Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

Nov. 20

San Luis Obispo Tribune : Spent fuel at Diablo should be secured

The question of what to do with spent fuel from Diablo Canyon and other nuclear power plants should have been settled years ago, with the opening of a permanent federal repository.

But 15 years after the federal government was supposed to begin accepting waste, we’re still waiting. Meanwhile, Diablo Canyon and other plants have become de facto storage sites for spent fuel.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has dealt with the issue by relying on a generic “waste confidence rule.” In effect, the NRC is saying that it’s confident that nuclear waste can be safely stored on sites such as Diablo Canyon until there’s a permanent storage facility.

However, an appeals court struck down portions of that waste confidence rule and directed the NRC to look more closely at the effects of failing to secure a permanent disposal site for nuclear fuel, as well as the potential for spent fuel pool leaks and fires.

The NRC has temporarily suspended issuing new licenses or license extensions while it conducts that review, which includes a series of public hearings throughout the nation, including tonight’s meeting in San Luis Obispo.

Through no fault of PG&E, spent fuel has been accumulating on site — something that was never anticipated when the plant was first licensed, when residents were repeatedly assured that the waste would be safely stored off-site.

Like many other nuclear plants, PG&E has dealt with the waste storage dilemma by packing Diablo’s two spent fuel pools more densely. It’s also moved some fuel into dry casks.

PG&E believes the two methods of storage are equally safe.

However, we believe it’s better to err on the side of caution. We support the position of several scientists and nuclear watchdog groups that believe sealed, concrete-and-steel containers are inherently more secure than pools that must be constantly monitored. The county Board of Supervisors agrees, and it plans to write a letter urging the NRC to ensure spent fuel at Diablo Canyon is moved into dry casks as expeditiously as possible.

While we don’t believe that a Fukushima-type disaster can occur here, we cannot ignore the fact that Diablo Canyon is located in an active earthquake zone, making it even more critical that spent fuel is stored as safely as possible.

We don’t expect that the current series of NRC meetings will bring about any huge change in policy. However, we cannot allow the occasion to pass without calling on commissioners to do everything possible to ensure the safety of our community.

We again urge the NRC to order that every nuclear power plant, including Diablo Canyon, reduce the density inside spent fuel pools by moving fuel into dry casks as soon as possible. And we call on the president and Congress to stop delaying and commit to a plan of action on long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel.

___

Nov. 19

The Desert Sun: Calif. stance on parking lots doesn’t make sense

The Desert Sun understands why redevelopment had to go. With the state facing multibillion-dollar deficits, it no longer made sense to divert property taxes for civic projects — even though many of them stimulated the economy and made our cities better places to live.

However, the unwinding of redevelopment has been slow, painful and confusing. The latest debate is over parking lots that were previously owned by redevelopment agencies.

In Palm Springs, the RDA owned five parking lots with a total of 350 spaces. These are not new assets. They have provided free parking for businesses along Palm Canyon Drive for decades.

Also, there are longstanding agreements associated with the parking lots. John Raymond, the city’s director of community and economic development, says the city is obligated to provide parking for the Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church. If the lot at Alejo and Belardo roads were to be sold or used for another purpose, the obligation would remain.

Free parking is essential to any retail area and we believe the city should continue to provide the service. However, the California Department of Finance is making a distinction between lots used by public employees and free parking provided for visitors.

“This isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ dissolution of redevelopment agencies and parking lots because it depends on the purpose of the parking,” spokesman H.D. Palmer told The Desert Sun.

Cities were encouraged by the victory in Santa Barbara over thousands of parking spaces and garages along State Street. The Department of Finance initially rejected the transfer, but the city appealed and sent its elected officials to Sacramento to plead its case.

The Santa Barbara victory may not set a precedent that would be useful to other cities because its downtown parking district predated the creation of its redevelopment agency. That’s not the case for most cities and counties.

In La Quinta, officials are appealing for the transfer of a lot in the Village that has been in use for 20 years. The lot was transferred from the RDA to the city in early 2011, just as the Legislature was debating whether to dissolve redevelopment. That’s the same time the city transferred $41 million in assets from the RDA to the city. It lost that case.

Cities may be forced to fund appraisals of the property, negotiate payments with taxing agencies and create business districts to maintain the parking lots.

It makes us wonder how far back the Department of Finance will go. For instance, would it require Rancho Mirage to strike a similar deal for The River shopping center? Councilman G. Dana Hobart doesn’t think so.

“They seem to be making a distinction between projects with buildings on them and parking lots,” he said. “They’re grandfathered in.”

The Desert Sun believes parking lots that have been in use since long before the future of redevelopment was ever in question should fall in the same category. The state distinctions — whether it’s a parking lot for employees or tourists or whether it makes a difference if a building sits on the land — make little sense.

Parking lots are valuable assets and cities should be allowed to continue to use them without having to leap through the Department of Finance hoops.

___

Nov. 19

Orange County Register: Toss long-term trash-pickup deals

These pages have long been a supporter of privatizing municipal services. The argument is simple: private companies do it cheaper and just as well, if not better, than government monopoly, saving the taxpayers’ money. A recent series from the OC Watchdog, however, showed that half of Orange County cities have basically substituted one monopoly for another in awarding trash-collection contracts.

Instead of opening up the process to competitive bidding, many cities simply entered into exclusive contracts with their trash service, which, in many cases, seems to stretch on indefinitely.

Those long-term contracts are costing taxpayers more, in some places significantly more, with a nearly $10 difference in a household’s monthly bill between the highest indefinite contract and lowest price achieved through competitive bidding, the Watchdog reported.

But, while, as the late Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman noted, a private monopoly is preferable because it is at least open to competitive forces, and government monopoly is maintained by the rule of law, neither is a preferable way to do business when other options are available.

