Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Legislative leaders reached a historic deal last week on California water policy and the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. But the compromise, mostly hammered out during a series of closed-door meetings, contains some major flaws and inequities that prompted most Bay Area lawmakers to oppose the legislation.
Local legislators are concerned about the accompanying $11.1 billion bond package that must be approved by voters next November. The cash-strapped state will be forced to come up with at least $600 million a year to pay off the bonds, and those payments will siphon funds from education, state parks, and health care. In addition, some environmental groups are vowing to fight the deal because it paves the way for a peripheral canal that they say could decimate the collapsing delta fisheries. East Bay MUD officials, meanwhile, oppose the compromise because they fear it could force the agency to give away some of its treasured Mokelumne River water, which feeds into the delta.
But perhaps the biggest concern about the legislation is that it represents a huge giveaway to California agriculture, in particular, to agribusinesses that grow water-intensive crops in the dry southern and southwestern San Joaquin Valley. The deal contains no water-conservation requirements for agriculture — even though it consumes 80 percent of California's water. Instead, the legislation forces state residents to conserve up to 20 percent more water — even in cities like Berkeley and Oakland where people use relatively little water. The giant giveaway to agriculture is particularly troubling considering the state's unfortunate history of subsidizing water-intensive crops despite their lack of importance to California's overall economy. Forcing agriculture to conserve water, or at least pay the true cost of using it, also would eliminate the need to build the costly dams included in the legislative package.
The bonds do include one important provision — fixing fragile delta levies. The levies have been crumbling for years and will likely collapse in a major earthquake. However, strong opposition to the water deal could doom the levy repair. In an editorial last week, the San Jose Mercury News suggested that the fix is important enough to put before voters on its own.
Los Angeles or San Diego
The question of whether ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle will ever be convicted of murdering Oscar Grant may come down to whether the case is moved to Los Angeles or San Diego counties. According to the Oakland Tribune, state officials have recommended those two locales to Alameda County Judge Morris Jacobson, who is expected to make his decision on where to move the trial on November 19. Jacobson had previously ruled that Mehserle can't get a fair trial in the East Bay because of extensive media coverage.
Of the two counties, LA more closely resembles Alameda County, both in terms of demographics and attitudes toward police. By contrast, San Diego County is far more conservative and thus more likely to be sympathetic to Mehserle. Not surprisingly, Grant's family wants the case to be in Los Angeles, while it's a safe bet that Mehserle's defense team will lobby hard for San Diego.
The stakes are high because the makeup of the jury will likely have a significant impact on the outcome of the case. This is not some whodunit. The fatal shooting was captured on videotape and so the question of whether Mehserle mistakenly killed Grant, as he contends, or murdered him in a fit of rage will likely come down to the jurors' attitudes toward cops and black suspects.
Pot Arrests Pile Up
As some states move toward marijuana legalization, law enforcement authorities have been cracking down heavily on pot and targeting African Americans. According to a new report by Virginia researcher Jon Gettman, marijuana arrests have doubled nationwide since 1991 even though pot use has remained about the same. In addition, the report states that blacks are 270 percent more likely to be arrested on pot charges than whites, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Overall marijuana arrests also have increased at a faster rate in California than they have nationwide, despite generally liberal views on cannabis in the Golden State.
A big-rig driver was killed early Monday after his truck overturned and plunged off the Bay Bridge while negotiating the hazardous S-curve on the upper deck. It was the 42nd accident since the S-curve was installed over Labor Day weekend. ... The nation's true jobless rate, which also includes part-time workers and those who have stopped looking for work, reached 17.5 percent last month. ... GOP Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina is being opposed by some national conservatives because she's too moderate. ... A Yelp review turned violent when an aggrieved San Francisco business owner confronted her online critic. ... Jaycee Dugard showed signs of Stockholm syndrome when she strongly defended her captor, Philip Craig Garrido, when authorities first questioned her. Garrido of Antioch had kidnapped her eighteen years ago and kept her in his backyard. ... Schwarzenegger will appoint a new lieutenant governor now that John Garamendi is the East Bay's newest congressman. ... The City of Berkeley hired new police Chief Michael Meehan, a longtime captain in the Seattle Police Department. ... The Oakland City Council is now facing a new $19 million budget shortfall due primarily to shrinking tax revenues from the recession. ... Developer SunCal's controversial housing project will go before Alameda voters in February. ... And Chevron deserves credit for donating 1.6 miles of land along the Richmond waterfront for the Bay Trail.
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