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The Politics of Fire

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Time to fight a fire is before the fire is raging out of control

Fires in Los Angeles have grown to the size of Washington, D.C

“We are very fortunate that we have the best and the most aggressive, best trained, most courageous firefighters in the world and that’s why we are able to push back very heavily.”

- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

We are all proud of our firefighters. These men are all heroes. But why put them in harms way if we don’t have to? And we don’t- yet we do…why?

It’s a Turf War.

We are fighting more massive fires that ever because of a meltdown of responsibility between the State Fire Marshall, the only one responsible to protect human lives and property under the California Constitution, and resource agencies like the California Coastal Commission, the focus of SINS OF COMMISSION.

By failing to permit the clearance of ESHA in large unbroken swaths, the California Coastal Commission, and other agencies have jeopardized the very resources they are supposed to protect.

Deer Lost

People, wildlife, the environment of California - and the world are all victims of California political in-fighting. No one…certainly not the environment… and definitely not the people benefits.

The other point that invites contemplation is, Fire fighting is big business - probably one of our state’s biggest industries - and perhaps the biggest non tax and fine business in the Golden State.

Fire fighting makes  great photo ops, is big news, and gets lots of federal emergency money.

Trimming a bunch of ESHA does none of that .

Fire: Does ends justifies means?

Fire, is also a deadly political weapon. People don’t always get to rebuild their homes, and if a particular agency or commission desires to reduce population density….it can now use its permitting process to do so and deny people the right to rebuild… Santa Cruz, for instance.

It is high time the Secretary of the Interior steps to clean California’s house - since its obvious California can’t or won’t because of self-interest and completion for funds between agencies.

The state has spent $106.5 million of its $182 million emergency firefighting fund — just two months into the fiscal year

-Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer

California Here I Come - What would they sing now?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

California was a much different place when Lucy, Ricky Ethel and Fred sang this rousing rendition of California Here I Come on the I Love Lucy Show, episode 110, season 4, original air date 1/10/1955 (Thanks IMDB)

“What would they sing now?” Dunno, but Let’s see what our Governor is singing:

“just three months after our February budget, we once again face a $24 billion deficit. California’s day of reckoning is here.

We have no time to waste. The controller has told us that we have 14 days to act or California is at risk of running out of cash. I’ve already used my executive authority to reduce the state payroll and I’ve proposed the necessary cuts to the three largest areas of our budget, which is education, health care and prisons.

Wait just a gosh durned second….

SAVE EDUCATION!!!

If we don’t teach our kids to be smart and to do math, we’ll never get out of this mess… And if some of the members of  the state’s legislature went to school in California please - get them off the budget committee!

Wonder how much of the budget is wasted year after year fighting fires that wouldn’t have to be fought if crews went out into the dense brush with weed-wackers? Firefighting cost were around  $8 billion bucks last year.  Multiply firefighting costs over the last 10 years, and it doesn’t take a 6th grader to see why we’re going down.

What about all that money the state lost because of Open Space? Once you take land off the tax rolls you say buh-bye to property taxes?  Open space pays no taxes.

We must also restructure the relationship between state and local government. We all hear from the local officials about the heavy hand of Sacramento.

On the coast of California its more like a heavy boot.

I’m also proposing once again to eliminate and consolidate more than a dozen state departments, boards and commissions. These include the Waste Management Board, the Court Reporters Board, the Department of Boating and Waterways and the Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee and so on.

Hmmm - nothing about California Coastal Commission.

I’m also proposing to sell off state property, because Sacramento should not be in the real estate business, especially when we are in a fiscal crisis like this.

Ding, ding, ding! Wait a second gov. You forget! You are in the real estate business… that’s why organizations like the CCC exist and conservancies like Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy exist….so  you take, I mean get, free land to sell for profit.

Sounds kinda rotten to me. Why not give back all the land you’ve taken,not you per se, but state organizations have taken on your behalf, and give it back to the people you took it from?  At least then people can pay taxes on it …if they still have jobs..

Let’s meet those challenges head-on without gimmicks. I don’t want to hand these problems to the next Governor and I know that you don’t want to hand them to the next Legislature.

Isn’t that what you would call a gimmick?

So I have faith in all of you. I have faith in our ability to once again come together for the good of our state.

You mean… put the state first? Instead of self-interest? Gee, can that be done?

So I say let’s move forward and put California back on the path to prosperity.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

Source: Governor’s Press Office

One sure path to prosperity is to give the farmers back their land you took for open space so they can grow the food the people need. The other sure path is to manage the brush, I mean: fuel load, so we don’t get any more huge fires like Santa Barbara that we can’t pay for anyway.

