Making Democracy Work

Public Policy Summaries

Local Public Policy

Randi Swisley moderates a Forum of panelists FOR and AGAINST Auburn's City Charter Ballot Measure

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Published regularly in...
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Auburn Journal


Public Policy topics discussed at our meetings are summarized below.

June 2016 Primary

I thought drama in previous elections was hard to beat, but the current political climate has outdone itself.

Controversy and press coverage storming around presidential candidates is easy to find. In fact, it's hard to avoid. Here is some information about the pending election that is fundamental for voters to know and has received significantly less attention in the media.

Tuesday June 7th is both a state and presidential primary election. California voters will choose among all candidates for state and congressional elective offices, regardless of party preference, and the two candidates in each race to receive the most votes will advance to the November general election regardless of party affiliation. Candidates for President remain tied to political parties and you may see different candidates on your ballot for this office depending on how you registered.

Registering with no party preference is the fastest growing and most misunderstood segment of California voters. Today 22% of Placer County Voters are registered with no party preference. Many others, who intended to register without being associated with a political party, marked American Independent on their voter registration form by mistake. A recent survey found 75% of voters in California who are registered as American Independent intended to register with no political party. If you are one of the thousands of people who registered differently than how you intended to, you have until May 23 to re-register for the June Primary.

To change your political party preference, locate this question on the registration form: "Do you want to register with a political party?" You can then choose one of the parties listed under "Yes" or you can mark the box next to "No, I don't want to register with a political party." Voters who are not registered with a political party may vote for presidential candidates in the June Primary if they have requested ballots from one of the three parties who allows them to do so. The Democratic, American Independent and Libertarian parties sent post cards to voters allowing them to request a June Primary ballot containing Presidential candidates from their party. In that way, for example, you could vote for either of the Democratic presidential candidates even though you are not a Democrat. The other 4 political parties do not allow anyone outside their party to vote for candidates from their party in June. In November, we will all be voting for the same presidential candidates.

There are 6 qualified political parties in California even though 7 may appear on the registration form. The Americans Elect Party is no longer a qualified political party. However, they still appear on some voter registration cards because the California Secretary of State's office has allowed counties to use up the existing stock of voter registration cards rather than destroy them.

Regardless of who appears on your ballot, you may write-in a candidate in June. Write-in candidates for certain offices in November are not allowed.but there will be write-in opportunities for many local offices on the November general ballot.

Voters must choose from the list of qualified candidates when writing in a candidate for an office who does not appear on the ballot. Qualifying paperwork is accepted from write-in candidates as late as 14 days before the election. The list of qualified write-in candidates will be at your polling place on election day. The list will also appear on the Placer County Elections website (http://www.placerelections.com) 12 days before the election. As always, the Elections Office welcomes calls at 530-886-5650.

California voters will also make a decision on a single state ballot measure, Proposition 50. Several years ago, the Legislature required all ballot measures proposed through voter petitions (Initiatives) to appear only on the General Election ballot. As a result, elections like the upcoming June Primary carry only those measures proposed by the legislature.

Prop 50 was introduced in the Senate in the wake of the legislature's inability to force three suspended legislators to forfeit their salaries and benefits. On March 28, 2014, the California Senate voted to suspend Ron Calderon, Roderick Wright and Leland Yee until all criminal proceedings against them were dismissed. The three were involved in separate criminal cases. The annual salaries of the senators at that time were $95,291. Until the March 2014 suspensions no member had ever been suspended in the 164-year history of the California Legislature.

Proposition 50 on the June Primary Ballot, would allow the legislature to terminate salaries and benefits of suspended members. Placing the measure on the ballot as a constitutional amendment required a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the legislature. Actual results of the vote were 91% in favor in the Senate and 97% in favor in the Assembly.

In addition to the state level ballot items, Placer County voters will be asked to select a County Supervisor if they live in District 3, 4 or 5. Districts 3 & 5 cover all of Auburn and a large part of Rocklin. District 4 is in the Roseville/Granite Bay area.

All Placer County voters will also be weighing in on Measure C, a $135 million bond for local high schools.

This election has been one for the record books in a couple of aspects. Submitting your opinion through your vote may require pushing aside the more theatrical attention-getters to find unemotional, factual information. You can get a peek at what will be on your ballot before you get it in the mail, link to registration sites, and see more unbiased information on the Election page at http://www.lwvplacercounty.org.

Placer County Transportation Plan

On a stretch of road just a couple of miles long, 13 people died in traffic accidents in the last 6 years. Fender benders there are a daily occurrence. If you have been on the Highway 65 bypass in Roseville lately, maybe it doesn't surprise you that these sobering statistics are attributed to that short bit of road.

I remember when the bypass was constructed about 25 years ago. There was nothing but cow pastures between I80 and the Hewlett Packard plant on the other end of the bypass. The 4 lane span of asphalt seemed unnecessarily expansive. It made for a decadent commute in those days from the I80 offramp to Blue Oaks Boulevard. Since then demands from housing and commerce built on those cow pastures has grown beyond the capacity of what once seemed an exaggerated highway. And growth remains on the upswing. In the next 30 years, our county is projected to grow 25%, mostly in the Rocklin, Roseville and Lincoln areas. This means the current average drive time of 9 minutes a day will increase to 35 minutes when driving the same distance.

The Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA) is planning for the impact this growth has on transportation. California state law designates PCTPA as the Regional Transportation Planning Agency for Placer County. PCTPA is also the county's Congestion Management Agency and serves as a member of the both Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority and the Airport Land Use Commission for airports in Auburn, Lincoln and Blue Canyon. The nine-member PCTPA Board of Directors consists of one councilmember from each city in the county, two members of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, and one citizen representative. People on the Board of Directors outnumber the 7 employees who work for PCTPA fulltime.

PCTPA has been responsible for several large projects in our county. The $32.4 million Highway 65 bypass and easing the Roseville bottleneck on I80 completed 5 years ago at a price of $89 million are two examples.

Future transportation plans are included in the Keep Placer Moving proposal put forth by PCTPA. A new project included in the plan is Placer Parkway, estimated at $60 million. Placer Parkway would connect highway 65 to highway 70/99. People travelling to and from William Jessup University, the Sac State extension campus and University of Warwick would use this new road regularly. Placer Parkway would also provide the most direct access to Sacramento International Airport from most of Placer County.

Until 1990, state and federal gas taxes paid for our roads. Today about half of transportation costs in our county are covered by gas taxes and the share of the cost contributed by taxes is declining. Developers in the area contribute additional funds through transportation impact fees, but there is still a gap in funding required to implement plans for the future.

To cover the shortfall required to realize the Keep Placer Moving plan, PTCPA is proposing a half cent transportation tax increase intended to raise $1.6 billion. Nearly half of the money would go toward highway projects including traffic light synchronization on Highway 49 in Auburn and reconfiguring the I-80/Highway 65 interchange. Local street maintenance would account for almost 1/3 of the new funds and 12% would go to increase rail service on the Capital Corridor line between Auburn and Sacramento.

Placer is the 2nd most populated county in California that does not have a transportation sales tax. Seventeen counties in our state have a sales tax dedicated to transportation.

PCTPA is targeting our November General Election ballot with a proposition to ask voters approval of a half cent transportation sales tax. PCTPA polling indicates that there is currently 63% approval for such a tax. Actual passage of the tax by voters requires a two-thirds majority vote.

There is still time to review and comment on the Keep Placer Moving draft proposal. Make your voice heard by reviewing and commenting on Keep Placer Moving at http://www.keepolacermoving.com. You can contact the PCTPA directly by emailing Executive Director Celia McAdam at cmcadam@pctpa.net or calling (530) 823-4030. PCTPA is located next to the train station at 299 Nevada Street in Auburn.

Water Politics

Whiskey is for drinkin' and water is for fightin', according to Mark Twain. The more I learn about water, the more I realize it is also one of the most political issues of our time. Our water here in Placer County attracts the regular involvement of the California government as well as the Federal departments like the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Most of the water used in California comes from the Shasta and Oroville dams, to the north of Placer County. Locally, we enjoy a lush environment compared to the rest of our state with plenty of water coming out of the Sierra Nevada watershed and flowing from one end of our county to the other. We are lucky to live near the source of some of the highest quality water in the world in our mountain snowpack and reservoirs.

A system of canals designed and built to supply water for the Gold Rush got the attention of PG&E in 1920 as a way to generate hydroelectric power. PCWA (Placer County Water Agency) took over the retail water system from PG&E in 1968 with a mission to provide customers with the most reliable and highest quality water available. Most years, the system acquired from PG&E provides more than enough water for our county, as well as servicing the delicate natural environments and communities downstream.

When local needs exceed the 100 thousand acre feet from the PG&E system, PCWA can tap an additional 120 thousand acre feet from the middle fork of the American River, controlled by the French Meadows and Hell Hole dams. Since the inception of PCWA nearly 50 years ago, our local water needs exceeded the capacity of the PGE infrastructure only 3 times: in 1977, in 2014 and in 2015. Last year, PCWA provided 110 thousand acre feet of water to Placer County customers, utilizing the full allotment from the PG&E system and requiring less than 10% of the capacity of the Middle Fork network of the American River. You might ask: So what is the problem? Good question. The answer is largely: politics.

Sixty-five percent of Californians get their water from the State Water Project (SWP) through Shasta and the Central Valley Project (CVP) through Oroville. Last year the SWP provided only 15% of its contracted amounts of water. CVP provided no water to agricultural users and 25% of what was contracted to municipal users. With California experiencing a drought for the last 4 years, state officials implemented a statewide conservation mandate in 2015. Many look to PCWA to compensate for the shortage. In both 2014 and 2015 extra water was released from the Middle Fork Project reservoirs for agencies below the mouth of the American River.

PCWA customers exceeded the 20% state conservation goal for 2014 and the 32% conservation mandate in the summer of 2015. By the end of last year, PCWA customer conservation fell to 1% short of the state target. PCWA received a warning from the State Water Resources Control Board, suggesting PCWA increase conservation efforts or face the possibility of fines.

The impact of meeting the 32% conservation mandate has resulted in unprecedented destruction of outdoor landscapes, in some cases decreasing property values. PCWA acknowledges that doing our part for the greater good of California requires the ongoing goodwill of their customers.

