Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

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July 23

The San Bernardino Sun: Educational levels holding San Bernardino County residents back

"Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me" could be the alternative title for Cal State San Bernardino's annual installment of its report on county residents' attitudes toward the economy and their quality of life.

The title of a 1960s counterculture novel by Richard Farina is brought to mind by the finding by the Institute of Applied Research & Policy Analysis at CSUSB that 17 percent of county residents feel positive about the economy. The good news is that number is growing, up from 16 percent a year ago and from just 9 percent in 2010.

Still, 17 percent is a disturbingly low number — indicating that the Inland Empire has yet to gain much traction in the economic comeback being enjoyed by much of California's coastal area.

Before the Great Recession, about 40 percent of residents rated the county's economy as good or excellent. Now, not even 1 in 5 is feeling good about the local economy.

Jay Prag, an economics professor at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University, summed up why:

"There is not this sort of incredibly upbeat feeling about the future. California is like two states. There's the Silicon Valley California where people are doing well based on tech jobs and then there's the Inland Empire, which has attracted some logistics, distribution and other warehousing jobs, but there hasn't been any big high-wage jobs where people feel like they can do okay now. There's not much great positive feeling about the future."

The reason? Low educational levels among Inland Empire residents compared to those in the more economically vibrant parts of the state.

As Paul C. Granillo, president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, points out in a guest commentary, only 19 percent of Inland Empire residents are college graduates, compared to 43 percent of those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly half of IE residents stopped their educations after high school, or dropped out before finishing high school.

It's a well-known refrain, one that community leaders, the Countywide Vision plan and this page have sung many times: San Bernardino County residents have to raise their collective educational levels in order to improve their well-being and economic opportunities.

Granillo is particularly concerned about the Inland Empire's high poverty rate — 19 percent. Southern California Association of Governments will mark the 50th anniversary of the nation's War on Poverty with an Aug. 20 summit concentrating on solutions to the problem — which unfortunately is still very much with us despite the half-century "war."

Job figures released last week showed California's unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent and the state has regained all the jobs in lost in the Great Recession. But the Inland Empire, which is still 39,000 non-farm jobs short of its December 2007 high, saw its jobless rate rise to 8.4 percent last month. The region is doing better — its jobless rate was at 10.7 percent a year ago — but lags the state as a whole.

We're an optimistic bunch, though. The Cal State survey found that, although only 17 percent of county residents feel positive about the economy right now, 39 percent think they'll feel better off a year from now.

Let's hope they're right.

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July 29

Los Angeles Daily News: Lawsuit sets off healthy questions about California kids' phys ed

It may take the courts to decide the merits of a lawsuit claiming that three dozen California school districts have scrimped on physical education.

But this much is certain already: The suit is inspiring needed examination of schools' approaches to this vital part of the curriculum.

The depressing general truths about children's levels of physical fitness are known to anybody who hasn't been living under a rock — or living in their parents' basement, playing video games instead of getting a little exercise outside.

Too many school kids are out of shape and untutored in fitness techniques, raising their risks for poor health later in life and affecting their ability to learn in the classroom.

On state tests measuring California kids' fitness in 2013, only 25.5 percent of fifth-graders, 32.5 percent of seventh-graders and 36.8 percent of ninth-graders made the "healthy fitness zone" in all six categories.

In the category called "body composition," 33.7, 30.1 and 26.2 percent of students at the respective grade levels produced test results suggesting they face "health risk."

The California Department of Education published those and other statistics last fall in a news release cheerfully heralding students' "slight gains in physical fitness." True, some numbers improved by a percentage point — or less. But the data wasn't reassuring.

People may not want to hear that their kids are (as we might say euphemistically) deficient in the area of body composition. Remember the outcry last year when school officials sent out what came to be known as "fat letters," informing parents if a child was particularly heavy for his or her height. But it's a subject that must be confronted.

Are California schools taking it seriously enough? Has phys ed suffered from recession-era budget cuts? Has it bounced back?