Sounds to me like: California, say buh-bye.

Of Mice and Men

Monday, March 16th, 2009


I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads . . . every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ‘em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’.

I read plenty of books out here.

Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.

 

 

- John Steinbek, “Of Mice and Men”

 

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger started a campaign last Thursday to drum up voter support for a series of budget-related propositions he wants to pass in May.

Schwarzenegger also threw his support behind efforts to hold a constitutional convention, an idea which is showing some signs of support around California. The Bay Area Council, a business-backed policy group headquartered in San Francisco, is spearheading efforts to hold a convention to redo parts of the state’s basic framework.

“I think eventually the state of California needs to look at a constitutional convention,” Schwarzenegger said during a question-and-answer session following his speech. “There’s things that ought to be looked at and debated.”

The governor did not specify which areas of the state constitution were most in need of change.

(Source: San Francisco Business Times)

Don’t know about you, but I get very concerned when any govenor decides he “needs to look at a constitutional convention,” especially when a self-interest group of any stripe is leading the charge… because you know who gets clobbered in the end - WE do!

Tinkering is what you do with a clock or a motor….a radio, guitar, maybe even a computer - not a constitution!  

But I do agree with the govenor’s observation - something is rotten in the state of California.

Michael Chrichton, of Jurassic Park fame, gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2003 - the same place the govenor gave his last week.

Mr. Chrichton brought up many worthy points then, that ring true for our time.

We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems.

-Michael Crichton 

We don’t have to tinker with anything constitutional in order to take a good hard look at what is working - and what is not.  It’s kinda easy given this last budget fiasco…I don’t think there’s a whole lot of things working in the State of California.

Amendments aren’t necessary to get the Coastal Commission to work better.  For the last 30 years, the Triple-C has been the state’s poster boy for unfettered government run amok. We need to stop that. This is no time for anything in California to be running amok.

Could Peter Douglas, Executive-Director-for-life of the California Coastal Commission be using the commission to advance his personal agenda or is he just the towel-boy for some very wealthy people and some powerful corporations…yes, wealthy people and powerful corporations. (501 c3 Non-profits are corporations.) 

Whose agenda is Pete and the boys really advancing under the guise of environmental protection? Non-for-profit and for profit corporations might be dropping millions of dollars on the Triple C and we’d never know who they are because it is a secret.  They don’t have to tell. By law. California law.

The same law that allows the commission to initiate an appeal of a coastal development permit with the action of any two members of the commission. California State Sen. Denise Ducheny, of San Diego, introduced Senate Bill 1295 Februray 19, 2008 to try and restore fairness to the commission.

It just doesn’t seem right that the people who make the appeal also decide the appeal,”

-Sen. Denise Ducheny

(Source:  North County Times, March 13, 2008)

Predictably, SB 1295 was defeated.

How come the names of all individuals and corporations who contribute to the CCC are not public information?  I’d sure like to know who is pulling their strings, and the public ought to know too. Everyone who makes a contribution for federal political means are reported on the web. Why not here too? 

OK, mistakes happen. BUT, let’s look real carefully at the money flow into the commission and the data that comes out.  The commission uses this data, however it wants to and for whatever purpose it dreams up - and refuses to acknowledge anything contrary to its’ own findings. 

If the data is manipulated who whould know? And what ever they present in court…the courts back them up…so truthful and accurate data is critical for all parties, not just to be used as a means to an end.

 

Where does the data come from? Their own sources - or - Independent, outside experts? Where is the oath that accompanies the data that they submit that says the information is deemed correct under penalty of perjury?  Those three words alone are gonna clean up some stuff PDQ because now the so-called experts will be legally bound to tell the truth. 

And, while we’re on the subject of truth, who protects the people from the meglo-maniacal commission? No, not the A.G. The Attorney General is too busy covering the CCC’s butt. Who is watching out for Jane & John Q. Public to be sure their rights are protected?

I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to the environment.  

-Michael Crichton 

How much of the state’s budget does the CCC spend on lawsuits in a year?  In a decade? Over 3 decades?

I bet that number equals the cost of one if not more of these super-duper-tankers we (the people)  lease each year to drop tons of retardant on flaming brush as a result of the coastal commission’s (and other agencies) prohibition from allowing modification of the vegetation?

Once it dawns on folks that if we modify the vegetation, fires won’t be as gigantic, do you think they’ll be pissed?

How many billions did last years fire’s cost? What % of budget was that? I’m not saying get a lawnmower - but I am suggesting we need to do something - RIGHT NOW!

In 90 to 120 days from right now fire season starts.