In response to the recent warning, PCWA encourages the State to reduce conservation requirements for climates like ours that are warmer than in coastal areas. Larger yards compared to more crowded urban areas further justify their request for lessened requirements. In addition to the suggested changes that better reflect local water supply conditions, PCWA encourages the State to look forward and to plan for climate change.

Created in 1957 under its own state legislative Act entitled the "Placer County Water Agency Act," PCWA is self-governed with policy and regulatory decisions determined by an independently elected five member Board of Directors. We, the voters, elect the Board of Directors for PCWA. Water supplies are acquired locally and PCWA operates independently from the state and federal projects.

The PCWA website (http://www.pcwa.net) has further details on the State warning and response, contact information on your PCWA representative, and the schedule for regular PCWA meetings that are open to the public. This precious water we are stewarding as voters is worth understanding, especially in light of the importance of this resource to us all.

Plea to Voters

As this election season revs up, it is worth a reminder of why getting to the polls may be one of the most important actions you take all year.

An overwhelming majority of voters think voting is vital but many don't actually do it. According to the Secretary of State's website, over 90% of registered voters in California believe voting in an election is important, yet only 42% of them cast a ballot in the 2012 general election. Confusion in our election process may be partly to blame. Campaigns try to confuse the facts for their own benefit which is easy for them to do in our complex system of government. But misrepresentation and complexity can be overcome to a great extent and needn't discourage voters. Instead of making choices that do not further your interests, the following clarification will hopefully encourage you to participate in our democracy in the way you deserve.

Politics is commonly assumed to be only about candidates running for office, politicians holding office and political parties. In reality, the people involved in politics, including their parties, account for no more than half of the political system + and it is the most tentative and emotional half. Legislation and laws are much harder to change and less of a moving target. While candidates and elected officials may change what they say or what they represent from day to day, the law is documented in black and white and stays in effect far beyond terms of office and many times beyond lifetimes. When grasping for solid facts in an election that will not waver and can be analyzed in an unbiased nature, voters should focus on the ballot measures being proposed to be instituted as law. Choice of a candidate is more emotional and less analytical. Today, more voters are declining to affiliate with political parties than ever before. Instead they are increasingly registering as independent voters with no party preference. Californians are given the choice to register as a member of the Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, Green, Americans Elect, and American Independent political parties. We are also given a choice to "not disclose a political party preference", commonly referred to as No Party Preference or Decline To State.

Placer County Registered Voters 2000 Nov 2015 Republican 48% 46% Democratic 34% 27% Decline To State / No Party Preference 13% 22%

The overwhelming majority of political information available in our media is self-serving to those who provide it. There is so much money influencing politics it brings this misleading, special interest segment of our population to the forefront of our press. Unbiased educational organizations that reliably provide impartial data during elections do not have the money to competitively advertise their service. You just have to know where to find them. The League of Women Voters (LWV) was founded on the principle of providing unbiased analysis to voters and has maintained that mission of voter education for the past 100 years.

Because LWV was founded by women seeking access to unbiased political facts and figures when receiving the right to vote 100 years ago, the word "Women" is in the name of the organization. However, as both genders recognized the scarcity and value of impartial political intelligence to all voters, men were quickly included as members also. Anyone can access the unbiased political analysis by going to www. lwvplacercounty.org. It is not possible to be impartial with political parties or candidates, so you will not find information on either of these topics from LWV. Over the years, and after careful research and study, LWV at the California level will support or oppose some legislation or ballot propositions. However, LWV in Placer County is independent of the state group and does not advocate for positions on any issues.

An all-time low voter turnout is disconcerting and is creating paralysis in the electorate. As small, mean-spirited and short-sighted voices rise in our political system, voters simply seeking the truth about issues are discouraged from participating in the system. It has to stop, and only we, the voters, can stop it. This rising tide of pettiness and fear does not reflect on us as a nation or state, but if we do not assert ourselves against it together, it will take on a life of its own.

Homlessness

As our weather turns cold and we welcome the much needed rain, it is natural for our thoughts to turn to people who do not have shelter.

It is hard to understand how homeless population estimates are calculated. For example, it is not always obvious when a teenager is couch surfing. Others wandering from place to place and living in the shadows are also hard to identify. Placer County Health and Human Services estimates over 600 homeless people reside in our county.

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership has a goal to obtain 2,400 housing beds for a portion of the homeless in their city. Regardless of how these estimates are determined, it is obvious by simple observation that the homeless population is growing in our communities.

Loaves & Fishes has serviced the homeless in downtown Sacramento for over 32 years. With a $5 million budget and a thousand volunteers, the board of directors continues to operate as a grass roots organization, without government funding and a ground level understanding of the homeless population.

Observing successes and lessons learned by Sacramento groups servicing the homeless can benefit us here in Placer County to address the growing problem closer to home.

There are fewer people without a roof over their head in Sacramento compared to several years ago. One reason for the improvement is collaboration of services. Let me explain.

It is easy to become mentally ill when a person is homeless, and vice versa. When mental health care facilities are not available, and a policeman encounters a mentally instable person who is a danger to themselves or others, the only option is the hospital Emergency Room.

Nothing is more expensive than an ER and sometimes homeless people visit the ER every other day. The police force, already under pressure to solve more problems than they have time to solve, must wait two or three hours at the hospital until a patient they are admitting gets served. Frequent admission of homeless people is also an overwhelming drain on hospital resources.

Mercy Hospitals and Dignity Health recognized this as a problem they could do something about. In 2013, Dignity Health issued grants requiring multiple organizations including Loaves & Fishes, police, mental health facilities, hospital emergency rooms and others in Sacramento to communicate and work together. These Collaboration Grants were a turning point for improving the homeless situation in Sacramento. Dedicated policemen with clinicians in their cruisers help people get linked into the treatments and facilities they need. A database of the history of each case is accessible by all who serve them.

Loaves and Fishes relies solely on private donations to support its work of feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Absence of government funding allows more freedom in how services are provided resulting in more effective results.

Sacramento Steps Forward, created by the city and county of Sacramento to get funds from HUD, provides a contrasting example. A requirement to receive funds from HUD is completion of a 25-30 minutes questionnaire probing into details of each homeless person served. Mathematical values assigned to each answer a homeless person gives to these very personal questions are calculated into a Vulnerability Index. Placement on that index determines how soon a person will receive services. There are currently 1,700 people waiting for housing based on the Vulnerability Index in Sacramento.

Mercy hospitals noticed that uncoordinated efforts by multiple service groups to the homeless in Sacramento were ineffective and costly. Forcing service providers to work together through the Collaboration Grant has had a positive impact including the result that 85% of the people who are moved into permanent supportive housing in Sacramento are staying housed.

To learn more about homelessness in Placer County, you can attend free meetings open to the public on the first Thursday of each month from 9-11 am in Auburn City Hall's Rose Room. Also, coming up on December 17 at 5:30pm at 3095 County Center Drive in the DeWitt Center in Auburn, the public is encouraged to provide Homeless Shelter feedback that will be passed on to the Board of Supervisors.

Political Parties vs. Ballot Propositions

As election seasons revs up, it is worth a reminder of why getting to the polls may be one of the most important actions you take all year.

An overwhelming majority of voters think voting is vital but many don't actually do it. According to the Secretary of State's website, over 90% of registered voters in California believe voting in an election is important, yet only 42% of them cast a ballot in the 2012 general election. Confusion in our election process may be partly to blame. Campaigns try to confuse the facts for their own benefit which is easy for them to do in our complex system of government. But misrepresentation and complexity can be overcome to a great extent and needn't discourage voters.

Instead of making choices that do not further your interests, the following clarification will hopefully encourage you to participate in our democracy in the way you deserve.

Politics is commonly assumed to be only about candidates running for office, politicians holding office and political parties. In reality, the people involved in politics, including their parties, account for no more than half of the political system + and it is the most tentative and emotional half. Legislation and laws are much harder to change and less of a moving target. While candidates and elected officials may change what they say or what they represent from day to day, the law is documented in black and white and stays in effect far beyond terms of office and many times beyond lifetimes. When grasping for solid facts in an election that will not waver and can be analyzed in an unbiased nature, voters should focus on the ballot measures being proposed to be instituted as law. Choice of a candidate is more emotional and less analytical.

Today, more voters are declining to affiliate with political parties than ever before. Instead they are increasingly registering as independent voters with no party preference. Californians are given the choice to register as a member of the Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, Green, Americans Elect, and American Independent political parties. We are also given a choice to "not disclose a political party preference", commonly referred to as No Party Preference or Decline To State.

In 2000, Placer County Registered 485 of voters as Republican, 34% as Democrat and 13% as Decline to State. By November 2015, voters were 46% Republican, 27% Democrat and 22% Decline to State.

The overwhelming majority of political information available in our media is self-serving to those who provide it. There is so much money influencing politics it brings this misleading, special interest segment of our population to the forefront of our press. Unbiased educational organizations that reliably provide impartial data during elections do not have the money to competitively advertise their service. You just have to know where to find them.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) was founded on the principle of providing unbiased analysis to voters and has maintained that mission of voter education for the past 100 years.

Because LWV was founded by women seeking access to unbiased political facts and figures when receiving the right to vote 100 years ago, the word "Women" is in the name of the organization. However, as both genders recognized the scarcity and value of impartial political intelligence to all voters, men were quickly included as members also.

Anyone can access the unbiased political analysis from this website. It is not possible to be impartial with political parties or candidates, so you will not find information on either of these topics from LWV. Over the years, and after careful research and study, LWV at the California level will support or oppose some legislation or ballot propositions. However, LWV in Placer County is independent of the state group and does not advocate for positions on any issues.

An all-time low voter turnout is disconcerting and is creating paralysis in the electorate. As small, mean-spirited and short-sighted voices rise in our political system, voters simply seeking the truth about issues are discouraged from participating in the system. It has to stop, and only we, the voters, can stop it. This rising tide of pettiness and fear does not reflect on us as a nation or state, but if we do not assert ourselves against it together, it will take on a life of its own.

Placer County Conservation Plan

Like many of you, I was born and raised in this county and have seen major changes over the years. I remember piling into the car with my family for a trip downtown to drive through the first stoplight installed in Auburn. Cow pastures surrounding Rocklin and Roseville have transposed into a hub for high technology. And gone are the days of walking into a restaurant and recognizing at least half of the people there.

