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Archive for February, 2009

California on the Skids

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Twenty-thousand layoff notices go out Tuesday morning

LOS ANGELES — The state of California — its deficits ballooning, its lawmakers intransigent and its governor apparently free of allies or influence — appears headed off the fiscal rails.

(Source: NY TIMES)

Mathematically, it’s really simple. If people can’t build, they don’t by property, if they don’t buy property, the don’t pay property taxes. If there are no property taxes, the economy hits the rails, basic services, including police, and fire, follow soon thereafter. 

The state, nearly out of cash, has laid off scores of workers and put hundreds more on unpaid furloughs. It has stopped paying counties and issuing income tax refunds and halted thousands of infrastructure projects.

(Source: NY TIMES

In a democracy, what happens to the least of us happens to the most of us.

SINS OF COMMISSION documents several AMERICAN stories that happen to take place in California but could happen anywhere in America… whenever people come smack up against quasijudicial regulatory agencies: Agencies or commissions that make their own rules, enforces the rules they make, and then pass judgment - usually without the hope of appeal, since you’re appealing to the same commission who sentenced you. 

When the time comes for our elected representatives to explain why the state of California, once the 5th largest economy in the world, is being flushed out to sea faster than crap into the Santa Monica Bay, they won’t admit they allowed property rights to erode. The biggest offender, along the coast at least, is the California Coastal Commission.

As California government continued its grinding downshift toward insolvency, lawmakers appeared to be settling in for an overnight stay at the Capitol as they spent a fourth afternoon searching for the last vote needed to span the state budget gap.

(Source: LA TIMES)

California is faced with a projected $42 billion deficit (CNN).

Interesting footnote. A few weeks ago, I was invited to screen SINS OF COMMISSION to an organization in the real estate sector. But as quickly as I was invited, they uninvited me because they didn’t want to be seen as anti-coastal commission - even though members of this group have been hardest hit by the double whammy of the state’s economic crash, and onerous over-regulation by the triple C that is helping to bankrupt the state.

It’s sad to watch. The Golden State — which a decade ago was the booming technology capital of the world — has been done in by two decades of chronic overspending, overregulating and a hyperprogressive tax code that exaggerates the impact on state revenues of economic boom and bust. Total state expenditures have grown to $145 billion in 2008 from $104 billion in 2003 and California now has the worst credit rating in the nation — worse even than Louisiana’s. It also has the nation’s fourth highest unemployment rate of 9.3% (after Michigan, Rhode Island and South Carolina) and the second highest home foreclosure rate (after Nevada).

Roughly 1.4 million more nonimmigrant Americans have left California than entered over the last decade, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. California is suffering more than most states from the housing bust, but its politicians also showed less spending restraint during the boom.

(Source: Wall Street Journal)

You don’t have to be a physical engineer to know once a foundation collapses, whatever is built on top goes down. That’s why Property rights is considered the “cornerstone” of democracy…. pull that away and poof - viola!

 

California Coastal Commission to allow overnight camping in Extreme Fire Hazard Zones?

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Roasting Marshmallows

Roasting Marshmallows sure is fun!

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is proposing to install new overnight campgrounds in three of this area’s most delicate canyons: Ramirez, Escondido and Corral.

These three canyons are in areas classified by the state as “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.”

(Source: WestsideToday.com, February 13, 2009)

Is anyone else alarmed or thinking, “Gee, this sounds like is a really, really bad idea?” Just so supporters of the CCC or the SMMC can roast marshmallows? Wow.

SINS OF COMMISSION provides exclusive information that delves into policies like this and discovered agencies like the California Coastal Commission actually perpetuate these wild fires because they refuse fuel modification in public land under their charge. Then when a really big, catastrophic fire blows through, they rock on their heels and whistle.

Wind's really kicking in... pass me another marshmallow!

This is not about Saving the Coast, Beach Access or people’s rights to hike on trails, the worthiness of trails or public vs. private property, Republicans v. Democrats, Liberals v. Conservatives, Left v. Right. etc.  It is about public safety - meaning all of us -plain and simple.

Are our collective memories short or what?

The Corral fire, the most destructive fire in the city of Malibu in nearly 15 years burned 4,700 acres consumed 49 homes and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents. About 1,750 firefighters, at least 45 fire engines, numerous hand crews, 23 water-dropping helicopters and two fixed-wing planes battled the blaze.

(Source LA Times November 27, 2007)

I sure hope someone, Governor Schwarzenegger, in charge of protecting public safety, Governor Schwarzenegger, is reading this blog in Sacramento, Governor Schwarzenegger, and people in Australia too.

