Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2014 - 11:09 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 - 1:41 pm

Aug. 19

Chico Enterprise-Record: Chico police's alarm response policy needs more debate

Usually we don't want to see an elected city council get involved in micromanaging the day-to-day operations of a city government. But if the quagmire of the past few years in Chico has taught us anything, it's that sometimes the well-paid staff needs a little oversight. Or a lot of oversight.

Two months ago, the Chico Police Department stopped responding to automated burglar alarms. This resulted in two immediate outcomes. First, business owners with alarms were incensed. Second, the town's criminals sensed an opportunity.

The police chief and city manager don't need council approval on operational policies, so it was never discussed by the elected officials. But the topic came up at a subsequent City Council meeting. The council decided its Internal Affairs Committee should debate the issue, and the Chico Chamber of Commerce volunteered to produce a report and recommendations.

The Internal Affairs Committee heard that report, made some changes and asked that a new alarm ordinance be approved by the full council next month. It would mean police would respond to burglar alarms again, but alarm companies would be fined for each false alarm.

It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than the current policy.

That policy was crafted with no public discussion. One day, alarm companies got letters from the Police Department notifying them that, in an effort to save money, Chico police wouldn't respond to automated alarms unless a live person could verify it was indeed an emergency.

Eliminate the 3,000 false alarms each year — that's almost 10 a day — and the 20 to 30 minutes that two officers had to spend with each one, and that added up to the workload of more than one full-time officer.

When the police announced they wouldn't be responding anymore to automated alarms, criminals likely noticed. A smash-and-grab at a jewelry store early one morning seemed like that kind of crime. So did another one at the Sin of Cortez restaurant Tuesday.

In the latter incident, an automated alarm went off at 4:22 a.m. The alarm company called the business owner, knowing police wouldn't respond. The business owner called police at 4:29 and told police her business wasn't prone to false alarms, and that she would be heading to her business alone. She arrived there at 4:36, 14 minutes after the alarm went off. The first officer arrived at 4:40.

They discovered that a person or people shattered the glass front door, took a blowtorch inside and tried to cut into an ATM machine. They knew they had a few minutes before anybody arrived. They couldn't break into the machine, but the damage done to the business was considerable.

Police arrested two people in connection with that robbery a few hours later, but a reasonable person would wonder if the thieves were emboldened by the no-response policy.

The three councilors on the Internal Affairs Committee recommend that police start responding to alarms again, but that alarm companies should be fined for each false alarm. The fine would be $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second, and $300 for all subsequent offenses.

The alarm companies will likely pass along those fines to the customer, but at least it will make business owners and employees more careful about tripping the alarm system.

We are concerned, however, that this new fine for false alarms may spread to the Chico Fire Department, which also responds to its fair share of false alarms. The council should carefully consider the ripple effect if it approves fines for false burglar alarms.

This much is clear, however: Something must change. Asking business owners to defend their own properties is a tragedy waiting to happen.

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Aug. 19

Contra Costa Times: Assembly must put corruption bill on ballot

California voters hoping to use the November ballot box to express disgust about corruption in the state Legislature won't get the chance to do so this year because of a missed deadline by — you guessed it — the Legislature.

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had pushed a bill that would have placed a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot to ask whether voters want to continue paying the salary and benefits of legislators who are suspended by their colleagues for inappropriate or illegal behavior.

We'll go out on a limb here and speculate that they do not.

Steinberg had pushed the bill through the Senate rather easily last May, but the Assembly, somehow, couldn't manage to find the time to get to it before the deadline to place items on the November ballot had passed. To paraphrase Gov. Jerry Brown's famous remark, well, you know, stuff happens. Or doesn't, in this case

To be fair, the issue is of much greater moment in the Senate. Last March, the Senate took the unprecedented step of suspending Sens. Rod Wright, Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, all of whom had been charged with crimes.

In fact, Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, had already been found guilty by a Los Angeles jury of perjury and voter fraud and was awaiting final determination.

Calderon, D-Montebello, and Yee, D-San Francisco, both face federal bribery charges that stemmed from separate FBI sting operations. The charges against Calderon detail a fairly run-of-the-mill political bribery case. But the ones against Yee were really quite spectacular, alleging that he was involved neck deep in an illegal gunrunning operation through shady contacts in the Philippines.

Steinberg knew that the public was furious about the apparent corruption, so he and his colleagues voted to suspend all three members. In doing so, however, it was discovered that there was no provision in the state constitution that allows revocation of the senators' salaries and benefits.

Again, the public outrage and condemnation was swift and loud.

As a small gesture designed to begin repairing the Senate's broken image, Steinberg carried the constitutional amendment himself. But his colleagues in the Assembly rebuffed him by not acting on the bill.

