Utility Watchdog

Whistleblowers, Aguirre Sue Utility Watchdog
Utility Watchdog Hounded by FBI, Whistleblowers
March 9, 2012
By Rob Davis

When the Utility Consumers' Action Network began the process of dissolving, its executive director described the effort as a ruse to elicit a lawsuit from former city attorney Mike Aguirre.

If so, it worked. Aguirre, who represents two UCAN whistleblowers, filed suit Friday, alleging that the organization's board and top leaders had breached their fiduciary duty by failing to take internal complaints about UCAN's financial management seriously. (Read the lawsuit here.)

We broke down the bulk of the complaints against UCAN when the organization filed to dissolve:

UCAN filed its intent to dissolve in San Diego Superior Court, saying in papers that it faced an "imminent threat to its ability to carry on," due in part to legal threats by members of its own staff. Still, it insisted the organization would remain viable, despite the major crisis it clearly faces.

The move comes a week after an FBI agent subpoenaed UCAN's internal records and nearly a year after two employees alleged that UCAN had embezzled money, awarded illegal bonuses, set up suspicious bank accounts and failed to properly audit its books. The organization says it has investigated those complaints and found them unsubstantiated.

What The Plaintiffs Seek: Audits of UCAN's books and all of executive director Michael Shames' payments and bonuses. Damages, restitution and attorneys fees. (No amounts were specified.) And they want declarations that UCAN's members can elect the organization's board and decide whether the group should dissolve.

Why They Sued: Aguirre explained it this way in a press release: "Every red flag for financial mismanagement and fraud has been raised as the result of internal inquiries by UCAN’s employees. But instead of investigating with a public audit as required by the organization’s charter, UCAN’s Board has met secretly with Michael Shames to conduct an orchestrated cover-up.”

What Shames Says: He said he hadn't seen the suit yet but believed it was likely rehashing allegations that UCAN had already investigated and found unsubstantiated. "I will be looking for tangible evidence, documents, something, to support their allegations and not a continuation of the insinuations we've seen thus far," he said.
One Substantiated Issue The Suit Alleges: That UCAN didn't properly audit its books in 2006 as required by state law. Shames acknowledged today that the organization should've conducted an audit that year by a certified public accountant. He said an accounting firm was in the process now of auditing its books for last year and 2006.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

California's political watchdog panel eases its approach to ethics issues

California's political watchdog panel eases its approach to ethics issues
The Fair Political Practices Commission has eased restrictions on gifts to lawmakers, called fewer open meetings and stopped notifying the public of pending investigations. Some good-government advocates are angry.
By Patrick McGreevy
Los Angeles Times
February 14, 2012

Reporting from Sacramento -- Three decades after Gov. Jerry Brown played a key role in creating a state political watchdog, the panel — now dominated by his appointees — has retreated from its aggressive approach to ethics enforcement.

As part of a top-to-bottom rewrite of regulations in the last year, the Fair Political Practices Commission has eased restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, scaled back its open meetings and stopped notifying the public of pending investigations. Its job is to enforce laws on election campaigns, lobbying and conflicts of interest involving public employees, including the governor.

Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel, whom Brown appointed in February 2011, said she was trying to make rules fair, clearer and easier to comply with and to focus on the worst offenders rather than on those who make minor mistakes. But she has outraged some good-government advocates along the way.

"I think the agenda is to basically castrate the commission," said fellow Commissioner Ronald Rotunda, a Chapman University law professor appointed by the state controller.

The panel prosecuted some big cases against politicians in the five years before Ravel took over, assessing them large fines, and tightened restrictions on the activity of public officials. Ravel, a veteran government attorney, said Brown gave her no marching orders when he appointed her.

"What we want to do is make sure that public officials use their positions for the good of the public and aren't doing it for their own self-interest," she said in an interview in her downtown Sacramento office.

The commission was born as part of the Political Reform Act, an initiative co-authored by Brown and approved by California voters in 1974 after a series of political scandals. So that no single official has undue influence over it, two members are appointed by the governor and one each by the attorney general, secretary of state and controller.

But because Brown was California's attorney general before becoming governor a year ago, he has appointed the majority of commission members. He also made the body's top attorney a political appointee rather than a civil servant, which allows the governor to replace the person who advises the commission and politicians on what's allowable.

