Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

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Jan. 1

Los Angeles Daily News: "California's water supply must be protected from fracking"

The great fracking debate is coming to California, pitting the oil and natural gas industry against environmentalists in a battle for control of the Monterey Shale, which extends from the Central Valley down to Los Angeles County. It is believed to be the richest oil deposit in the United States.

Energy companies dream of setting off a 21st-century Gold Rush, bringing jobs and riches to a region now suffering from high unemployment. California has a golden opportunity to help meet the nation's energy needs while enacting model legislation for other states to follow. But the experiences of Pennsylvania, New York and Texas provide a wealth of knowledge about fracking's considerable risks to groundwater and air quality and we have to learn from them.

Gov. Jerry Brown has gotten off to a terrible start. The draft rules he has released are ridiculously inadequate. They fail the primary test, which is to protect the integrity of the state's water supply — a resource more precious than oil in California.

Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, a drilling method that injects chemicals under high pressure into the ground to free oil and gas from rock formations. The drillers prefer not to disclose the chemicals they use, arguing that their formulas are trade secrets. But secrecy also shields them from responsibility for damage the chemicals might do to water supplies. Brown's draft rules allow that absurdity.

At least eight states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas — all considered to be more pro-business than California — have already enacted disclosure legislation, in some cases after hard lessons. The wastewater from fracking in Pennsylvania made the Monongahela River, which supplies drinking water for tens of thousands of residents, unfit for use for months.

Fortunately, some legislators, including Fremont Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski and Santa Monica Sen. Fran Pavley, are arguing for the public's right to know what's being pumped into the ground. They believe water quality tests should be done — and the results be made public — before and after any fracking occurs. And they want more advance notice of fracking operations. These are common sense requirements.

It isn't only drinking water at stake. The Monterey Shale oil deposits lie 11,000 feet below some of California's richest agricultural land, stretching roughly from Modesto to Bakersfield. California provides more than 10 percent of the nation's food, and much of it is produced in the Central Valley.

Energy producers have known about the Monterey Shale since 1969, but only in the last decade has new technology made it profitable to go after the 15.4 billion barrels of oil. Hence the need for new regulations.

The Monterey Shale could produce enough oil to meet the entire nation's energy needs for about three years. There are many benefits to be gleaned and fortunes to be made, but this oil is not our permanent energy salvation, and reaching it is not more important than protecting California's water. That should be the governor's main concern.

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Jan. 1

U-T San Diego: "Two rogue state Supreme Courts"

Late last month saw two jaw-dropping decisions by state Supreme Courts. Iowa's high court held that competent employees could be fired if they were so attractive they posed a threat to a business owner's marriage. Here in California, our Sacramento supremes overturned a lower-court ruling and held that one group of individuals has the exclusive right to protest on supermarkets' private property: union members.

In her majority ruling, Justice Joyce L. Kennard said that state laws providing specific rights to union pickets are justifiable because of "the state's interest in promoting collective bargaining to resolve labor disputes," allowing California to "single out labor-related speech for particular protection or regulation."

But as veterans of California's battles between unions and supermarkets know, these pickets are often not about "promoting collective bargaining" by informing shoppers of a labor dispute. They're often calculated efforts to drive away shoppers by hassling and intimidating them, thus adding pressure on the business owner to settle.

Beyond that, we think dissenting Justice Ming W. Chin is correct in predicting federal courts will be cold to Kennard's decision.

"It is far from clear to me," Chin wrote, "that the high court would permit California to discriminate in this way between labor-related speech and all other speech."

That doubt informed the view of the ruling the California Supreme Court overturned. It was also the view of U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2004, when it ruled that "under California law, union organizers have no right to distribute literature on a stand-alone grocery store's private property." Given that the case the state Supreme Court ruled on involved pickets at a Ralphs, the parallels could hardly be stronger.

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Dec. 29

Santa Maria Times: "Ensuring life for all creatures"

This has been a pretty good year for sea otters and other marine life along the California coast.