Attraction to Placer County has many facets. We enjoy a unique plethora of geography including the central valley, Donner Summit, an alpine lake (half of Lake Tahoe), and desert terrain with altitudes varying from 100 to 9.000 feet.

For 25 years, Placer has been one of California's fastest growing counties expanding from 172,796 to 355,328 residents, outpacing the Bay area and greater Sacramento region.

The city of Lincoln, which was home to 6,000 or 7,000 just a few years ago, has already grown to nearly 40,000 today. Future population across the county is projected to double to 748,000 by 2060. One-fifth of the land west of Auburn will be developed over the next 35 years with over 90% of the growth in Roseville and Rocklin.

Within the county boundaries there are a mere handful of incorporated cities, leaving county government as the largest provider of municipal services and the main player in plans for growth.

Through the newly developing Placer County Conservation Plan, Placer County is anticipating a more urban landscape dominated by single family residences. The Placer County Conservation Plan covers approximately 200,000 acres of western Placer County with goals to protect land and lower the costs, including a more efficient permitting process. The Conservation Plan includes several key development projects and procedures to protect the environment.

Placer Vineyards is one of the largest projects in California with plans for 14,000 dwellings. Another 2,000 homes are planned for Bickford Ranch and Placer Ranch projects 5,327 residences. The University of Warwick purchased 600 acres anticipating the education of 6,000 students by 2031. There will also be a new Sac State annex for 30,000 students.

About 6% of the land west of Auburn is wetlands, putting market forces for aggressive growth at odds with preservation requirements. Land around the casino and the city of Lincoln is the densest protected land in the county. There are 4 birds, 2 reptiles, 2 amphibians, 2 fish and 4 invertebrates in our county which are endangered, and are protected and regulated by 3 levels of government. Disturbances to the protected land, including such magical things as vernal pools, require approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Californian Fish and Wildlife, and Placer County.

Clean, cold, well-oxygenated water flowing from the mountains in the American River is fundamental to maintaining the Delta. Much of the water used for the new development will be pulled from the Sacramento River by PCWA to allow the higher quality water to continue to flow into the Delta.

Twenty million dollars of the $1 billion budgeted for county development in the next 50 years, will be spent on conservation. Fees collected from those who impact the protected resources as a result of their development projects will pay for the program. State and federal contributions will also help fund projects. Approval of the plan will be requested from the Board of Supervisors and City of Lincoln in September 2016. The public will then have a chance to review plans in January 2017 with permits to be obtained late in 2018. Most of the effort between now and September 2016 will be spent obtaining approval from the Federal government to protect the vernal pools.

The transition in store for us demands careful planning and deserves our close attention. I hope you stay informed as planning evolves and let your elected officials know your opinions.

More detail on the Placer County Conservation Plan and contact information for your representatives is at http://www.lwvplacercounty.org. You can also contact the Community Development Agency within the Placer County Planning Department.

Public Library Funding

At our county domes on Fulweiler Street, a Placer County citizen recently made a public appeal to save the Meadow Vista library, which was being threatened with closure. A supervisor replied to the plea by explaining how more funding to libraries would mean less funding to other services in the county. The money would just move from one program to the other shifting the problem. The answer was simple to understand and hard to argue with unless one had a detailed understanding of the Placer County budget. Our budget is 4 inches thick when printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper. This simple answer, however, did not respect the complexity of county funding programs. Assuming constituents do not understand the details of the budget and interrelations of services is a safe bet. Funding models used by local libraries in other counties are a simpler illustration to understand and discover ways to overcome underfunded libraries. What follows is information on the Nevada County libraries as a point of comparison for our own county.

In 1996, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors voted to cut library funding by 50%. The following year's budget proposed an additional 20% reduction. Most professional librarian positions were eliminated. Children's programs and school visits were halted. The three circulating library branches in the system reduced the hours they were open to the public to less than 28 a week. The Doris Foley Library, a research branch, was staffed entirely by volunteers.

Nevada County has strong grassroots support for libraries. Much of the county is rural and still use dial up to access the internet. Libraries are a good place to go for getting online and accessing information that more urban areas take for granted. Nevada County also values education, as evidenced by their support of a Sierra College campus in Grass Valley. Two Friends of the Library groups, one on each side of Donner Pass, augment their funds. The Friends of the Library groups are non-profit fundraisers and supporters of library services.

By 1998, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors placed Measure B on the ballot proposing a 1/8 cent sales tax increase to be dedicated to library services and materials for 5 years. The measure passed.

In 2002, with Measure B slated to expire in 2003, Measure C appeared on the Nevada County ballot proposing an extension. With 77% voter approval and passage in every district, Nevada County voters renewed the 1/8 cent sales tax; this time for fifteen years. Measure C also established a citizen oversight committee to ensure that sales tax funds were allocated to the Library and that funds were spent equitably.

Enactment of these ballot measures increased the Nevada County library budget from $500 thousand to $2.8 million. The increased funding resulted in more than twice as many paid library employees and more than doubled the hours libraries were open to the public. Two new station branches + open for limited hours and limited to basic services + were also opened.

Nevada County applies for and receives grants every year from the Northern Sierra Air Quality District. Vehicle licensing fee funding (AB 2766) is distributed to groups designing services to reduce air pollution from vehicles. In the past few years, the Library in our neighboring county has received funding through this program for eBooks and downloadable audio books; lending kiosks (like vending machines for books); and a project to redesign their website and enhance their online offerings.

Placer County can learn important lessons from Nevada County's library recovery, and apply that knowledge to many budget items in addition to the libraries. Use of the logic that funds shifted to libraries would be detrimental to services in another area of the budget is simplistic. That type of attitude ignores the interrelation of services. For example, there is a direct correlation between literacy and crime. There is also a direct positive impact made by library services on mental health, homelessness and child development. Through a program supported by the Placer County Friends of the Library, ten inmates in Placer County jail are currently being taught to read. The expectation is that it may lower incarceration and law enforcement costs.

Placer County is a charter county, enabling more flexibility and control than a traditional county such as Nevada. We have the right environment for the creative and holistic thinking required to solve the hard problems.

Two Reasons to Vote

There are only two reasons for anyone in America to vote. Regardless of your values, your political preferences, your background or your experience, they are the same reasons for all of us.

Every item on the ballot is either a person running for office or a measure proposing a new law. You only need to vote if you believe either one of these two things.

1. Your life will be affected by which particular person is in office.
2. You will be affected by new laws.

For those who truly believe all politicians are the same, it is easy to understand why voting for candidates is not a good enough reason to submit a ballot. One could argue that politicians come and go and that what a candidate says during their campaign is often evasive with no guarantee on follow through after the election.

It is much harder to understand why someone would not vote on new laws proposed by ballot measures.

New laws or changes to existing laws appear on our ballots as propositions. They are ideas proposed by either the legislature or by voters collecting signatures through the initiative process. Our state sometimes carries as many as a dozen propositions on a single ballot. Propositions do not get the same attention or dramatic media scrutiny as candidates. Unlike emotional rhetoric typical from the candidates, a proposition is written in black and white and if enacted, the law is exactly what was stated in the text of the proposition before the election.

Our current state Legislature is attempting to make it more difficult to place measures that are initiated by citizens on the ballot. They say it will reduce ballot clutter, but it will also simplify work for them by eliminating contention with ballot measures submitted by citizens that may conflict with the legislation the legislatures themselves have planned.

However, polling has consistently shown that Californians like having the power to vote on big issues. And who wouldn't?

Two opportunities for voters to weigh in on new laws in 2016 will be to affect public employee pensions and the twin tunnels planned to carry water south under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Both measures propose subjecting these issues to public votes, allowing Californians to weigh in on the decisions. The "Voter Empowerment Act of 2016", would require voter approval for any future increases in pension benefits for public employees. Sponsors argue that voters now approve long-term bonds, so it's only fair that pension benefits should have to undergo the same level of approval. Strong opposition is expected from the multimillion-dollar public employee unions.

Similar in logic, a ballot proposition designed to affect the twin tunnels would require that any state revenue bond in excess of $2 billion be subjected to a statewide vote, just as general obligation bonds must be approved by voters. Both propositions are designed to give voters a say on highly controversial, very expensive issues.

Even if you believe the laws of our land are important enough to warrant your vote, you may not always have time to study the ballot propositions in enough detail to fully understand the consequences of them passing. Plenty of explanations are usually available in the media which are biased either for or against. The loudest advertisements are those with the most money to spend on getting their message out. Mailings, television, radio and other media on propositions during the campaign is not always accurate and is most often designed to sway your decision, not to provide you with a fair and balanced perspective.

For the last seven years, the League of Women Voters of Placer County has provided unbiased analysis of state ballot measures in each election. Information in various levels of detail is on their website at www.lwvplacercounty.org during the election season. If you prefer in-person explanations and the ability to ask questions, members of the organization make presentations explaining ballot propositions to service clubs, churches, or even a group of friends. You can email questions or requests for a speaker to speaker@lwvplacercounty.org.

This easy to use resource in our county for unbiased information on proposed laws for our state makes it possible for every voter to be informed and have their say heard on new laws being proposed on the ballot. That means no one in Placer County has an excuse not to vote.

Civil Discourse and Voter Turnout

Published in Auburn Journal on 7/3/15.
Published in RocklinToday.com on 7/2/15.
Just over half of the registered voters in Placer County cast ballots in the November 2014 election. Only 41% of voters across California turned out. Those numbers do not include another 25% of Placer County's eligible voters who remain unregistered.

Weak voter turnout across our country can be attributed to mistrust of government inflamed by a lack of civil discussion. A Pew poll in January 2014 found 75% of Americans trusted the federal government to do what is right "only some of the time" or "never". In Sept 2014, a Gallop poll revealed Americans estimate Washington wastes fifty-one cents for every dollar it spends.

Accelerating the decline of citizen engagement in our government are two notable demographic shifts underway; Millennials maturing into adults and immigrants from within the Hispanic community.