Steinberg has asked the Assembly to consider the bill anyway before the fast-approaching end of this year's session. His spokesman says that he wants it passed so that the amendment can make it on to the 2016 ballot.

It is a smart move because Steinberg is termed out and will be leaving the Senate at the end of this session. If it isn't passed this year, we doubt seriously it ever will be.

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Aug. 19

The Fresno Bee: Bill offers modest proposal to reduce suicides

It's difficult to know if comedian Robin Williams' death last week had any effect on Assemblyman Marc Levine's push to require health-care providers to have specific training on suicide prevention.

The bill received surprising bipartisan support in the Senate last week, where it passed with only one "no" vote.

We'd like to think that Williams' suicide had something to do with bringing together both sides on this legislation — it would mean at least one good thing came out of such a sad occasion.

AB 2198 is a modest proposal: It requires psychologists, marriage and family counselors and social workers in California to take a one-time, six-hour course on suicide prevention as part of their 36-hour continuing education requirement to renew their professional licenses.

It also requires that 15 hours of the roughly 3,200 hours of course work required for these professionals to obtain a degree are dedicated to suicide prevention training. These hours are based on recommendations from the California Department of Health, according to Levine.

Seems reasonable to us.

Not so to the associations of social workers, counselors and psychologists. They object to the bill on behalf of their members on two main grounds.

First, that suicide prevention is intrinsic to their core training in treating mental illness. While there's not a specific unit of study on suicide prevention required, it's woven into their overall university course work and part of the testing for licensure. Additional training might be redundant. Also, it could take away from specialty-specific continuing education that might benefit a mental health professional more directly.

Second and perhaps more compelling: They don't think the Legislature should be dictating their professional standards.

Generally, we would agree. The Legislature often meddles in things in which it has a political agenda but little expertise.

This is not one of those cases, however.

Levine, a San Rafael Democrat, was moved to carry this bill because of the disturbing uptick in suicide in the United States.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which is supporting the bill, suicide increased by 31 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nearly 4,000 Californians take their lives each year, and more than 48,000 attempt to do so.

Suicide has a tremendous societal cost, and stopping it ought to be a priority of every health-care provider, even if it might be a tad redundant for some.

The bill is supported by a host of organizations concerned with suicide prevention — the California Mental Health Directors Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are just two examples — whose only motivation is to save lives.

There's a good chance Gov. Jerry Brown will veto the bill based on his treatment of a similar one by former Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, in 2011. In that bill, Kehoe suggested that licensed health-care professionals such as doctors and nurses should take a continuing education course to learn how to care for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

"I believe that respective licensing boards are better suited than the Legislature or the governor to decide these matters," Brown wrote in his veto message.

In most cases, he would be correct. But sometimes, especially when it might prevent death, boards need a push in the right direction.

This is one of those times.

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Aug. 13

The Bakersfield Californian: SISC's final move was its only good one

Self-Insured Schools of California, the insurance company that represents the Kern High School District, has finally decided to drop its appeal of a $1.5 million award given to the family of an autistic girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted by another student in a high school bathroom four years ago.

However, this mess is far from cleaned up.

Education officials in Kern County must demand changes from SISC. And consequences for some of those who were involved.

The KHSD Board of Trustees, the Kern County Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools Christine Lizardi Frazier must toe that line. They must press for swift changes at SISC or take action to end the KHSD's relationship with the company altogether.

SISC bungled its investigation into the incident, which truth be told might never have happened had a few KHSD employees done a better job handling the situation on that day back in 2009. The Three Stooges-style investigation that followed might have played out differently if school personnel had followed a sound and responsible protocol in reporting the assault.

"This is a time to clean house and take the necessary steps to protect our students and the taxpayers," KHSD board president Chad Vegas said during a county Board of Education last week, one day before SISC dropped its appeal. Vegas is right, but action and pressure must now follow that sentiment. SISC's measures can't go unaddressed.

Attorneys for SISC argued in court that the girl's disability prevented her from suffering mental anguish as a result of the 2009 bathroom incident. In trying to make their point, SISC investigators secretly followed the girl around with a hidden video camera — four years after the alleged assault. Did SISC officials really hope to glean any credible, meaningful evidence from this dehumanizing tactic? If so, it's downright baffling.

If SISC is retained, the company needs to send a strong and immediate signal to the KHSD and the community that it is better than recent events have portrayed. It needs to jettison or retrain the employees who were responsible for the despicable, secret video recording of the autistic girl — someone stalked her through a Bakersfield Wal-Mart with a makeshift shopping cart-cam — starting with attorney Leonard Herr.

Above all, communication between SISC and local education officials must improve. There is no defense for KHSD board members reportedly being in the dark about a $225,000 settlement offer proposed by Kern County Superior Court Judge Charles Brehmer in March.