After trying for a quarter-century to manage the otter population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is letting go of its relocation program, thus allowing the playful but ravenous critters to roam the bays and inlets along the California coastline.

Actually, the feds abandoning the otter relocation program really means they'll go back to their habits and habitats, mostly from Monterey Bay to the border with Mexico. Otters seem to prefer Southern California, as do many humans.

Good news for the otter, however, is not such good news for fishermen, especial sea urchin divers, who insist that the otters decimate the shellfish population. They're right about that dynamic, but unfortunately for them, otters were fishing these waters eons before human divers came around.

The otter population is far from what it once was. By the time federal agencies began their attempt to relocate otters in an effort to save the species, the count had dropped from an estimated high of more than 16,000 in the late 18th century to less than 3,000. The dramatic depopulation was mostly a result of hunting during the early 19th century, in search of the otters' luxurious fur.

This was a good year for otters, to be sure, but it looks like some fishermen will have to find a new way to earn a living.

And 2012 has also been a thumbs-up month for California's marine reserve network, as the final piece of the underwater puzzle fell into place earlier this month in waters off the northern coast.

What that means is that nearly 900 square miles of coastal waters are now protected, from the Oregon state line to the border with Mexico. And like the feds' decision to let the otters roam, the marine reserve has not been a popular movement for a lot of folks who make their living from the sea.

In the 12 years since various state and federal agencies have been working to patch together a continuous reserve area, bureaucrats have had to endure being cussed out, shouted at, targeted by death threats and confronted by angry mobs of mostly recreational and commercial fishermen who don't seem to understand that they're not being prevented from plying their hobby, passion or trade, just that they can't do it in certain areas.

California's Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 is modeled after similar reserves on dry land, and with the same goal, to give animals a haven in which they have to fear neither bullets nor bait.

There is ample evidence throughout human history that indiscriminate taking of wildlife can and does lead to killing off entire species. If, however, mankind offers some refuge for those species, they tend to prosper. In so far as hunting and fishing go, protecting a species is just common sense.

In fact, the notion of a marine sanctuary was suggested by an avid fisherman, who watched over the years as fish he once caught off the islands in the Santa Barbara Channel slowly disappeared because of overfishing in certain spots.

The logic behind marine reserves is solid — protected fish grow to full size, then roam out to, perhaps, be caught in non-reserve zones. In that context, the reserve areas should be considered greenhouses for both recreational and commercial fishing.

A lot of fishermen didn't agree with that logic. Thankfully, their voices were overwhelmed by pragmatists, as well as environmentalists, who see the value of animal species protection.

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Dec. 31

Santa Rosa Press-Democrat: "California's new laws for the new year"

A new year brings parades and bowl games, maybe a resolution or two. Oh yes, there also are new state laws, almost 900 of them for 2013. Some will affect almost everyone, some will spark controversy, and you may wonder why some were enacted in the first place.

Here are a few worth noting:

If you skip the Taxslayer.com Bowl to go shopping today, you'll pay an extra quarter-cent in sales taxes, a result of voter-approved Proposition 30. But you won't need to dig much deeper on most purchases; the additional tax amounts to $1 per $400 in sales. Proposition 30 also raises income taxes for individuals and businesses earning more than $250,000 (twice that for couples).

If you're shopping for lumber or wood products, you'll pay a new 1 percent surtax that replaces some of the regulatory fees previously paid by timber companies.

You'll also pay more for birth certificates, death certificates, boat registrations and special license plates for veterans.

At least one new law could save you a dime — maybe considerably more. Motorists will no longer be ticketed for parking at a broken meter for up to the posted time limit.

If you just can't wait to park before sending a text, it's now legal behind the wheel so long as you use hands-free, voice-activated technology. Of course, being legal and being responsible aren't one in the same.

Speaking of irresponsible, if you're arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, a blood test will be mandatory in almost all instances.