More than half of the Millennials in our country are uninvolved with government policy. For their entire lives disrespectful discourse among adults, including candidates and government officials, has been the norm. The general sentiment in society teaches them not to trust politicians. "Couldn't lead a puppy to a hamburger" and "Absolutely delusional, she has disqualified herself to be commander in chief" are actual quotes from a democratic politician and a republican politician. This is just a mild sampling of daily political "rhetoric" many have learned to ignore. It is no wonder our young adults are disinterested or even repelled by this behavior and do not want to participate.

Many young people entering adulthood and the political world are surprisingly uninformed about how government works and their connection to it. Traditional civics courses based largely on history in textbooks do not motivate involvement. Teaching students how they can use the government to change things would be more effective.

Another demographic shift contributing to declining civic involvement are immigration trends. In the next 15 years, it is estimated that eligible Hispanic voters in California will increase to 53% while 30% will be white. Politicians understand these growth trends well. Meg Whitman spent $20 million to reach the Spanish-speaking population in her campaign for governor, but her position against education of the undocumented lost her votes from the Latino community. President Obama's websites lack Spanish translation of fact sheets and policies while it is clearly states in English that he supports Latinos.

To appeal to those it proposes to help, Hispanic policy currently lacking in tangible content must become an immigration-integration policy. For example, Latinos stop speaking Spanish by 2nd grade and are not given the opportunity to study it again until high school. Many Latinos choose to come here because they believe in democracy, even though it costs more than $2,000 to naturalize. Unable to identify policy relevant to their lives, a mere 30% of registered Hispanic voters actually vote.

Incorporated into a non-participating culture, immigrants learn not to engage, in a way that is similar to that of the Millenials. When Hispanics, who eventually make up more than half of eligible voters and only vote a third of the time are combined with a younger population who are not engaged, it causes one to wonder how much lower voter participation will go before our system becomes illegitimate.

By age sixteen, George Washington had copied by hand 10 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company And Conversation numerous times in penmanship class. The most substantial problem of civic involvement can be rectified by simply following the first rule.

Rule #1: Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

Civility in our democracy is not about squelching assertiveness, protest, civil disobedience or rigorous discussion of issues. Civil deliberation is a set of attitudes, behaviors, and skills that support thoughtful acts and values-based discussions when community members and public officials come to the table to talk. Civil discussions occur when we are able to regulate the cognitive and emotional information necessary to bring our best selves to the task of talking about challenging issues. Complicated problems like water and homelessness require inescapable tradeoffs, made in a way that is mutually constructive, respectful and courteous.

Only by considering all sides is it possible to make progress while keeping everyone's dignity and rights intact. If people feel a need to harbor hatred for those on the other side, so be it. But it is best if ugly remarks are kept to themselves as a courtesy to everyone else.

Dwight D. Eisenhower advised, "We need to celebrate diversity of thought, not pummel those with whom we may disagree. Civil discourse should be, above all else, civil."

Ask your representatives on the city council, the county board of supervisors and in Congress what they are doing to promote civil discourse in their district. After all, everybody honors he who honors everybody else.

Public Budgets

Published in Auburn Journal on 7/3/15.
Published on RocklinToday.com on 6/19/19/15.
It is budgeting season for our state, county and cities. The fiscal year, beginning on July 1st, requires plans for how California will spend over $1 billion, how Placer County will spend nearly $800 million, and how Auburn, as our county seat, will spend over $1 million.

At the state level, our governor and Legislature disagree and negotiate over various points before approving the budget by June 15, the constitutional deadline.

Here are examples of differences of opinion between Governor Brown and the Legislature on several issues in the fiscal year beginning July 2015.

Issue: Amount of Money coming into California will be more than earlier expectations.
Governor Opinion: Assumes state will take in $115 billion.
Legislature Opinion: Assumes state will take in $119 billion based on Legislative Analyst Office estimate.

Issue: Child Care funding is $1 billion less than before the recession.
Governor Opinion: Add $101 million to create 4,000 new slots.
Senate Opinion: Add $300 million to create 17,500 new slots and allow collective bargaining for workers.
Assembly Opinion: Add $605 million to create 20,500 new slots and allow collective bargaining for workers.

Issue: University of California raised fees last fall, then agreed to a 2 year tuition freeze for in-state students and pension overhaul.
Governor Opinion: Increase UC's funding by $119.5 million in the coming year.
Legislature Opinion: Increase UC funding $25 million above governor's proposal contingent on UC increasing enrollment by 5,000 in-state students in one year and not raising tuition in the next two years.

Issue: Medi-Cal Health care providers want to rescind the 10% cut in reimbursement for Medi-Cal patients.
Governor Opinion: Do not restore the 10% cut to Medi-Cal reimbursement that would have saved the state $200 million.
Legislature Opinion: Eliminate half of the Medi-Cal reimbursement reduction July 1 for dental at a cost of $15 million. Eliminate half of the reduction to all other providers on April 1.

Issue: Home-care workers hours were reduced during the recession, triggering unions and disability advocates to sue the state.
Governor Opinion: Raise $1.7 billion from a tax on health plans and use 10-15% of that to restore home-care service hours.
Legislature Opinion: State pays most of what it costs to restore hours effective in October and tax on managed-care organizations pays the rest.

Noteworthy in the Placer County budget are growth plans to the west of Highway 65. A key development is the University of Warwick campus that will grow to 6,000 students over the next 15 years. The 600-acre campus west of Roseville is part of one of England's leading universities founded in 1965 and widely respected for excellence in research and innovation. The University of Warwick was declared University of the Year by the Times for 2014/2015. Placer County leaders are counting on economic development brought on by faculty jobs for local residents and skilled college-educated workers graduating locally.

"The Placer County Conservation Plan", as Placer County Board of Supervisor Chairman Kirk Uhler puts it, "is Placer County's Development Plan". The plan, not yet finished, will be implemented starting next year.

While on the surface budget projections look good, looming liabilities are not as public. Recent estimates project unfunded pension liability for state and local governments in California at $4.7 trillion. Placer County is obligated to pay $100 million in employee pensions that it does not have. For too long, pension fund officials and politicians increased payouts in excess of the contributions to support the payouts. As a result, there is now not enough money to pay the promised benefits. Accounting practices do not make the true cost obvious to the public, and yet the public is now on the hook to make up the difference between promises and money to cover them.

While a growing share of budgets go to pensions, less is spent on public libraries, maintenance, parks, as well as feet on the street policemen and firefighters at the bottom of their organization who are directly responsible for the safety of our communities. In Oakland, for example, given the option to contribute 9% of their salary to their pensions and save 80 police jobs, the union voted to continue paying nothing and bypassing the option to hire additional officers.

Being unable to modify pensions Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino have declared bankruptcy.

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board is implementing new rules to require governments to report unfunded pension liabilities on their 2015 balance sheets. The new rule will provide transparency to allow a better understanding for the public. Also, look for legislation in the 2016 election that will give state and local governments more options to adjust pensions.

Adult Literacy in Placer County

Published in Auburn Journal on 7/3/15.
A local business owner in her mid-30's recently contacted the Placer Adult Literacy Service (PALS) requesting tutoring. She did not know how to read and wanted to help her son with his homework.

A young man in our county jail is also learning how to read from PALS tutors. When he came to jail, he lost his college athletic scholarship, not because he cannot read, but because he was arrested. These two people are among the 10% of adults in Placer County who cannot read. Across California, one in four adults is illiterate.

Many people who are unable to read are smarter than average, but uneducated. In fact, many develop strong coping skills to compensate for not being able to read basic survival information like product directions, road signs, the news or a job application.

Working for a life-skills-training program in Sacramento over a period of several years, I listened to stories from over 100 homeless women. The pattern of homelessness was passed down from generation to generation. It included having children, losing children, going to jail, using illegal drugs, dropping out of school, and the inability to read. Costs and a heavier load on society for public services (including welfare, mental health, rehabilitation, courts, and law enforcement) all increase when this cycle is continued. Social assistance programs in some areas are recognizing the best way to break this cycle is to read to children in disadvantaged environments at an early age. During inspections of living environments, social workers insist that books are present and being read on a regular basis to all children present. Mothers in these environments are willing participants in the low cost, high quality tactic of regularly reading to their children as a way to help them develop into a better life.

General guidelines in our country suggest that children should have 1000 stories read to them from start to finish before they begin kindergarten. Reading one story every day for 3 years, for example, adds up to more than 1000. Parents who cannot read to their children start or continue the multi-generational cycle of not being able to read and passing along the burdens that come with that cycle.

For the one in ten adults in Placer County who cannot read, free services are available from PALS and local libraries. In addition to the PALS tutors, Brainfuse is a private company that offers online tutoring for all ages including resume writing, test preparation, live career coaching, foreign language lessons and more. The Literacy Support Council donated money to the Placer County library, on behalf of the PALS program, to pay for a subscription to Brainfuse. The Brainfuse service can be accessed by the public from Placer County Library's website free of charge. You simply need a Placer County Library card to log in. The card is also free and can be obtained at any of our 11 branch locations in the county.

PALS tutors meet one-on-one with learners, in person, anywhere in Placer County for confidential reading and writing assistance.

Referring people to these services not only helps strengthen our entire community, it also helps those who cannot read advertisements to become aware. PALS phone number is (530) 886-4530.

Gangs in Placer County

Published in Roseville and Rocklin Today on 4/29/2015.
Published in Auburn Journal on 4/30/15.
Of the seven recognized gangs in California, Norteņos and Sureņos are the two present in Placer County. Norteņos and Soreņos are warring gangs. Each has an ever present and almost obsessive goal of killing people in the other gang. Anyone at Juvenile Hall can tell you that. They are not shy about giving warning signs of their gang affiliation. You just need to know where to look.

The names of the gangs reflect their history of having all Hispanic members. Today, they have evolved and integrated many additional ethnicities into their membership. New members are recruited with the promise of money, women, cars and protection. A growing gang trend is their involvement with human trafficking, the fastest growing illegal undertaking in our country. The high profit in sexual slavery, which is the most common type of human trafficking occurring in Placer County, is what is drawing more gangs into the business.

Gangs in California originated in prisons, usually for providing protection to their members. The "Generals" at the highest level direct the gangs from state prisons. In the late 1980's, the first laws to address gang activity were enacted in California (Penal Code 186.22), and stipulate that a person who participates in a "criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in criminal gang activity" is grounds for arrest.