What new techniques are in place since the last round of catastrophic fires, that cost the state billions of dollars, and helped drive us into the financial toilet?    

Speaking of toilets… 

I heard there is a movement in the Santa Monica Mountains to allow overnight camping in a zone the fire department calls “extremely hazardous”.  Bad idea, no?

I thought we are trying to prevent fires…not start them. They have a lot of money behind them…they’ll probably get their way. Burn the people out who live there, huh?

While we’re doing our fact-finding, let’s not miss an opportunity to look at the California Conservancy and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The reason I ask is back in 2004, there was a big brouhaha…do you remember?

The Office of State Audits and Evaluations, which examined the conservancy’s spending through June 2003, accused the conservancy of applying $4.2 million in bond money toward planning, education and facilities renovations instead of using it for parkland purchases. The conservancy charged for operating expenses such as phones, cellular phones, Internet service, access pagers, postage, conferences, vehicle costs and other items as direct grant expenses); and using more than $1 million in bond money to pay for legal fees. The audit questioned possible double billing as well.

According to a written response to the audit from Michael Berger, chairman of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the conservancy’s land-management arm, “(The MRCA governing board) recognizes that constant improvement is essential to being an effective and responsive instrument for the people we serve.

(Source: The Acorn)

How they doing? Any better?

We honestly appreciate the efforts of the Office of State Audits and Evaluations, and where they have been constructive in their criticisms, such recommendations have—in conjunction with our own internal review—led to the changes in organizational structure and procedures.

(Source: The Acorn)

Honestly appreciate?  The state audit also criticized the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for its relationship with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority…. That was no compliment.

How is that going?

There’s the appearance that the conservancy is, in effect, awarding grants to itself, and that the authority’s project managers are monitoring themselves.

(Source: The Acorn)

Perhaps, at the same time we can also look into why previous attempts to restore balance into the CCC have fallen flat? I don’t bet, but if I did, I’d say that it probably has something to do with PAC money.

Why, why, why? So many whys.

In his later years, Mr. Crichton turned his attention towards public policy and became extremely skeptical of archly ideological environmentalism. In the speech he delivered at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club in 2003, he argued that environmentalism is essentially a religion, a belief system based on faith, not fact. (Check out his site: http://www.crichton-official.com/speech-environmentalismaseligion.html)

Is the environmental debate today, including global warming, and other issues, based on science or politics?  Are government policies wasting limited resources, crippling human rights and addressing true dangers - or inviting tyranny?

“The lawyers made a very strong point,” [Joe] Edmiston said, and you don’t need a lawyer to point this out—we don’t wake up in the morning, throw a dart at the map of the Santa Monica Mountains and say, ‘Okay, where the dart landed, that’s the property that we’re going to try and acquire.’ There’s a full planning process that goes into that.” 

(Source: The Acorn)

Planning, I bet there is…. 

 

SINS OF COMMISSION IGNITES AT NATPE

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

NAPTE 2009 - Exhibition Floor Opens is  Las Vegas

NATPE 2009 - Exhibition Floor Opens - Las Vegas

3 1/2 years after Peggy called me to document a California Coastal Commission inspection; SINS OF COMMISSION debuted at the 2009 NATPE CONVENTION (National Association of Television Program Executives), in LAS VEGAS.

Even though SINS OF COMMISSION is not finished, we had no choice but to present it to the global film and television distribution community. 

Time is running out for California.

NAPTE 2009

NATPE 2009 Opening coincides with Chinese New Year

One question each distributor inevitably asks is why a film dealing with a local “California” issue has global importance. It’s a darn good question. Here’s my response -

ERIN BROKAVITCH was a film about a powerful utility company called P G & E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) and took place in the sleepy southern California town of Hinkley. Who ever heard of Hinkley?

SILKWOOD was about a local small and previously unknown company, Kerr-McGee. The story took place in a Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma. Does anyone know where Crescent is? 

Everyone knows where the California is.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas….but what happens in California effects the world.

-Richard Oshen, Writer, Director, Producer

NAPTE 2009 IDA Booth

NATPE 2009 IDA Booth

The events revealed in ERIN BROKAVITCH and SILKWOOD entered our national debate and shaped policy.

Although the corruption each film exposed occurred in a local context… it occurs in every state in our nation and universally.

Each film’s specific event is a template anyone living anywhere in the world can identify with.

Same with SINS OF COMMISSION.

Corruption is universally understood.

California Wild Fires from Space

California Wild Fires from Space

The dialog SINS OF COMMISSION ignites, will shape California state environmental policy and will also have a profound effect domestically and internationally for several reasons:

1) quasijudicial regulatory agencies operate in every state in our country and occur internationally 

2) land use is an incredibly hot topic,  and

3) the entire world is effected by the CO2 California emits each year from catastrophic wildfires 

WE NEED YOUR HELP.