Yes, of course, every lobbyist and politician loves eco-dollars and wants to be seen as a friend of the environment, but what will you say to a fire fighter’s widow… especially when a fire could have been prevented?

Last year’s Corral Canyon fire and the recent fire in Montecito destroyed hundreds of homes and threatened thousand of lives.  And, these fires had two things in common: They were caused by people who did not completely extinguish their fires; and the millions of dollars spent to fight the fires were paid for by the taxpayers.

(Source: WestsideToday.com, February 13, 2009)

The Malibu City Council decided that allowing camping and intensive public uses in high fire areas created too great a risk to visitors and neighbors.

That decision has been opposed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Is it any surprise our tax base is disappearing? Hey, where is everyone going? Last one out of the state, please close the door.

Can folks in Australia roast marshmallows in the middle of their hazardous flammable brush zones? If you can, please you guys… don’t.

Feeling burnt?

Help us spread the word.

SINS OF COMMISSION needs your help. We desperately need funds to finish the film. Please donate now though our fiscal sponsor, The International Documentary Association, a 501 c3 non profit organization, and receive a tax deduction from Uncle Sam or at least an I.O.U.

Memo To: California and Australia Re: Fuel Modification

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

“Driving through Victoria, it’s just like driving through coastal California. … With the same heat, the same winds and dry fuels, California always has the potential to burn like that,” 

-Kevin Olson, chief of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

Chief Olson, head of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said southeastern Australia faces some of the same fire problems because of similar climates and topography as California.

(Source: Associated Press)

While that may be so, it all boils down, or um burns down, to sensible vegetation management. As long as uber-powerful state commissions like the California Coastal Commission and governmental entities in Australia ban people from clearing brush the problem won’t go away.

So what is the problem?

It’s the fuel, stupid!

Excerpt from Chief Scott Franklin’s exclusive SINS OF COMMISSION interview.

A method to reduce flame lengths, reduce down wind spotting, and reduce emissions while meeting fuel reduction requirements, was found by crushing chaparral and allowing it to cure for several days prior to burning. Crushing and burning has proven to be a highly successful tool in managing vegetation at the urban wild land interface.

-Scott Franklin, Fire Captain and Vegetation Management Officer, County of Los Angeles Fire Department (ret)

In California, most western U.S states, and Australia, the problem is two fold: 1) influx of residents into intermediate areas we call Urban Interface Areas and government prohibition on sensible vegitation Management.

Political pressure forced the Victorian Government to curtail back burning during winter months and eliminated the clearing of buffer areas between forests on the grounds that it is harming the environment and destroying wildlife habitat. 

Basic forestry management procedures that would have limited the amount of fuel available and limited the speed at which these fires would have traveled were stopped.

(Source: Christian Science Monitor  Global News Blog)

Meanwhile, on our side of the pond-

The [California] fires, fought at a huge cost to taxpayers, failed to translate into any meaningful reforms at the state or federal level despite efforts in Sacramento and Washington.

(Source: LA Times Bettina Boxall)

 As wildfire fire fighting costs in California spiral upwards, driven by one of the worst wildfire seasons in the state’s history, our government still waffles.

‘I don’t think you can take money from suppression to do fuels treatment,’ Rey said. ‘Suppression money is what saves lives and homes, so that’s not going to be a very popular posture.’

-Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey

Popular isn’t the issue. Fuel modification is, and I for one. don’t know why everyone is dancing around the issue.  In fiscal 2008, half of the $1.4 billion that the U.S. Forest Service spent nationally on wildfire suppression was spent in California alone. State fire expenditures topped $1 billion.

Modification of fuel saves lives while suppression, although highly visible, is ruining the environment. ( see  CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 1 and 2 ) back in December’s SINS OF COMMISSION Archives.

The reason why recent fires in Australia are so bad, is the same reason last year’s firestorm almost blew down to the Pacific here in L.A - Prohibitions on brush clearance in large areas. Argueably, there are many factors to consider, but the truth is that the astonishing increase in the intensity of catastrophic wildfires cannot all be blamed on global warming.  Here’s why -

The fires, fought at a huge cost to taxpayers, failed to translate into any meaningful reforms at the state or federal level despite efforts in Sacramento and Washington.

(Source: LA Times Bettina Boxall)

Let us not let recent rains and snow covered mountains lull us into a false sense of security. Another fire season is on the way sure as shootin’. But this time there are new techniques we can implement. So why not implement them? 

Wildfire fire fighting costs in California spiral upwards, driven by one of the worst wildfire seasons in the state’s history.