Some of the signs of membership in gangs are pretty obvious. Many members have tattoos of the gang name in obvious places and printed very large and are easy to spot. More subtle signs of gang membership are through colors and numbers.

The Nuestra Family, or Norteņos, started in Soledad prison in Monterey County. Norteņos dress in red and identify with the number 14 because the letter "n" is the 14th letter in the alphabet. Many times they use dots to code the number 14. One dot stands alone and another 4 dots are in a row or clustered close by.

The Sureņos, part of the Mexican Mafia, started near Tracy in San Joaquin County. Sureņos adopted the color blue and the letter "m". Their code name, El Eme, is Spanish for the letter "m" and their code number is 13. A member of the Sureņos Tiny Locos in Roseville was arrested in 2013 in a shootout with law enforcement in downtown Roseville. This man had "Roseville Tiny Locos" tattooed in large letters across his stomach.

We are lucky that much criminal activity, including gang activity, is modest in Placer County compared to other areas in the state. Recently gang members from Stockton were arrested for stealing parts from a car in Roseville. When asked why they came all the way up here to commit their crimes, they said that we "have better stuff up here". Apparently we also have alert citizens and law enforcement. A citizen who witnessed suspicious activity around some parked cars reported it to the police, which resulted in their arrest.

If you suspect gang activity, you can call your local law enforcement agency or if you are observing a crime in progress, call 911. Some local jurisdictions have graffiti abatement programs that respond to reports of gang graffiti. General questions about gangs can be answered by calling Placer County Sheriff's office Intelligence Unit in the Corrections Division at (530) 745-8527

Mental Health & the Law

Published in Auburn Journal on 4/3/15
On January 10, 2001 in Nevada City, a mentally ill man arrived at the Nevada County Behavioral Health Department and told Laura Wilcox, who was working as a volunteer receptionist, that he wished to see his psychiatrist. When he was unable to see his psychiatrist, he shot several people in the building, leaving three people dead, including Laura.

In an effort to prevent tragedies like this, legislation was enacted, called Laura's Law, providing an option for treatment of people who are seen as potentially dangerous and are seriously mentally ill. Yet, the mentally ill continue to enter our courts and jails at an alarming rate. Defendants deemed either incompetent to stand trial or insane at the time the crime was committed contribute to a list of 600 people waiting for admittance to one of 6 mental health hospitals in California. Our Superior Court judges in the county determine the mental health of defendants in the courtroom. Laws defining Competency and Insanity in addition to expert witnesses from the mental health field, guide legal judgment.

The first job of the court is to determine that defendants are able to understand the nature of the charges against them and that they can assist their lawyer in their defense, which is defined as Competent in California Penal Code Section 1368. When competence is in doubt, a psychiatrist or psychologist is appointed to further aid the determination. Both the lawyers and the judge can question Competence of a person who is on trial. Court proceedings are stopped when a defendant is determined not Competent and that defendant is held in jail waiting for admittance to a mental hospital. New evidence must be presented to the court proving competence to allow court proceedings to restart.

Another way the mentally ill enter our jails is by being considered Insane at the time the crime was committed. As defined in California Penal Code Section 1026, Insane defendants are considered to be incapable of understanding the nature of the crime that was committed and unable to distinguish between right and wrong at the time the crime was committed.

It is possible for a person to continue through a trial as a Competent defendant and yet be Insane at the time of the crime, and vice versa. Any combination of these two mental health determinations not only places great strain on a court and jail system already reeling from overcrowding and escalating costs, but also does a great disservice to the mentally ill and the safety of our community.

Recently enacted Laura's Law (California Welfare and Institutions Code section 5345) intends to reduce the number of mentally ill people entering courts, prisons and jails. People who are not necessarily in trouble with the law but have friends or family who think that there is a risk they could be dangerous can be identified and receive mental health treatment.

Nevada County estimates that during the first two and a half years of the implementation of Laura's Law it realized savings of more than $500,000 by avoiding hospitalizations and incarcerations. To date Nevada County is the only county that has fully implemented the law. Hopefully other local governments will adopt this law to prevent the consequences of mental health problems that otherwise are dealt with in our courts and jails.

Governing California through changes in the climate

Published in Auburn Journal on 2/17/15
California, the 7th largest economy in the world, has led other world powers through economic instability and innovation booms, and now faces an historic challenge governing in a time of climate change.

Uncertainty in rain patterns, wildfire activity, sea level rise and daily temperatures, has already begun. Each of these natural phenomena not only holds strong implications for agriculture, air quality, and electricity generation, but also for our real estate values and popular quality of life. To continue a major role in the global economy, California government must provide stability in our transportation, hospitals, water and sewage, as well as fire and emergency response.

Controlling Climate Change is to control Mother Nature. There are no guidebooks and little precedent for this new challenge. Developing plans to adapt is more realistic than trying to control Mother Nature. What works today for planning and buildings will not work when a rising ocean eroding shorelines also erodes the concept of permanent landscape. Property seaward of high tide is considered public property in our state, so as high tide keeps moving up to people's homes do those homes become public property?

Adapting to climate impacts requires comprehensive solutions. Seawalls for example, merely push one city's problems onto its neighbors. Overlapping local governing agencies with competing interests require California to counter gridlock by providing the best science on climate impact, standardized information and risk assessments tools sophisticated enough for the job in all areas of our state. California's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 aims to reduce emissions and yet California contributes merely 1% toward emissions in the atmosphere. More significant and comprehensive to the protection of our economy and livelihood is managing the effect water and weather will have on California's sea ports and airports. Flood protection becomes more significant brought on by wild swings from drought to excessive rain, combined with less snowpack - a trend that will continue.

Investing today's tax dollars to protect tomorrow's residents from climate impacts is not a trivial obstacle. Over the past 5 years, California's governor has begun to focus resources more intently on adapting while the federal government is just beginning to address policy. The state Legislature has yet to engage in major adaptation policy. The Climate Action Team, led by the California Natural Resources Agency, is moving to address longer, slower emerging problems. This team defined the problem but does not specify what can be done. Their research relies heavily on state government groups, but lacks input from local governments and citizens. After all, even though it is called Global Climate Change, it really is a local issue with solutions requiring regional cooperation and plans. How will government institutions steer California through this new era of uncertainty? Unique to California, the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan watchdog group, lists Climate Change first on its 10 top challenges to governing California. Included in their recently released Economy & Efficiency Report (http://www.lhc.ca.gov/studies/224/report224.html) are five recommendations.

1. The Governor should establish the best science on anticipated climate change impacts to help decision-makers accurately assess their risks.

2. State government should incorporate climate risk assessment into everyday public planning and processes.

3. The Legislature should expand the primary mission of the Strategic Growth Council beyond mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions to include an equal focus on adapting to the changes.

4. State government should work with counties, private insurers, wild land stakeholders and the building industry to minimize wildfires and property damage by more aggressively enforcing defensible space requirements in state law.

5. The Governor should work with key state agencies and other public and private coastal interests to clarify the impact of sea level rise. A legal framework should exist in advance of crisis to prevent litigation and enable stability as a rising ocean begins to condemn private property on the Pacific coastline.

This is the perfect time to let your representatives know what you think. Newly elected state Senators and Assembly members were recently sworn in with no aggressive legislation in place for this problem. Whether you agree with the Little Hoover Commission recommendations or not, let your opinion be known.

Human Trafficking in Placer County

Published on rocklintoday.com on 1/21/15 entitled: Human Trafficking in Placer County.

Sexual slavery and forced labor, the most common motivators for human trafficking, occur in Placer County more often than you may think. Arrests in both Penryn and Auburn occurred within months of each other in 2014. Awareness of this trend is the first step in making our community less attractive to these criminals. Human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal undertaking, and the world's second most profitable enterprise behind drug trafficking. It is estimated as a $32 billion industry with extremely high profit margins, luring more into the trade. The United States is one of the top destination countries for trafficked victims and California is among the nation's top four destination states. Most enter our country from China or Russia and find their way to Auburn through Oakland and LA County. Half of the victims are under 18 years old and most of them are female. Runaways and children from dysfunctional homes are recruited and systematically led into an indoctrination process of captivity and addiction resulting from drugs given to new recruits to calm their fears Brainwashing leads captives to believe that escaping, or even trying to escape, would cause themselves or their family members back home to be hurt or killed. They are led to believe they owe their captor money and the amount they owe keeps growing. Moved from location to location, they don't always know where they are and become desperate and dependent on their captor for basic needs like food. Traffickers buffer themselves from law enforcement by using other people, including their captives, to make initial contact with new victims. When law enforcement is able to confront them, traffickers sometimes claim they live with and are supported by their parents or grandparents. Gangs, expanding from trafficking guns and drugs to trafficking human beings, will set aside traditional rivalries to maximize profits promised by this evolving industry. Traffickers are trending younger and becoming more organized and modernized. Aggressive uses of online tools with promises of "great jobs overseas" and "have your own apartment, don't pay for anything" prey on a person's desire to escape to independence or to help their struggling family. Code words in advertisements attract customers for illegal services provided by victims. Law enforcement must have increasingly sophisticated means to track down these offenders. Laws specific to this crime, first passed in 2000, define human trafficking as a person intentionally depriving or violating the personal liberty of another. California law made human trafficking a felony offense in 2005, and requires money accumulated by perpetrators to be confiscated and redirected to aid victims' recovery. Proposition 35, approved by voters in 2012, requires every field and investigative officer to complete at least two hours of training in handling human trafficking. Officers are taught how to interview, investigate, and gather evidence with emphasis placed on the officer's response to the victim. Included in the law are mental and physical indicators that help officers identifying the victim, as protection if the victim is committing an illegal act. Guidelines include supplying information about therapeutic community resources, part of a procedure called "rescue and restore." Placer County staffs a special investigative unit to address human trafficking cases with members from Auburn, Roseville and Rocklin Police Departments, Placer County Sheriff's, Placer County Probation, and the Department of Justice. Staying aware of telltale signs and reporting them is the best way for us to keep human trafficking out of our community. Some signs to look for in human trafficking victims are:
  • Injury or signs of poor personal care
  • Withdrawn, censored, or afraid to talk
  • Limited freedom of movement
  • Lives and works at the same location
  • Owes money to their employer
  • Security measures at work and where they live to control human contact
  • Employer has their I.D., including their passport or birth certificate If you see suspicious activity, contact your local Police Department or Placer County Special Investigation Unit Commander Bill Olson at 916-409-8298.