Brown declined to be interviewed. His spokesman, Gil Duran, said the governor has no specific agenda for the commission but supports what his chairwoman is doing.

"The governor believes Ann Ravel is doing an outstanding job and operating in the best traditions of an independent agency, advancing the public trust in a practical and intelligent way," Duran said.

Brown's first appointee to the commission, in 2009 when he was attorney general, was controversial. He tapped Lynn Montgomery, who had managed the gubernatorial run of former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante six years before. The campaign paid one of the largest fines in FPPC history.

"To appoint somebody who had a history of being involved in a campaign that crossed the line in the most egregious way in ethics law violations is troubling," said Kathay Feng, president of California Common Cause.

And the governor has had a sometimes contentious relationship with the commission.

In 1981, the FPPC called for a criminal investigation into whether key aides to then-Gov. Brown had perjured themselves, destroyed some records and withheld others to thwart a probe of possibly improper political activity in the governor's office. State law bars government resources from being used for campaigns or other political purposes.

Brown denied any wrongdoing by his office, which challenged the FPPC's jurisdiction in the matter, and prosecutors filed no charges. But Brown's reelection campaign later reimbursed the state $2,000 for the use of its computers.

Brown opposed the commission in court in 1990, after voters approved Proposition 73, which placed limits on campaign contributions. Then chairman of the state Democratic Party, he was part of a lawsuit to nullify the measure, which he called "one of the most pernicious campaign laws ever enacted." His side won.

He battled the commission again in 2000, when he was mayor of Oakland and was pursuing an ambitious redevelopment program for the city. The FPPC found that Brown had a conflict of interest because the program could have affected the value of his residence. Accusing the panel of applying the law too broadly, Brown sued and won in an appeals court.

Ravel had also argued from the outside for the FPPC to ease up. As Santa Clara County counsel in 2003, she won relaxed conflict-of-interest rules for county supervisors.

One of her first acts as commission chairwoman was to rescind public notices about pending investigations. Her predecessor, Dan Schnur, a former GOP strategist who now runs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, had posted such information on the panel's website in hopes of deterring politicians from misbehaving.

Ravel argued that public airing of allegations that had not yet been substantiated violated the due-process rights of those accused.

She also canceled about half of the commission's monthly meetings, which Schnur also questioned. "It's important for the political community to know that the body responsible for its oversight is meeting on a regular basis," Schnur said.

Ravel's biggest dispute with open-government advocates has involved the overhaul of gift regulations.

State law requires officials to disclose gifts they receive and bars them from accepting gifts worth more than $10 from lobbyists. Ravel noted that the FPPC had allowed exceptions over the years if an official was dating the lobbyist or was a guest in the lobbyist's home.

The dating exemption is now written into state regulations, with a requirement that officials refrain from action on issues involving those with whom they are in a "dating relationship."

That will prevent abuse, Ravel said, without poking the government's nose into people's personal lives.

"The fact that somebody getting an engagement ring from somebody and they truly have a relationship — I don't consider that a serious problem," she said. "And I don't think that's the FPPC's issue."

Feng of California Common Cause disagreed, saying, "Potential corruption does not stop just because the relationship has entered the bedroom."

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Did SDPD supervisor Kevin Friedman undermine prosecution of cop Anthony Arevalos?

"The woman testified that Arevalos sexually assaulted her multiple times during her arrest. Friedman was at the scene that night and testified that he never saw Arevalos do anything inappropriate. The jury acquitted Arevalos of all charges related to the arrest."

New Scandal Brewed as SDPD Sergeant Testified
Feb 3, 2012
By Keegan Kyle

When San Diego police Sgt. Kevin Friedman took the stand in November, a jury got its first glimpse of the man responsible for supervising the defendant, former cop Anthony Arevalos.

Friedman was Arevalos' boss until March last year, when police arrested Arevalos and charged him with soliciting sexual bribes from seven women while on duty. Police accused Arevalos of committing 21 felonies, the jury found him guilty of eight.
The breadth and severity of the allegations, part of a larger spike in police misconduct, raised the most serious questions about internal oversight at the Police Department in the last decade. It spurred apologies from the police chief and promises to reform.

But Friedman's role supervising Arevalos — a focal point of internal scrutiny — didn't become public until the final days of Arevalos' criminal trial. Arevalos' attorneys called Friedman to testify about several traffic stops involving him and Arevalos.