According to the state education code, first- through sixth-grade students are supposed to receive at least 200 minutes of physical education per 10 school days, not including recess and lunch breaks.

But a class-action lawsuit, filed last October by a San Francisco Bay Area parent named Marc Babin and an organization called Cal200 that advocates for physical education, claims that many of the state's largest school districts fall short of that modest, 20-minutes-a-day requirement.

Those districts include Los Angeles Unified, San Bernardino City Unified and others in Compton, East Whittier, Glendora, Lynwood, Moorpark and Riverside.

Teachers are reported to have been ordered to keep their recent lesson plans as evidence of how much time has been devoted to phys ed. Whatever the records reveal, it is important for parents to know if children are getting enough exercise and physical instruction, which should go hand in hand with efforts to improve nutrition in school meals.

A 2012 study led by a San Francisco State professor showed that students are more likely to pass fitness tests if their schools comply with state phys-ed requirements. For some kids, especially if they live in dangerous neighborhoods, the school playground may offer the only exercise they get.

However the lawsuit turns out, if it causes education officials to examine whether California children are getting enough phys-ed and take action if they aren't, that's a healthy development indeed.

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July 29

U-T San Diego: Minimum wage: Let San Diego's referendum begin

The honeymoon between San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council is over. Its end at some point was inevitable. It became official Monday when the council ratified its new ordinance making San Diego the largest city in the country to enact a minimum wage higher than the federally mandated minimum, and the mayor quickly followed suit with an unequivocal declaration that he will exercise his first veto to block the ordinance.

Both moves were expected. What they really did was set the stage for what we hope will be the third referendum in less than a year by the business community against anti-business decisions by the council.

Expect hardball.

The mayor has 10 business days after receiving the ordinance from the city clerk to formally cast his veto. If he's smart, which he is, he'll take the full 10 days to act. That would send the issue back to the council in nearly mid-August, in the midst of the council's summer vacation. That would force the council to return for a special meeting or wait until September to use its six-vote supermajority of wage-hike supporters to override the veto.

All of which would give the business community, already organized and galvanized, even more time to prepare for a referendum. It is well-practiced. Referendums to force a council rollback of humongous increases in the linkage fee on commercial and industrial development and to force a public vote on the updated community plan for Barrio Logan, which posed a threat to San Diego's ship repair industry, were both successful.

Now comes the minimum-wage battle.

With restaurateurs, hoteliers and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce in the lead, a business coalition is already organized. The money for a drive to collect the 34,000 needed signatures will be there if the go-ahead decision is made.

Organized labor, lead supporters of the minimum-wage boost, will also be ready with an effort of its own to impede the signature-gathering.

It can get ugly.

It's important to remember that the business community did not want these fights. They are expensive, divisive and they distract from what business prefers to be doing — running businesses, creating jobs and growing San Diego's economy.

But they are necessary.

Yet another survey this week gave San Diego failing grades for friendliness to small business. The nationwide survey of 12,000 small-business owners, sponsored by a San Francisco online hiring service, showed California as a whole falling from a "D'' grade in 2013 to an "F'' this year. Out of the 82 cities rated, San Diego came in just four slots from the bottom at 78th least friendly.

That sort of perception of our city by outsiders ought to be unacceptable to everyone, including the so-called progressives on the City Council.

This minimum-wage ordinance is flawed public policy for many reasons. It cannot be allowed to become law in San Diego.

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July 26

Marin Independent Journal: SMART leaders should learn from grand juries' questions

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District board got a double-barrel dose of criticism from the civil grand juries in Marin and Sonoma counties.

The similar reports raised questions about SMART board members' firm grasp on the fledgling rail agency's budget. They also urged the board to do a better job of informing the public about its short- and long-term finances.

There aren't many public agencies that can't do a better job of informing the public about their handling of taxpayer dollars. Every one of them should ask themselves if the public knows about important and big-dollar decisions they are making.