Government Transparency and Accountability

published in the Auburn Journal 9/19/2013.

As this is a Maiden publication on public policy analysis, it seems only fitting to begin by outlining government transparency and accountability. After all, if the details of how government gets things done were obvious to normal citizens like us, and if knowing how our tax dollars are actually spent weren't such a mystery at times, there wouldn't be a need for a public policy analysis column, would there?

A government that is less complex and more transparent, one that is adequate, flexible, fair, reliable, and sustainable, should also be understandable to the public. When we do not understand how our tax dollars are spent, there is no way to hold government accountable for spending the way we intended when we adopted our legislation and laws.

There are a number of steps that government could take which would solve the problems we encounter while trying to understand what our government is doing.

The first step is simply making information available. Posting budgets online is a good place to start because it is essential for any further progress toward fiscal accountability. Merely making information available, so easy to do in this digital age, falls short of the real challenge of making the information understandable. A downside of our digital age is the overwhelming volume of available information from which to choose. Unless presented in a way that we have time to absorb it, it is useless. The challenge is not just the complexity of the information itself but also the infrastructure that is used to present the information.

Consistent information across government departments could have an enormous impact on infrastructure transparency, helping us to more accurately interpret information as we move from department to department in our quest. Imagine if you picked up a budget report at your local police department and the budget report at the county records office was in the same format. Imagine if the way you found information online was obvious and you could find the same type of information by clicking links structured the same way regardless of which department it was and whether that department was in the county or the city. It would make the quest for this information much less discouraging. Significant active engagement and oversight from the public is essential in a transparent infrastructure. Local control requires local community engagement that is informed, active, and inclusive, even in the decision-making process. Budget workshops which are designed to inform and engage members of the community are essential to open government. The more prominently publicized and welcoming the invitations to such hearings, the more likely the public will attend. Without the public's input, the hearings are useless.

Community input and review of Local Control and Accountability plans which confirm that plans are in alignment with stated goals and priorities, is another example of a best practice of open government. Accountability in any system of governance provides both clear lines of authority and clearly defined methods of accountability. Interested community members who have the opportunity to be partners with accountable government representatives in the development of plans, instead of being brought in after the fact (sometimes giving the appearance of participation) is an even better practice. We are lucky to live in a community of concerned citizens. Governments able to engage those citizens who evaluate alternatives fairly, with unbiased intentions, will prove to possess a core competency necessary to accomplish true transparency.

Legislative policy can be complex, but finding reliable, unbiased information should not be more work than it is to understand the information once you have found it. As government moves towards being more understandable itself, it can bridge the gap by referring interested members of the public to community groups that make it easier to learn and become more involved.

PCWA and Placer County

published in the Auburn Journal 12/1/2013 entitled: Residents have big stake in Placer County water politics

Despite the name, Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) is not part of our county government + nor does it share fiscal year boundaries with our state or county. Understanding the PCWA organizational structure and its relationship to ratepayers is not straight forward, confusing to almost everyone in the jurisdiction.

The confusion is not directly PCWA's fault. Much of it was created by a history and rise to power in a democratic society where accountability is sometimes elusive and a logical, intuitive progression of growth and structure is rare.

Jurisdictions of the PCWA Board of Directors do not correlate with the water Zones used to assign rates to constituents, leaving many PCWA Directors representing just a portion of multiple Zones.

For nearly 40 years, since 1975, PCWA has been separate from county government. Eighteen years previous, in 1957, they began under the oversight of the county Board of Supervisors. From the very beginning, PCWA has been responsible for sustaining reliable and affordable water for the people of Placer County. Broad recognition of the unique affluence of water flowing through our County from Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River as well as the American River and Bear River makes PCWA's mission critical to its constituents. And even if you do not believe in global warming, the importance of PCWA's mission continues to mount, exacerbated by two-thirds of California's population in the Southern California desert who repeatedly drain nearby water sources.

PCWA is a special district (Special Districts are defined in California Code 56036) independent from county oversight and governed by a complicated process. One facet of accountability comes from the voters who elect the Board of Directors; a problematic arrangement due to (1) the confusing structure of the PCWA organization and (2) the fact that Proposition 218 is not widely understood by voters.

Before Prop 218 passed in 1996, local agencies were not required to obtain approval from property owners before levying assessments, even under significant protest. Prop 218 now requires local special districts to administer a vote of the affected property owners for any proposed new or increased assessment before it is levied. For example, in July a four page Notice of Public Hearing to Consider Changes to Zone 1 Water Rates and Charges was mailed to property owners in Zone 1. On the back page near the end of the four page mailing, were two paragraphs entitled How to Protest the Proposed New Rates explaining how to effectively submit a NO vote on the increase. All voters not properly submitting a protest vote are assumed to vote YES under Prop 218. Out of approximately 40,000 "ballots" mailed by PCWA, less than 30 recipients returned a response meeting the criteria to be considered a NO vote to the increase. One may conclude that either there was landslide support for the increase, or voters did not understand the process to submit their vote of protest.

Another facet of PCWA accountability is through LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission consisting of two employees who oversee all special districts in Placer County. LAFCO is accountable to the state, bypassing oversight of PCWA from Placer County government.

Available online, the PCWA budget is seventy-three pages long; trim in comparison to the 2012 Financial Report which is one hundred twelve pages. Both of these documents can bring a personal computer to its knees when downloading. Finding out how to get a hardcopy is not directly evident on the webpage, so the PCWA Director in your district can help you get a printed copy and understand the information, once you get it.

Placer County encompasses what may be the most diverse area in our state; from ski slopes to rich agricultural valleys; communities with no phone service, to a high-tech Mecca ripe with venture capitalist-partnered start-ups; and water abundant oases touching on the edges of high deserts. We are approximately 1,500 square miles in area with a population of some 360,000 governed by five supervisors, 2,700 county employees and an 800 million dollar budget.

Water is our most renown and coveted resource. An inability of adequate voter acknowledgment and protection of that valuable and delicate natural phenomenon leaves us vulnerable. PCWA remains separate from county oversight and is directly answerable to voters and rate payers; a large responsibility and a tentative arrangement if voters and rate payers are not engaged.

Youth & the Criminal Justice System

published in the Auburn Journal 12/29/2013 entitled: With support, at-risk youth can succeed

"I'd like to roll out of bed Christmas morning and find Assad turning himself over to the U.N.'s International Criminal Court and Monsanto filing bankruptcy after giving its land to local farmers... "are comments from Treyvon, a twenty year old from Yorba Linda in Auburn Journal's November 24 Straight Talk. How inspiring it is to know that a twenty year old is tuned into widely global and relevant issues. Treyvon and his generation have been released into adulthood with many challenges awaiting them and we are all dependent on this youthful group to navigate us out of the morass.

Community efforts to provide safe and supportive environments for children and their families, as well as institutions that respect them, promoting non-violent solutions to problems with respect to the rights and best interests of the child, are fundamental building blocks in and "It Takes A Village To Raise A Child" mindset. A juvenile justice and dependency system which works to prevent child abuse, neglect and juvenile delinquency, which serves foster children, and which rehabilitates juvenile offenders by promoting the safety and well-being of children to help prepare them for productive participation in society is a noble goal. Early identification of at-risk children and families followed by appropriate referrals to services which work with children, youth, families and schools are such lofty goals, they can sound downright unrealistic.

Right in our backyard, Loomis to be exact, there is a Group Home and school for teens called Koinonia. Loosely translated, Koinonia means community or joint participation. This industrious sub-community is working magic that is largely invisible to the quiet communities surrounding and interspersed around it. An accredited school and multiple group homes spread throughout the rural hills of Loomis provide the training ground for rehabilitated youth ages twelve through seventeen who are coming off some of the most violent streets in Northern California.

Earlier this year as part of the Placer County Juvenile Justice Commission, I had the opportunity to tour a Koinonia Group home, observe their school, and talk with several resident students. I was greeted with a handshake, direct eye contact, direct answers to my questions in proper English, and relaxed yet erect postures - impressive traits for any teenager and especially for these students who so recently have been separated from years of gang involvement and criminal behavior.

Koinonia's school, attracting at-risk youth from all over Northern California under the jurisdiction of Placer County Office of Education, boasts a large percentage of its graduates continuing on to college. One student was recently accepted into a four year college. This is true rehabilitation in a criminal justice system that has become used to recidivism rates over 50%. Koinonia provides a model for their peers and more fundamentally, provides a tremendous contribution to the value of our society. Koinonia does this with strict adherence to a philosophy that concentrates on positive reinforcement and ownership of responsibility. Use of slang or cursing results in minimized privileges of violators. Eye contact, chores, cleanliness are all rewarded with a well structured earned-privileges infrastructure.

Money management skills, taught with real money gained through grants, allow student residents to earn savings released to them upon their freedom from the institution, increasing their chance of financial survival along with the many new skills and lifestyle methods they learn.

As we move beyond a recession hitting our emerging leaders with exorbitant college costs and a meager job market, rehabilitating and encouraging this generation's survival is paramount to how our world will shape up in the next 20 years. Attitudes like those of Trevon and the rehabilitation philosophy of Koinonia deserve our focus as they can be the bright spots of the future.

Money In Politics

published in the Auburn Journal 1/19/2014 entitled:Voters share duty to follow the money

Millions of campaign dollars are flowing everywhere in our elections, and this is nothing new in our nation. In earlier times, candidates came directly to the polls on Election Day and provided lavish meals and alcohol to voters. More than a dozen laws enacted since that time - over the last one hundred forty-four years - resulted in some containment of unfair influence of voters. These laws still fall short of perfecting broad participation in our election system and what is worse; they can foster more covert behavior making regulation harder.

The Secretary of State's Political Reform Division administers provisions of the California Political Reform Act, a set of laws intended to combat corruption and undue influence, to enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office, and to allow maximum citizen participation in the political process. This Act, in addition to many before and after it, also attempts to ensure the public's right to know about financing of political campaigns. In 1974, the Federal Election Campaign Act passed overwhelmingly. It states "receipts and expenditures in election campaigns should be fully and truthfully disclosed in order that the voters may be fully informed..." Finding the disclosed information and making sense of it among the plethora of information created by a ubiquitous internet can be a barrier to making these laws useful to the typical voter, however.