If you're asked for proof of insurance, you can provide it using a smartphone, tablet or other electronic device.

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Dec. 28

The (Stockton) Record: "Per diem is a non-issue"

Newly elected state representative Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, has already made one tough decision in regards to state finances. She's not accepting the $142 per diem in living expenses available to all state legislators when in session.

We applaud Eggman for her decision.

But we also have no problem with those — including State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Richard Pan, D-Sacramento — who will accept the per diem.

You see, it's great for symbolism and makes for good or bad vibes with the public. But the impact of the legislative per diem is but a deck chair on the Queen Mary when it comes to its scope in state finances.

We're less concerned with legislators taking, or not taking, the per diem and more concerned with those we elected getting some actual productive lawmaking done.

If state legislators can finally make some significant progress on issues involving the San Joaquin Delta waterways, they're well worth their $142 a day.

It's a relative bargain if they can put together a thoughtful, cogent, compromised budget — on time.

The per diem is a non-issue if legislators can work together to fight surging crime numbers, attract more business to California and find ways to adequately fund the state's schools.

If legislators can avoid the annual budget dance so cities — such as Stockton — don't have to be languishing in doubt about funding, then these per-day expenses will be an afterthought.

It's more a matter of personal choice than it is public policy.

Eggman states: "It (not taking the per diem) just seemed like the right thing to do. I live close enough to commute, and it's important to stay connected with the district."

Pan stated: "I'm accepting the same per diem like many of my colleagues do."

We have no problem with either stance — for Eggman, Pan or any of their colleagues.

As long as they govern. And govern well.

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Dec. 27

Oakland Tribune: "Troubling new California data on youth smoking"

California has made major progress curbing tobacco use since voters increased the tax on cigarettes in 1988 by 25 cents a pack and dedicated the money to smoking prevention programs.

Smoking rates have been cut from 23 percent of the adult population back then to 12 percent in 2011. That means roughly half as many people endangering their lives, driving up health care costs and wasting precious disposable income on an addictive habit.

But a report this month by the state Department of Public Health provides troubling data on youth smoking that suggests nearly a quarter century of reduction in tobacco usage might be ending — that smoking rates might have bottomed out.

That would be a horrible shame. As the department director, Dr. Ron Chapman, notes, smoking still kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. And then there's the cost: Adult tobacco-related health care expenditures in California are estimated to reach $6.5 billion this year, or about $400 per taxpayer.

In other words, while great progress has been made, there's a long ways to go. At the same time, we may be losing ground with the group that matters most, our youth. They are the most vulnerable. In California, 64 percent of smokers start by the age of 18, and 96 percent start by age 26.

Which brings us to the troubling data trends: More retailers are illegally selling tobacco to minors. The number of children who smoked a cigarette by age 13 or 14 has increased. Adults ages 18 to 24 are smoking at greater rates than other age groups, and the percentage has started to rise. In all cases, the upticks are not large, but the trend is in the wrong direction.

Cigarettes are not the only tobacco problem for our youth. High school students are using smokeless products more. We're talking about snuff, chewing tobacco and snus, a spitless tobacco that can be placed under the lip for extended periods of time.

Use of hookahs, Middle-Eastern style water pipes, is increasing rapidly. In California, young adults are much more likely than others to partake. Smoking a hookah for 45 to 60 minutes can be the equivalent of smoking 100 or more cigarettes, according to the state report.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease. Unfortunately, the industry's political clout remains vast. Last June, tobacco companies funded most of the $48 million campaign that narrowly defeated Proposition 29, which would have increased the tax on cigarettes by $1 a pack.

There's no question that tobacco taxes discourage consumption. The new smoking data serves as a reminder that they should be raised.

The state's current rate of 87 cents a pack is far below the national average. Even if Proposition 29 had passed, California still would have had just the 25th highest tax in the nation.

Backers should try again. We must find solutions quickly, for we cannot afford to lose more young people to addiction.

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