Surmising that the public does not care is not the correct conclusion.

So it was refreshing to hear Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a SMART board member, recommend that the board take a hard look at the "transparency and oversight" of SMART's decision-making process. "It's about the public perception of SMART," she said.

The agency has the voter-approved assignment of building and operating a 70-mile commuter train and bike path system, eventually from Cloverdale to Larkspur Landing. It is a costly public undertaking. It also is controversial, dogged by much of the same criticism raised before voters in the two counties approved a regional sales tax increase for SMART.

The goal of the train is to provide commuters between the two counties a comfortable alternative to making the daily trek up and down Highway 101.

Critics still question SMART's ability to cover the cost of construction and operations. They say SMART costs too much money for the number of riders it will attract.

Similar criticism was leveled at the Golden Gate ferries when they were launched in the 1970s. Today ridership is growing to levels where the Larkspur terminal is adding runs.

SMART is under construction with plans to start service in late 2016.

Many important decisions have to be made between now and then.

SMART's general manager, Farhad Mansourian, is the type of leader who gets jobs done. The progress his construction team is making in getting the rails ready for commuter trains is impressive.

But the grand juries are concerned that the SMART directors do not have a strong command of SMART's progress and its financial and future operational challenges.

It is the job of the grand juries, court-empaneled citizens who devote a year to being civic watchdogs, to raise such concerns.

Part of their frustration may be the result of the composition of SMART's 12-member board. Formed by the state Legislature, its representatives are part-time leaders, most of them appointed to SMART in addition to other governmental responsibilities involving different budgets, different responsibilities and different challenges.

Given the varied hats SMART directors have to wear, it is no wonder that they don't have every specific detail at their ready when asked. But should they have a strong understanding of the financial and operational issues facing SMART?

Yes.

And they need to show that strong understanding during board meetings, helping build public understanding of important issues. They rely on strong managers and experts, but board members need to demonstrate they are steering this public train and they know where it is going, operationally and financially.

SMART's financial outlook has not been without its bumps. In fact, budgetary miscalculations painted a rosier outlook than reality and the voter-approved plan had to be truncated, split into two parts, with construction and service initially being limited to between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

SMART is on track to fulfilling the promise made to voters in 2008.

Supervisor Zane also is on the right track. SMART should take a close look at what it can do to improve oversight and transparency. Board members should feel satisfied that they and the public have the facts and figures they need to make informed decisions and to fully understand answers to their questions. Those are keys to building public trust and understanding, which should be just as important as building ridership.

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July 28

The Fresno Bee: Fresno's 2035 General Plan deserves support

The city of Fresno's 2035 General Plan has been available for the citizens to look over and chew on since July 2.

This week it will receive three full-scale public airings: 6:30 p.m. today at Fresno City College's Old Administration Building, 6 p.m. Wednesday during a Planning Commission workshop at City Hall and 2 p.m. Thursday during a Fresno City Council workshop.

If you care about Fresno's future and having a development guide that attempts to rebuild older, deteriorating neighborhoods and finally apply the brakes to urban sprawl, you should support this plan.

It no longer is the document approved by the City Council in spring 2012. Some developers complained that they had been left out of the plan's formulation. They said they would bolt Fresno for surrounding communities — especially Clovis — because the plan offered them little chance to make a buck.

The market (meaning home buyers) simply won't support what city officials have drawn up, was a common developer refrain.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin and City Council members listened to the criticisms and returned to the drawing board. The result, according to a passage in the modified 2035 General Plan now under consideration, is this:

"The Council's modified (plan) shifted more development to single-family housing and with more focus on growth west and southwest of State Route 99, but maintained a strong commitment to Downtown and major corridor revitalization, Complete Neighborhoods, and more compact development."

These are sensible changes. It is wise to offer a broad portfolio of development opportunities and to provide strong infrastructure support and other incentives to investors interested in rebuilding neighborhoods.