NATPE 2009 - IDA Booth

NATPE 2009 - IDA Booth

SINS OF COMMISSION urgently needs your support to complete the film.

SINS OF COMMISSION is a fiscally sponsored film through the IDA - the International Documentary  Association a 501 c3 Non Profit organization.

All contributions made thru the IDA are tax deductible.

Times are tough for all of us,  but so are we…and they won’t get better unless we pull together.

California Wildfires - Who Really Gets Burnt? Follow The Money - Part 1

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Fire Victims Feel Burned by Lawmakers Tied to Insurers

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

By Jordan Rau Times Staff Writer
February 27, 2006 in print edition A-1 

SACRAMENTO ” Karen Reimus’ San Diego house was obliterated by the 2003 wildfires, leaving nothing recognizable except a charred jogging stroller and her daughter’s burned bicycle.  Yet her insurer insisted that she catalog each of her family’s destroyed personal items  ” down to pens and tampons ” if she wanted to be reimbursed.

“When insurance companies are selling peace of mind the way they do in their advertisements, nobody has any inkling of the hoops you are going to have to jump through,” said Reimus, a 39-year-old lawyer and mother of two.

She reached a settlement with her insurer after months of wrangling. Dozens of similarly frustrating experiences prompted Reimus and other survivors of one of the worst wildfire seasons in California history to urge that new rules be imposed on insurers. But the most far-reaching efforts were derailed by a panel of state lawmakers that is closely aligned with the insurance industry, offering an unusually clear window on how Sacramento works and how legislation can be determined by a handful of well-placed politicians.

Insurers have spent $25 million on lobbyists

Insurers have spent $25 million on lobbyists, campaign contributions and perks for lawmakers  ” even some who regularly cross them  ” since 2003. Their money shows up particularly prominently in the campaign coffers of members of the Assembly Insurance Committee, a pro-business, relatively conservative bastion within the generally liberal Legislature.

Insurance money  ” more than $1 million in 2003-04  ” makes up nearly a fifth of some of those members’ war chests. And members, their spouses and their aides routinely accept expensive meals, free golf games, hotel rooms, tickets to Laker and Clipper basketball games and other gifts from insurers and their lobbyists.  

See which California lawmakers, that represent you, make the biggest bucks from the insurance industry in Part 4.

Source: Times reporting
Los Angeles Times

See the article on Los Angeles Times website

Feeling burnt? Help us get the message out.

Donate now through the International Documentary Association, our fiscal sponsor.

Big Kudos to California Clean Money Campaign. Visit them at CCMC

The Coast is Toast - California still missing the point.

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

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)

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.

I respectfully disagree, sir. The carrot still seems to be at the wrong end of the horse.  Modification of fuel saves lives while suppression, although highly visible, is ruining the environment. ( Please see our recent blog posts CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION - Time for a New Urban Wildland Fire Strategy? - Part 1 and 2 )

The other issue no one but us is broaching is why certain state agencies, commissions like the California Coastal Commission, and environmental groups, who say they want to protect the natural resources of the state aren’t helping the Fire Department and getting behind this. 

This hands-off posture is what Scot Franklin refers to as ” loving the chaparral to death.” Lets not destroy the chaparral all Californians love in order to “save it.”  It hasn’t worked,  isn’t going to work,  and bluntly, we don’t have the time or money not to try something different in 2009. If we do what we’ve always done, we’re gonna get what we always get - Burnt, crispy toast. 

State Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) sponsored several measures that went nowhere. One would have raised an estimated $43 million a year for fuel-reduction projects…

A bill written by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) would have required that new subdivisions in high fire-risk areas have two access roads to ensure that residents could get out and fire engines could get in during an emergency. Developers also would have had to show that they had adequate water pressure and fire protection.

The proposal, supported by firefighter associations, was listed as a “job killer” by the state Chamber of Commerce, which argued that it could virtually shut down suburban development in certain parts of the state. The bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There is an absolute disconnect between requiring state taxpayers to take on the ever increasing burden of fighting fires…  “The solution is not just more engines, more airplanes,” said [Ruben] Grijalva, who previously served as state fire marshal and Palo Alto’s fire chief.

(Source: LA Times Bettina Boxall)

The issue is that federal spending on fuel reduction continues to lag far behind firefighting costs, in California and nationally, and until that changes… the coast is toast.

I hope reason prevails in 2009, and wish everyone a healthy, safe New Year.

 



 
 
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