The insurance company should inform the board of such details, even the minute ones. And the board should be asking for them. Trust the staff, sure, but verify; and retire any remnant of a rubber-stamp policy once and for all.

With many schools opening their doors, the KHSD must convince parents that students are being protected and that local campuses are safe. Nothing — not $1.5 million, $225,000 or any dollar amount — should distract the county's school boards and superintendent from that truth. The onus is on them to better protect students, especially those with disabilities.

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Aug. 20

Imperial Valley Press: In Imperial County, how far has the housing market come?

No one would describe the housing market in Imperial County as shaky, but it's not all lined with gold, either. As the housing market throughout the state rebounds, so does Imperial County's, with values and demand making a march toward pre-mortgage crisis levels.

The values of homes in Imperial County are increasing, there has been new construction on a more paced and slower level over the last few years and buyers are coming out to reinvest after many lost their homes.

What's more, it appears banks are slowly beginning to release more funding and relaxing some of the tight-fisted lending practices the industry adopted in the wake of the crash. Lending won't be lax like it was before, but it does need some slack today.

What that means in Imperial County, though, is there are more buyers than inventory. When the bottom came out of the local market, the men, women and investors with ample borrowing and buying power scooped up the foreclosures by the hundreds, turning out rental units that have glutted the market but left little in the way of existing homes for sale. Today that has made demand outpace supply.

Real estate agents and mortgage lenders locally will tell you that the bidding wars often seen before the home-building bonanza of the early 2000s are back, as 10 or more buyers enter into the fray to purchase one home, driving up the prices.

It's a difficult situation for many people in the Valley. What looks good on paper does not look so good for buyers in many cases, and especially those who still dream of purchasing their first homes.

To some extent, the middle income disparity dragging down the double-digit growth of the housing market throughout the state is having an effect here. There is a straw man at work in California, as the jobs that can sustain single-home sales, in Imperial County included, leave the state or go away entirely at a more pronounced pace.

Still, there is the potential that all the factors that can lead to a strong and sustainable return for the housing market can be achieved, but it won't happen overnight. That is important to remember as we see numbers that rise faster than the foundation to support them. It's a backward game or building the cart before the horse, but it's not one that is unwinnable.

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Aug. 14

Long Beach Press-Telegram: Parsing the language of campus sexual assault

Are the "yes means yes" regulations for campus sex being considered by the California Legislature yet another intrusion by a nanny-state government into the bedroom?

That's certainly the easy answer for critics of this effort to combat sexual assaults on women at California's colleges and universities. And, being so easy, it's the nonsense being spouted by many.

Because, when you look at the problem in actual search of a solution rather than a chance to use an often-apt libertarian cliché, the fact is that "yes means yes" makes a lot more sense than "no means no."

The reason comes out of a truth that both feminist and macho commentators on the situation agree on: Campus sexual activity that results in charges of assault almost always involves alcohol. And when you're too drunk to make sense, you're certainly too drunk to say much of anything at all, including "no."

SB 967, a bill to require California colleges to have such an "affirmative consent standard," co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, passed the state Senate in May and is in committee in the Assembly, where we hope it is approved and sent to the governor's desk.

It's the next step toward dealing with an assault problem that for generations has been ignored on America's college campuses for the same reason that date rape was ignored, or at least not talked about in polite company: Women had been conned into silence and passivity by a society that didn't want to talk about sex.

That problem is in the past — sometimes to society's detriment. In the days of "Ozzie and Harriet," at least you didn't feel the need to jump in the shower after turning on daytime TV.

But since we can now talk about sex openly, let's use the positive aspects of the change to cure what is clearly still a big problem. USC and Occidental, for instance, are on a list of 55 colleges nationwide being investigated by the federal government for allegedly under-reporting and otherwise mishandling cases of sexual assault. Not that it's a Southern California phenomenon: UC Berkeley, Harvard and Princeton are on the same list.

UC President Janet Napolitano acknowledged recently on KCRW's "Press Play" that college administrators are simply unequipped to play, along with all their other roles, prosecutor and judge in sexual-assault cases. That's clear from what too often happens: Acknowledged assaulters put back on campus with victims after some slap on the wrist.

Knowledge is power, as ever, and what was not talked about is finally being dealt with. It will take time for the change in which this form of rape is called out for what it is. A White House task force, citing statistics indicating one in five American women college students are sexually assaulted during their time on campus, established a website, notalone.gov, offering resources to victims. California's bill and steps like these may lead to societal changes that give the lie to the notion that raping an incoherent girl is manly. "Yes," as Molly Bloom made clear in "Ulysses," can be the sexiest word.


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