If this new plan is followed — and there is no guarantee that it will be, given the developers' historical hold on Fresno politics — our city will become more prosperous, healthier and safer.

Fresno can't afford to repeat its grievous planning mistakes of the past.

When neighborhoods and properties aren't properly maintained, they are a blight to the community and a drain on the public treasury. When neighborhoods lack grocery stories, banks and medical services, residents must travel farther to access them — thus increasing air pollution. When neighborhoods lack quick reliable public transit, residents struggle to land and keep jobs, and further their education.

One of the biggest reasons that Fresno struggles to adequately fund police and fires services, street repairs and parks is that too many of our properties fail to generate the property tax revenue that they should. The most underachieving of these buildings are downtown, which is why Swearengin correctly has put such a great emphasis on revitalization there.

A strong 2035 General Plan that seeks investment in older neighborhoods coupled with the continued improvement of Fresno Unified School District will result in a better city for all residents.

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July 25

San Jose Mercury News: Sustain the mission of O'Connor and Saint Louise hospitals

For more than 160 years, the compassionate, altruistic leadership of Daughters of Charity have made it their mission to provide high-quality medical care to Santa Clara County residents regardless of income. It would be a shame -- in fact, a health care disaster for the county -- if Daughters tarnished that legacy in their rush to sell San Jose's O'Connor Hospital and Gilroy's Saint Louise Regional Hospital in the face of financial difficulties.

Multiple sources say the Catholic Church ministry is negotiating exclusively with for-profit, Southern California-based Prime Healthcare Services to sell all six of its California hospitals, including Seton Medical Center in Daly City and Seton Coastside in Moss Beach.

Prime's reputation is the opposite of Daughters'. Its hospitals are considered mediocre and cater to well-insured patients needing treatments for which Prime can maximize charges. It's a great business model, but it precludes the public service mission that has driven Daughters' medical care.

It would be a nightmare for this county's overall health care system and for taxpayers: A sale to Prime will mean the public has to pick up much of the cost borne by Daughters over the years in caring for low-income and underinsured patients. The county would no longer have a partner to share the burden.

This must be beyond painful for the Daughters' leadership. Health care officials tell us there's a division among them over the strategy to sell to the highest bidder regardless of what that might mean to communities they serve.

We hope that's true and that this sale is not a done deal. Daughters of Charity did not return phone calls seeking comment. Sources say a Chicago-based investment banker is handling negotiations.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has made an offer to buy O'Connor and Saint Louise, but apparently Daughters are more interested in selling the California hospitals as a package.

This county is one of the wealthiest in the nation, but nearly 10 percent of its residents live in poverty, and 22 percent need health care subsidies. In 2011, O'Connor contributed $34.3 million to the community by covering unreimbursed costs of care it provided. It had 53,682 ER visits, many of which otherwise would have gone to VMC, overwhelming it. The other hospitals in San Jose, including Kaiser Permanente San Jose and HCA's Regional Medical Center, do not care for large numbers of charity patients.

There's another reason the county has a huge stake in keeping O'Connor's 350 beds and Saint Louise's 93 beds available to all. VMC has to mothball about 100 hospital beds in its old, main building, which is not seismically retrofitted. Buying O'Connor and Saint Louise was determined to be cost effective because it would replace those 100 beds and add capacity for growth, as well as the potential for more income from serving insured patients.

A sale to Prime would force VMC to refurbish its old building at an estimated cost of $500 million just to keep its current capacity. And Gilroy residents' closest option for charity care would be more than 30 miles north.

Any sale will need to be approved by the state Attorney General's office. Prime's track record would likely trigger conditions, but at most the state usually requires continuing charity work for five years. That would only delay the crisis.

When Daughters of Charity officials announced they were selling the California hospitals, president and CEO Robert Issai said, "We believe that new ownership is in the best interest of the communities we serve."

That will only be true if the buyer is committed to caring for the less fortunate as the Catholic ministry has done so well since 1852.

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