Even today, as headlines reveal Friedman's own legal battles, his involvement in one of the city's biggest scandals in the last decade isn't well known. When media outlets across the city broke news last week that Friedman has been charged with fixing two traffic tickets, none mentioned Arevalos.

At the trial, Friedman's testimony played a pivotal role in reducing Arevalos' maximum prison sentence. Arevalos' attorneys pushed Friedman to poke holes in the prosecution's case and undermine the credibility of one accuser. A third of the felony charges were related to her accusations alone.

The woman testified that Arevalos sexually assaulted her multiple times during her arrest. Friedman was at the scene that night and testified that he never saw Arevalos do anything inappropriate. The jury acquitted Arevalos of all charges related to the arrest.

During its cross-examination of Friedman, the prosecution pressed him to explain any unusual behavior by Arevalos. Those questions elicited some of the most damning evidence about Arevalos' character during the entire trial.

Friedman testified that Arevalos was known to target female drivers and brag about the beauty of the women he arrested. Friedman said officers nicknamed Arevalos "the Las Colinas transport unit" because he arrested so many women.

"If someone was attractive, he would display it," Friedman testified.

The testimony provided some of the most concrete evidence that officers within the department knew Arevalos acted suspiciously but did nothing to address the behavior. Until one woman stepped forward in March last year, Arevalos continued patrolling San Diego's streets, where he arrested more women than his peers.

After the trial, Friedman went back to work at the Police Department and stayed out of public limelight until December, when his name and picture aired in a story by NBC7 San Diego.

The station broke news that Friedman was also the subject of a misconduct investigation. Police suspected he'd fixed traffic tickets for two county prosecutors last year.

Then, in January, the Attorney General's Office made the accusations official. It pressed misdemeanor charges against Friedman and one of the county prosecutors, Allison Debow.
According to the criminal complaint, a San Diego police officer issued citations to Debow and county prosecutor Amy Maund because they weren't wearing seat belts during a May 28 drive. Debow called Friedman, a close friend, and asked if there was something he could do about the tickets.
Friedman hid or destroyed the Police Department's record of the tickets, the complaint says, and then told Debow to shred her own copy. The complaint says Maund had no knowledge of the scheme until Debow told her to shred her ticket, too.
The complaint doesn't confirm how authorities learned of the incident. In December, NBC7 reported that a county prosecutor unknowingly had her ticket destroyed and later reported it to her superiors. The Attorney General's complaint only says Maund unknowingly had her ticket destroyed, not whether she reported it.
The District Attorney's Office declined to say when it began investigating the incident, but the Police Department first knew of the allegations July 8, spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said. The department pulled Friedman from patrol, assigned him to administrative duties and launched an internal investigation.
According to the Police Department's timeline, Friedman was under internal investigation throughout Arevalos' entire criminal trial. Brown said the department completed its probe Dec. 8, about a month after Friedman took the stand. In total, the department's investigation of Friedman took five months.
Though Friedman has been formally charged, he is still assigned to administrative duties and being paid. Debow is also on paid administrative leave until the case is resolved. Their next court hearing is scheduled for March 7.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Irwin Jacobs and SOHO are leading opposing plans to upgrade Balboa Park for its 1915 centennial

On Dec. 16, Superior Court Judge Judith F. Hayes, in a preliminary ruling, deemed the memorandum illegal for the time being. With final ruling pending, Jacobs declined to comment.

The Battle Over Balboa Park
By Delle Willett
San Diego Metro
January 29, 2012

Balboa Park’s plazas were originally designed like the grand plazas of Europe, accommodating pedestrians, automobiles and pigeons. Over the years, however, the park has literally been taken over by cars with nearly 7,000 vehicles driving through the plazas and promenades daily. With 12 million visitors to the park each year, conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles abound.

This problem has long been recognized, and every plan for the park in the past 60 years has had a goal to remove the cars and return the park’s core to people.

With the 2015 Centennial Celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exhibition in Balboa Park presenting the perfect opportunity, plans have been developed to make the Plaza de Panama a centerpiece for the centennial, removing approximately 54 parking spaces as well as preparing the park for the additional pedestrians and cars that it will require.