Currently, detailed disclosure is required at both the state and local levels. Campaigns for ballot measures and candidates alike are monitored by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which regulates campaign financing and spending, lobbyist registration and reporting, as well as post-governmental employment.

Campaign financing and public funding for federal and state elections can be tracked including the names of those making contributions, who receives them, and how funds are spent. To follow the money on a ballot proposition, California government provides Cal-Access (http://www.cal-access.ss.ca.gov). Another website that is newer and can be easier to navigate is provided by Maplight (http://maplight.org), a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that reveals money's influence on politics in the U.S. Congress and in the California State Legislature. Maplight is funded by individuals and foundations who favor greater transparency for our elected officials' actions.

Believe it or not, disclosure law in California is more aggressive than most other states. You may remember a few months ago before the 2012 election, money supporting Prop 32 and opposing Prop 30 came from a nonprofit organization in Arizona. The FPPC took a bold step in investigating this organization, asking for records from the Arizona operation and this no-nonsense approach was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The investigation revealed money transferred between three nonprofits without proper disclosure and reporting. The result was a half million dollars of fines levied on these entities. The action taken by our FPPC to enforce those laws won California some significantly good press, touting us as a model state in dealing with campaign disclosure enforcement.

Unfortunately, the violating organizations claim they do not have the millions of dollars to pay the fines because they already spent the money on their campaigns.

Campaign spending is limited also. But, enforcing these laws is walking a thin line. When the courts uphold spending as a First Amendment Right, the spending of a few is permitted to drown out the voices of the masses.

Plenty of elected officials may be not be on the up and up. Voters can utilize their immense power by calling violators to task and becoming more aware of what is actually happening vs what appears to be happening in our government. No matter how trivial the matter may seem this effort is never wasted. Even small contributions from individuals can bring significant transparency to our government if enough voters get involved.

Twin Tunnels

published in the Auburn Journal 3/13/2014 entitled: Placer County right in the middle of state water plans

Placer County is in a unique situation as the region where the majority of the state's water originates, giving us senior water rights. Retention of these rights is tricky business amid the government and agribusiness powerhouses involved in California water.

You may already be aware of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), or "Twin Tunnel" water project proposed by the California Department of Water Resources. The project would create two side-by-side underground tunnels carrying fresh water from the Sacramento River to Tracy. Water would travel south to farms in the Central Valley and urban areas in the East and South Bay and into Southern California. The 33,000 page BDCP lays out 10 years of construction impacting 6,600 acres of agricultural land. It tackles two equal goals of improving the reliability of the water supply to California residents and restoring the delta ecosystem comprising 150,000 acres of habitat for protected species over 50 years.

The Sacramento Delta is an integral player in these co-equal goals and is no stranger to contentious objectives. Water supplied to the equivalent of over 2 million California households flows out of the Delta each year (two California households use about one acre-foot of water annually). The BDCP does not promise additional water to project supporters who are mostly located in agricultural and urban areas to the south, as it projects the amount of water exported through the Delta in 2025 to be the same as it is now. However even with no increase, the allocation of that much water is a daunting task complicated by the intricacy of the ecosystem.

Today about 70 islands have been created by the construction of over 1,100 miles of levees from the Delta tidal marshland . Even the BDCP recognizes the complexity of Mother Nature in admitting that "considerable uncertainty exists regarding the understanding of the Delta ecosystem and the likely outcomes of implementing the conservation measures". If restoration is not accomplished, it will not be due to a lack of goals; as the BDCP contains more than 200 biological goals and objectives.

The $16B billion construction estimate for this project, predicted by some to be more than double when other costs such as restoration and finance costs are included, will be paid by contractors who rely on Delta water exports for agricultural and urban use. Funding for the $176-million planning effort that has been percolating since 2006 was also provided by water contractors. In November, a water bond will ask California taxpayers to fund a portion of the restoration and administration for the project.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, motivated by the national economic importance of California agriculture, operates the Central Valley Project consisting of a federal system of dams, canals and pumps moving water from Folsom reservoirs through the Delta to farms and urban areas south of us. Farmers will vary the crops they plant according to the price and availability of water, which is what captures federal government's interest in the way water is supplied in California. Decisions about water originating in Placer County being made by national, state and local governments, adds another aspect of complexity to the already arduous task of accomplishing the BDCP's co-equal goals.

Completion of the delta restoration by the year 2040 relies on passage of water bonds but implementation of the BDCP can continue for 10 years without voter involvement. Voters have an opportunity to weigh in at the June primary election through their selection of state and national representatives, many who have shaped the 2009 Delta Reform Act used to craft the BDCP thus far.

Agriculture

published in the Auburn Journal 3/30/2014 entitled: Do you know what's in the food on your table?

Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries in our country according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Another federal non-partisan agency, the General Accountability Office (GAO), placed fragmented oversight for food safety on the list of High-Risk government operations in 2007 because of inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources. Food safety remains on the High-Risk list today.

Pesticide use that contaminates water supplies, exposes farm workers, and adversely affects unintended and innocent species is one cause of the condition we find the food industry in today. The recent rise of antimicrobial resistance and hard-to-control outbreaks like staph infections led CDC to conclude that the most catastrophic problems are the piled-on effects that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and antibiotics have over time on our life expectancy and health.

The relatively new discovery of DNA in the mid-20th century made both plant and animal breeding possible through genetic engineering. Direct manipulation of a DNA sequence, the foundation of genetic engineering, is accomplished by inserting individual genes between multiple organisms to create a new organism. Genes may also be transferred between closely related organisms to speed the breeding process. Clones produced using a species' own DNA are considered by U.S. regulating agencies to be equivalent to conventionally-bred animals, so cloned cattle, pigs, and goats are sold as part of our food supply without labeling.

GMOs, initially marketed in 1978 as insulin, were first patented in 1980 by the supplier of a genetically-engineered product used to breakdown crude oil when cleaning up oil spills. By 1984, GMOs appeared in vaccines.

In 1990, food was genetically engineered for the first time to speed the aging of cheese, kicking off a rapidly-growing trend as a method to increase crop yields. Today, 90% of the corn and 93% of soy in America are GMOs.

Large farms plant GMO crops that survive a dousing of Roundup while weeds surrounding the crops die. Indiscriminate application of poisons like Roundup kills beneficial insects and eventually develops resistance in weeds. Over time, ever stronger herbicides are required to kill the weeds and the vicious cycle is perpetuated even further by GMO pollen that can contaminate crops within a five-mile radius.

The U.S. National Academics, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, Royal Society, European Commission and Center for Science in the Public Interest concur there is no evidence it is dangerous to eat genetically-modified foods. This sharp contrast to CDC and GAO conclusions may be explained by the fact that studying the link between GMOs and adverse effects is difficult due to the absence of GMO product labeling in our country. Also, safety testing today is done one factor at a time, tested for a limited time in a controlled environment, which is not the way accumulation of GMOs in human tissue and organs occur in the multi-dimensional way we live our lives.

Responsibility for food safety is shared by federal, state and local agencies including U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Drug Administration, and CDC , to name a few. Overlapping mandates and a complex nature of interaction among all agencies working on food safety is further complicated by self regulation. A pilot program set up in 1997 allowed five hog-meat processing plants to expedite inspections by using company employees instead of USDA inspectors to check meat safety. Sixteen years later in 2013, the USDA inspector general reported the evaluation of the pilot was not complete and safety violations were reported from three of the five plants. This year USDA plans to complete the evaluation report and roll out a program intended to save millions of dollars in inspection costs based on this pilot program of self regulation.

Sustainable agriculture, balancing the social and economic equity of environmental health and economic profitability, is needed to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations. Greater benefit may be gained from a holistic approach of regulation and oversight that considers relationships of the farm to the local ecosystem, to accumulated human microbial imbalances, and to communities affected locally and globally. Farmers who are not in such a rush can resolve the same problems solved by GMO through traditional hybridization, and good plant management. It just takes longer.

In the meantime, consumers hold great power in their buying decisions. Merchants here in Placer County, including Whole Food, Trader Joe's and Flour Garden Bakery guarantee products that are antibiotic-free and GMO-free. Growing our own food and seeking out locally-farmed crops that we know are grown in a safe environment behooves us whenever possible.

What You Shoud Know About Special Districts

published in the Auburn Journal 5/2/2014 entitled: When it comes to rate increases, know how Prop 218 works

Taxes, assessments and fees may sound like the same thing to most of us who end up paying them, but separate legal definitions for each of them allows different ways of gaining public approval to raise rates. For example, Prop 218, approved by California voters in 1996, regulates public service rates for property related fees and assessments. PCWA followed the Prop 218 process recently to raise rates in one of their water districts. In Auburn, an increase in sewer rates proposed by the city will use the Prop 218 procedure beginning this spring.

A public agency proposing a rate change begins the Prop 218 process by mailing a written notice to ratepayers affected by the change. If the majority of the people receiving the notices oppose the rate increase, it will not be imposed. This sounds simple until you dig a little deeper into the process. Here are a few things voters need to be aware of. First of all, voters are familiar with ballots formatted by the elections office or the Secretary of State, which include a clear list of choices. Many times the details of those choices are confusing, but it is clear and easy to mark FOR or AGAINST an item on the ballot. In contrast, Prop 218 notifications are written by the public agency requesting the fee increase. They may include half a dozen pages explaining why the rate change is being proposed, the amount it would be, and the logistics of a public hearing. Instead of a clear way for ratepayers to submit a FOR or AGAINST vote, a paragraph on one of the pages states how to submit a protest. Unless a ratepayer understands the Prop 218 process, the notification proposing an increase can easily be mistaken as notification of a foregone conclusion of a rate increase. Another anomaly that may catch a ratepayer off guard is the "majority protest" nature of Prop 218. In other words, a ratepayer is counted as agreeing to the rate change if they do not submit an acceptable protest in the proper way within the allotted time.

