The Broken Promise 

It's official; California no longer offers an affordable college education. Plus, a new casino moves forward in Richmond and alleged torturer loses BART contract.

California's public colleges and universities used to be the envy of the nation. For a half-century, they provided an excellent education at an affordable price. But not any longer. The California State University system is raising student fees through the roof, and this week, the UC Board of Regents plans to increase them by a whopping 32 percent. It also plans to break its own long-standing promise of making sure that graduate programs are priced competitively.

A report from the state's Legislative Analyst put the state's education crisis in blunt terms. California's Master Plan for Higher Education, established in 1960 to ensure a quality education at a low price for qualifying state residents, is now largely a joke, according to the report. "Today, its assumptions look pretty quaint," the report's author told the San Francisco Chronicle. "There's a big disconnect between what the state's priorities are and what's actually going on."

California's severe budget crisis prompted state legislators to slash $2 billion in higher education funding this year — $800 million from the UC system, $500 million from CSU, and $700 million from community colleges. Both CSU and UC are implementing huge student fee increases as a result, and the UC regents plan to push undergraduate fees above $10,000 annually next year.

The regents also plan to boost fees for 44 graduate programs — from 7 percent to 65 percent. The increase represents a direct violation of UC's own policy that grad programs not exceed the average cost of similar programs nationwide. But instead of doing anything about the violation, the regents simply plan to revise the policy next year.

Giant New Richmond Casino

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors gave the green light to a massive new Indian casino at Point Molate in Richmond, according to the Contra Costa Times. However, the casino, which is being pushed by a Berkeley developer in partnership with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, must still win approval from the US secretary of interior and the Richmond City Council. Several prominent politicians, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, oppose it.

The casino resort would include thousands of slot machines, two hotels, a conference center, and 300,000 square feet of retail. Environmental groups also oppose the plans because they would prefer to see Point Molate turned into waterfront parkland. Unions, by contrast, support it because it will create jobs. A majority of the city council apparently backs the plan because the cash-strapped city stands to receive $20 million a year.

Alleged Torturer Loses BART Pact

Nedir Bey, the black Muslim bakery associate who allegedly tortured a man and then scored a $1.1 million loan from the City of Oakland, lost a $750,000 BART station lighting contract last week when he failed to turn in the paperwork, according to the Oakland Tribune and the SF Weekly. In addition, Bey's failure to comply with the contract means that BART may lose state funding for the project at the North Berkeley BART station.

Brown's Mini Scandal

State Attorney General Jerry Brown halted an internal investigation into the illegal taping of journalists' phone calls by his now former spokesman, according to the Los Angeles Times. Brown's investigation concluded that ex-spokesman Scott Gerber taped at least six phone calls by reporters after being told not to do it. Brown also said that Gerber even taped his conversations without his knowledge.

Brown's office concluded that although state law prohibits recording people without their consent, Gerber didn't break the law because reporters should have no expectation of privacy. But then, earlier this week, Brown changed course and asked Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley to investigate the matter after he was criticized by several newspapers.

Yelp Stories Win Award

East Bay Express Managing Editor Kathleen Wentz won the award for best investigative journalism in the print, non-daily category from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for 2008-2009. Wentz won for her story "Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0" (2/18/2009), which detailed shady practices by the popular online review site Yelp.com and resulted in the company changing some of its policies.

Three-Dot Roundup

The City of Oakland has decided to crack down on parking ticket scofflaws, becoming the first city in the state to employ the "Smart Boot." ... Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts ordered a cop to return to duty even though he allegedly played a role in the death of a suspect and is being investigated by the FBI. Lawyers for the victim's family don't object as long as Captain Ed Paulson doesn't go back to his job as head of internal affairs. ... The City of Berkeley banned cat declawing, following the City of San Francisco's decision to bar the practice. ... The California Highway Patrol began issuing speeding tickets en masse on the Bay Bridge following last week's fatal truck crash. ... The state could lose billions of dollars in federal funds because of its decision to slash its Census outreach program. ... The statewide $11 billion water package contains $2 billion in pork spending, much of which has nothing to do with California's water problems. ... And the governor complied with a federal court order and submitted a proposal to cut the state's prison population by 40,000.

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