The two major plans being considered are The Plaza de Panama Circulation and Parking Project, presented by The Plaza de Panama Committee, a nonprofit entity formed by Dr. Irwin Jacobs, and the SOHO Precise Plan “Lite” that complies with the existing Balboa Park Master Plan and Central Mesa Precise Plan, represented by Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) and a coalition of over 20 groups and organizations.

The Plaza de Panama Project is a permanent plan that involves building a bypass road— the Centennial Bridge—from the Cabrillo Bridge through the Alcazar Garden parking lot and on to a new 785-space, paid-parking, underground garage south of the Spreckles Organ Pavilion, topped with a two-acre park; free accessible tram service from the parking structure to the Plaza de Panama, resurfacing the plaza with contemporary hardscape materials, and adding shade trees, benches and replicas of the original street lights. Overall, the project adds 267 parking spots in the heart of the park and provides for increased disabled parking, a safe drop-off area and valet service.

All told, the project will reclaim 6.3 acres of parks and plazas (the Plaza de Panama, West El Prado, Plaza de California and the Esplanade) for pedestrian use only from what are now roads and surface parking lots, and significantly reduce conflicts between pedestrians and cars. This plan has been vetted by CIVITAS, a landscape and planning firm. The project is estimated to cost $40 million. Approximately $25 million of this cost is for plaza and park improvements, the construction of Centennial Bridge and Road, and improvements to the Alcazar Garden parking lot. The underground parking structure is estimated to cost $15 million.


The project will be paid for by private donations raised by the Plaza de Panama Committee and a self-supporting bond. No taxpayer funds will be required. The bond will be repaid with revenue generated from parking lot charges. The revenue will also pay for operation and maintenance of the garage and free tram service. A study found that the parking structure would generate enough revenue to support a construction bond, operations and maintenance of the structure, and the operation of the free tram.

The Plaza de Panama Committee has agreed to cover all cost overruns to ensure that there is no risk to taxpayer funds. The Committee will spend over $1,000,000 on the Environmental Information Report (EIR). Leading up to the MOU meeting, Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm Inc., has already spent over $2 million on public meetings and planning.

The Plaza de Panama Project must be approved by the San Diego City Council. Leading up to the decision by the City Council, a number of other bodies must provide advisory votes on the project. These include the Balboa Park Committee, the Park and Recreation Board, the Historical Resources Board and the Planning Commission.
It is anticipated that the Draft EIR will be completed and ready for public review and comment January 2012; presented to the City Council in summer 2012; and with all approvals in place, construction started by January 2013 with a scheduled completion date of January 2015.

To date the Committee has participated in roughly 90 meetings with citizen groups, Balboa Park organizations and other stakeholders. Feedback has resulted in positive changes to the project from the first meeting, held more than a year ago. Since then, there have been countless improvements made to the project based on public feedback, and there continue to be.

Alternative Plans

On July 19 the city approved a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the Plaza de Panama Committee, which served as a contract to continue with the Plaza de Panama plan. At the same time, a number of alternatives to this proposed project are also being thoroughly studied in the EIR. The environmental review process will assess potential impacts of the proposed project and alternatives in the areas of traffic circulation, cultural and historic resources, biological resources, and a number of others. Some people believe as is, the MOU puts the city in the position to go with Jacobs’ plan and precludes them using any alternative.

In response to the memorandum, SOHO sued in San Diego Superior Court to rescind the memorandum claiming the city approved the contract illegally before the completion of a state environmental review. On Dec. 16, Superior Court Judge Judith F. Hayes, in a preliminary ruling, deemed the memorandum illegal for the time being. With final ruling pending, Jacobs declined to comment...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

California attorney general sues to stop $200 billion regional transportation plan; San Diego has seventh-worst ozone pollution

Morning Report: Attorney General Rocks San Diego Planners
January 24, 2012
By Randy Dotinga

The state attorney general has sued to stop the $200 billion regional transportation plan that makes freeways a priority, saying it doesn't do enough to get drivers out of cars.

"The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country," Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. "Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air."

The plan, drafted by a local coalition of governments, sets a blueprint for the next 40 years.

Our story provides plenty of ways for you to understand this ongoing story, including a look at how the state became skeptical of the plan in the first place, a San Diego Explained video about where the money goes, a summary of key issues and a reader's guide to the whole debate.