Special Districts and government agencies following Prop 218 or any other regulation are largely held accountable by the voters. When voters elect officials to governing bodies of public agencies (in the examples cited here, the PCWA Board of Directors or the Auburn City Council) that Board or Council is holding the public agency accountable. As Special Districts and government agencies follow regulations like Prop 218, voters who have questions or are confused about how + or whether + processes are followed properly, have several options.

  • Every meeting of a governing body sets aside part of the agenda for questions from the public who are in attendance. Questions asked during this time do not have to pertain to anything on the agenda.
  • The Brown Act, which governs all public meetings, is enforceable by the District Attorney.
  • The Placer County Grand Jury follows up on concerns submitted to them by voters regarding any public agency.
  • Of course, voters can also ask questions or voice concerns directly to the elected officials who represent them.

Articles in the Auburn Journal about the upcoming Prop 218 sewer fee proposed by the city have laid out the schedule for the process including the sewer rate study to be discussed at the April 28th Auburn City Council meeting, the public notices to be mailed to Auburn sewer ratepayers on April 29th, and the public hearing on June 23rd.

Asking questions and learning about Prop 218, or any other public policy or public agency is never a waste of time for a voter. After all, voters are ultimately responsible for holding public officials and public agencies accountable.

Deciding Whether to Sign a Petition for a Ballot Initiative

This November the public will once again be asked to vote for or against Propositions that are often complex and confusing, making it difficult to make your choice as a responsible voter. The following information may help you be more discerning and confident when casting your ballot this year.

The Constitution of the State of California is the governing document that establishes the duties, power, structure and function of the government of the state. Compared to other states, the California Constitution is long and complex due to many amendments that make specific requirements of law rather than establish general principles.

Proposed laws and bonds that require voter approval known as ballot measures can be put before voters by either the Legislature or citizens using the initiative process. The number of propositions on California ballots continues to grow, from 10 in the 1950's to over 60 by the 1990's and 2000's. With 4 months left until the election in November, 5 initiatives are already qualified for the General Election.

Over 100 years ago the initiative process was started so citizens would not have to wait for legislators to make new laws. Today, the amount of money raised to support or oppose a proposition has such a strong influence over whether or not it passes, that the average citizen cannot afford the process. For example, by 2006, interest groups spent more than $330 million in the initiative process and that spending trend continues to escalate.

Part of the process to get an initiative on the ballot includes collecting signatures from a small percentage of citizens, usually about 500,000 + 800,000. Budgets allow interest groups to pay people to collect those signatures, which is why you sometimes encounter a signature gatherer asking you to sign more than one petition and more concerned with getting your signature than explaining the intricacies of what you're signing.

Voters are often asked to sign a petition "just to get it on the ballot, so people can vote on it." Your signature is valuable, and it only makes sense to sign a petition for an initiative that you believe belongs on the ballot. Here are five questions to consider before you decide whether or not to sign an initiative petition:

1. Is it complex or confusing? Some initiatives are not well written or contain conflicts with other laws or within the initiative itself. Conflicts usually require court resolution later.

2. Does it belong in the Constitution? If an initiative amends the Constitution, it should be a fundamental law that warrants protection from change. Correcting a constitutional amendment later would also require amending the Constitution, is cumbersome and costly, and requires another vote of the people.

3. How will it be funded? Initiatives that do not identify the source of funding require the legislature to take funds from other programs.

4. Who is circulating the petition? Many initiative campaigns use paid signature gatherers. You can ask whether the person requesting your signature is paid, and if so, how much.

5. Who is behind it? It can be difficult to find out who the real sponsors and opponents of a petition are. The website http://www.votersedge.org has easy to understand comprehensive information on candidates and ballot propositions. Just type in your address to display the ballot information that is relevant to you. Contribution and expenditure reports of committees organized for action on ballot measures are available through Cal-Access, the automated lobbying and campaign disclosure system sponsored by the California Secretary of State's office at http://www.cal-access.ss.ca.gov.

Recently-enacted legislation has limited ballot measures in primary elections to only those proposed by the Legislature and not citizens through the initiative process; so we got off easy in June with a mere two ballot measures. Your worst or less reliable source of information is in television or radio ads and mailers. The intent of people who either favor or oppose legislation is to present their position as persuasively as possible and many times this is misleading. Unbiased sources like VotersEdge (http://www.votersedge.org) and League of Women Voters of Placer County (http://www.lwvplacercounty.org) intend to provide unbiased information but they do not invest in flashy mailers and TV ads.

Your local League of Women Voters in Placer County provides presentations of balanced and unbiased descriptions of ballot measures to groups in Placer County. Schedule a date in preparation for the November election by sending your request to president@lwvplacercounty.org.

Representative Government

published in the Auburn Journal on 7/12/2014.

Running government is big business, and large amounts of money from taxes are used to run that business. Every citizen pays some kind of taxes and is, therefore, a shareholder in government. The more eligible people there are who choose to vote, the more qualified people there are who choose to serve, and the more concerned citizens there are who express their opinions, the better the government performs.

Whether or not the services of government are adequately provided, without waste, is determined by the kind of officials the voters elect. This means that voting citizens need to know how government is organized, how it works, what the problems are, who the elected officials are, and what they are doing to insure the affairs of their jurisdiction are administered in the best interests of all its citizens.

Between federal, state, county, city and special district representatives, each citizen may have 50 elected officials representing their interests and also may have a different set of representatives from the person who lives directly across the street. Personally, 15 elected officials represent me at the state and national level. Twenty different city, county and special districts and departments have multiple representatives for whom I also vote.

Why so many? Generally, as an area grows and develops, its residents find that their needs change. As they adjust, they may decide that there is a community need for a specific purpose or service such as fire protection, water management, or mosquito control. Working with their State Representative, residents legally define the geographic boundaries of the proposed districts, the scope of the special purpose, and the method of governing the district. If there is enough evidence of community need and support deemed by the local legislative delegation, the proposal is submitted for adoption by both houses of the State Legislature. It is then sent to the Governor and finally ratified by a majority vote of registered voters within the proposed district.

Once the district is approved, governing officials are elected with the authority to levy taxes to provide equipment, facilities and staff.

You can easily find a full list of the elected officials representing you on the Placer County Elections website at http://www.placerelections.com. The "Elections Info" tab at the top of the homepage reveals a drop down menu. Clicking on "My Representatives" from that drop down menu takes you to a page asking for your street address so it can identify and list the representatives specific to you.

Elected officials are half of the government chosen by the voters. The other half is comprised of the legislative bills and ballot initiatives.

States get money from taxes, commercial fees, federal grants, and bonds. States spend money according to legislative appropriations and budgets prepared by Governors. The more clearly citizens understand legislation, the more accurately the government will represent their needs. If you have ever felt under-represented by your government, it is not because there are not enough people out there with the responsibility to represent you. Hopefully, those representatives know how you feel. If they don't, you may want to tell them. Sometimes we think that, of course, our needs are known. It is an error to make this assumption. The best way to have input into government processes is to communicate with your representatives directly through mail, a phone call, e-mail, or in person.

Affordable Care Act and Covered California

published in the Auburn Journal 10/27/2013 entitled: Navigating the changes in our health care insurance

Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act. Health Care Reform. Covered California + regardless of what you call it or whether you love it or hate it, changes to our insurance have already taken effect and a substantially larger chunk of changes is pending.

  • Passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March 2010 changed current health insurance coverage in eight ways. Today your insurance can no longer charge you for preventive care, including mammograms, well-child care, colonoscopies, contraception, and vaccinations. This means no co-pays and no deductibles. Not all health care providers understand what you are entitled to under the ACA. You may need to make sure your doctor or hospital codes these services as preventive care when they bill your insurance company so you don't end up paying. More details on preventive care coverage and other benefits available to insured individuals today are listed on the internet, through this mildly cumbersome path:
    Log onto http://www.insurance.ca.gov. Click "CONSUMERS" in the top left corner under the picture of Dave Jones. Next click "Health Related Insurance Information" and then click "Health Care Reform". A table of Reforms Already in Effect and Reforms Coming in 2014 will be displayed in the center of the page.

  • Beginning in January, Medi-Cal will be expanded, individuals will be able to get tax credit for insurance premiums they pay, and small companies will be able to consolidate in an online marketplace called SHOP to get the volume price breaks that were previously only available to larger companies.

Perhaps the biggest change next year is the required coverage of Mental Health and Substance Abuse treatment in all insurance policies. Addressing Mental Health earlier in the process, including preventive care, is expected to lower overall costs due to the significance of mental health as a health care cost driver today.

  • Immigrants without legal status and Native Americans do not qualify for ACA benefits and immigrants with legal status must wait 5 years to gain access to the benefits. No one else will be denied coverage, even people with preexisting conditions. California has implemented the full extent of ACA, however residents of states declining federal funding will not benefit fully. States declining benefits are Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Iowa, Maine, Idaho, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

  • Between October 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, you will be able to log onto the Covered California online marketplace at http://www.coveredca.com to sign up for health insurance for coverage in 2014. After March, the next time you will have a chance to enroll at the online marketplace is October 1, 2014 for coverage beginning in 2015, even though Medi-Cal recipients may enroll at anytime.

  • People who can help you figure out what's right for you on the phone are at 1-800-300-1506 and in person at Placer County Health & Human Services in the DeWitt Center at 3091 County Center Drive, #290, in Auburn.

  • Estimating insurance costs can be done at http://www.coveredca.com by clicking on "START HERE" and then clicking "PREVIEW PLANS" at the top of the page. After entering the ages of people in your family, your zip code and the modified adjusted gross income from line 37 on Form 1040 of your 2012 tax returns, you will be shown the costs of each plan available to you. Anthem Blue Cross, HealthNet, Blue Shield, Kaiser and Western Health are the insurance companies available to people in Placer County. It's easy to end up on http://www.coveredcalifornia.com, which merely registers email addresses to receive ACA newsletters, so heads up when you type in the web address!

Good luck in your journey through this aggressive new program, designed to impact every single person in our nation. Health Care in America is certainly far from stellar now + and unacceptable in many aspects + so the potential for improvement is big. Our state has chosen the most aggressive implementation of Health Care Reform possible and Placer County has set goals even higher than what is mandated in several areas. We are poised to be the "poster child" for ACA, so one thing is certain. We should receive plenty of attention in the coming year.