Deer Lost

Deer Lost ABove Malibu - Photo Alan Simmons

Feeling burnt? 

Help us spread the word?

SINS OF COMMISSION needs your help. We desperately need funds to finish the film. Please donate now though our fiscal sponsor, The International Documentary Association, a 501 c3 non profit organization, and receive a tax deduction from Uncle Sam or at least an I.O.U.

 

California “Natural” Resources Agency - Something Smells Fishy

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Name Change Won’t Alter Resources Agency’s Dark Mission

Big Kudos to Dan Bacher at TRUTHOUT. Dan is a local activist and an editor of The Fish Sniffer, “The No. 1 newspaper in the world dedicated entirely to fishermen.)

As all things environment move centerstage, more corporations and agencies like the California Coastal Commission are going to greenwash and drape themselves in a cloak of green to enable them to commit sins of commission under the guise of sound environmental protection.

The CCC has been doing this for years.

On January 1 The Resources Agency adopted a new name, the California “Natural” Resources Agency, to give the agency a more “green” veneer. 

(Source: Truthout)

Unfortunately, nothing has changed at the agency. A press release from the agency in late December claimed that the name change was adopted to “better reflect its mission.”

“Since 1961, the Resources Agency has been responsible for the safeguarding and stewardship of California’s precious natural resources,” according to the release. “From water and wildlife management and conservation to wildland fire protection, energy, ocean and coastal policy, land stewardship, climate change adaptation, sustainable living, and the promotion of outdoor recreation, the agency oversees most all of the state’s functions designed to protect California’s natural resources.”

In July, Gov. Arnold “Fish Terminator” Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1464 (Maldonado) authorizing the Resources Agency to change its name. “The new Agency logo will remain largely the same and the change will be phased in gradually as new supplies are ordered,” the release stated. “In this way there will be little or no cost to the Agency or any of its departments, boards or commissions (The California Coastal Commission is one of them) save for any replacement costs that would normally be incurred.”

California’s Natural Resources Agency is responsible for the state’s natural resource policies, programs and activities. It has 17,000 employees and oversees 25 departments, commissions, boards and conservancies, including the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Water Resources, CALFED Bay-Delta Program, California Conservation Corps, Department of Boating and Waterways, Department of Conservation, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Department of Parks and Recreation.

(Note: Curious that the article did not mention the CCC in the line up)

However, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the Resources Agency to adopt a name that truly reflects its REAL primary mission? Based on years covering California fisheries, this mission appears to be engineering the collapse of Central Valley salmon fisheries, driving the California Delta’s pelagic fish populations to the edge of extinction, building a peripheral canal, constructing more dams, slashing funds for salmon and steelhead restoration, and instituting massive closures of public trust fisheries throughout the state’s ocean waters.

Considering all of this, wouldn’t “the Natural Destruction Agency” be a more appropriate name for the agency?

Other potential names for the agency could be

“Bureau of Corporate Greenwashing,”

“Raping of Natural Resources Agency,”

“No More Natural Resources Agency,”

“The Fish Termination Agency,” or the “Water Exports Agency.”

Readers of Dan’s articles have also suggested the “Final Legislative Usurpation of Significant Habitats, FLUSH,” and “The Death Star” as more appropriate names for this agency with such a legacy of environmental destruction behind it.

While the name of the agency has changed, pelagic (open water) fish populations of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta continue to collapse. There is nothing “natural” about this unprecedented and catastrophic species decline.

The delta smelt population has declined to its lowest level ever, according to the latest data from the DFG’s fall midwater trawl survey. The DFG studies the health of these populations by compiling an “index” - a relative measure of abundance. The index declined to 23 in fall 2008, down from the previous low level of 28 in fall 2009.

These fish populations have declined to unprecedented low population levels because of the deplorable water and fishery management policies of the California “Natural” Resources Agency under the Schwarzenegger administration, combined with extremely bad management by the federal government.

In 1976, the California Legislature enacted the California Coastal Act that established a far-reaching coastal protection program and made permanent the California Coastal Commission.  ( Source: California Natural Resources Agency.

The commission is supposed to plan and regulate development and natural resource use along the coast in partnership with local governments and in keeping with the requirements of the Coastal Act. SINS OF COMMISSION reveals the commission’s unsung other mission is to destroy chapparral, sell environmental degredation, obliterate constitutional rights, and cook the books on pollution standards. 

The crisis in Delta fisheries, or in the abundant chaparral that surrounds major California cities will not be solved by changing the agency’s name..but by cleaning house.

 

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