Yet, while the number of cities that have moved to competitive bidding, only six in 1997, has increased significantly, 17 O.C. cities still use long-term contracts for employing trash haulers, rather than putting their contract out for bid periodically. None of the cities responded to requests for an explanation of the long-term, exclusive trash-hauling pacts, the Watchdog series stated.

Numbers, however, speak for themselves; competitive bidding for services almost always means lower costs for the consumer. So much so, that, even in cities where long-term haulers were kept on through the competitive process, sizeable costs reductions for the service were realized.

For example, Lake Forest, where trash contracts are coming up for bid again, saved $6.5 million over the contract’s life when the city retained its longtime trash hauler in 1996 and maintained the same reliable service.

Certainly, problems can arise with competitive bidding; as with any financial interaction with government, the process can be corrupted. But, sunlight has always been the best disinfectant for government malfeasance, and, by routinely bringing a contract up for deliberation, it typically not only nets better prices and comparable service, it also allows citizens to more closely interact with their government over its choices.

Getting the best deal for residents in the provision of basic services should always be a top priority for government, and competitive bidding has proven a reliable process for achieving that value. As such, we don’t understand why nearly half of O.C. cities still hold on to less-efficient business practices. We hope to see all of them move, quickly, to a more open process.

___

Nov. 20

Imperial Valley Press: Letting it grow for men’s health

Beyond the fact that the World Series champion Boston Beard crew, Brawley-bred MLB star Sergio Romo and countless other celebrity facial hair farmers and mustachioed men of mystery have made the trend very hot right now, this month so far has been more unkempt than most.

The mo’ hairier, the mo’ better in Movember, and No-Shave November, of course. And it’s all been for a good cause.

Over the last few years the November facial hair experiment has grown in popularity for its kitsch, for one, but also because men’s health issues never quite get as much notoriety as women’s health issues.

Just about every segment of American society, from professional athletes to elementary-age students know that October is dedicated to breast cancer awareness and general cancer awareness for women, and they dedicate the 31 days of the month to all manners of pink, and rightly so.

It’s nice to see men and their concerns starting to get more love.

Locally we’ve seen many guys getting in the spirit, growing out their chin dreads and upper-lip locks to raise awareness for a variety of male-oriented diseases like prostate cancer and testicular cancer. One of the charities even promotes mental health and living with mental illness for men.

The mustaches are being grown, in some cases, as part of Movember, a worldwide male health issue campaign with roots in Australia some 30 years ago, but which has since branched out to dozens of countries around the world. Official registrants for the movement through the website http://www.us.movember.com raise money in teams. Some $446 million has been raised by participants over the years, according to the Movember website.

This is a far-reaching organization with major early-December celebrations for the men (and women) who helped the cause throughout the country. San Diego hosts one such party Dec. 5.

Meanwhile, No-Shave November isn’t quite as neat and tidy as the mustaches of Movember. During No-Shave November, which is directly affiliated with the American Cancer Society, men are encouraged to let it all grow — lip, chin and cheek — for a full-bearded look. ACS’ site doesn’t have nearly as much info as Movember, but the society got into the growth game in 2009 through a Facebook campaign that started with fewer than 50 men.

Either way, both organizations are doing great work. To learn more about Movember and how to help, go to http://www.us.movember.com/donate and for No-Shave November, http://www.no-shavenovember.com

We realize, though, that for all the good coming out of these men and their whiskers, we imagine there are many wives and girlfriends longing for their return of their baby-faced boyfriends and hubbies. Only a few more days, ladies. Let them have this.

___

Nov. 20

Sacramento Bee: Covered California’s board should resist Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones’ call for a delay

Republicans have been gloating since President Barack Obama botched the rollout of the federal health exchange website and then offered states the option of extending for a year policies that don’t comply with the act.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are seizing the opportunity to raise money for the 2014 election. More surprising is that California’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, a Democrat, is using the act as a fundraising vehicle, charging donors up to $5,000 in San Francisco last Friday for an “intimate discussion regarding California’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.”

In what is shaping up as a showdown with California’s health exchange, Jones is undermining the act by urging Covered California to take up Obama’s suggestion to extend for a year canceled policies that don’t comply with the Affordable Care Act. That places Jones in unlikely company. Several states, such as Texas, which have refused to set up state exchanges, are opting for the delay.

The Covered California board meets Thursday and should resist Jones’ call. Instead, the board should follow the lead of other states such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington, which plan to stay the course.

“In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers, we are staying the course,” Washington’s insurance commissioner said the day of the president’s announcement. That should be California’s stance.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown would not say how the board might vote. But he said at a press event that Covered California will “respond to the cancellation issue” while ensuring the exchange would not be undermined.

A one-year extension on noncompliant policies might make sense in the states that depend on the federal exchange, which is not fully functioning, but not in states with their own working exchanges.

Most of the 17 state exchanges, including Covered California, are moving forward with enrollments. A one-year delay would weaken the risk pool. Over the weekend, Covered California held health insurance fairs at Grant High School in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood, the downtown Sacramento Library, the Florin Road business center and St. Paul Baptist Church in Oak Park. The state is on track to meet enrollment targets for 2014.

California is the largest market with a state exchange, so what California does matters. Resurrecting canceled health insurance plans for another year could threaten the financial stability of Covered California – and the entire Affordable Care Act.

Certainly, California should work with people who have received cancellation notices. Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee estimates that a third of the 900,000 policyholders who received cancellation notices could get subsidies. For many of the others, premium costs in the exchange will go down or stay the same. For some, premium costs will go up. But they also should consider their out-of-pocket costs, as the website allows people to do. Co-payments for visiting a doctor or getting prescription will go down for many people entering the California exchange.

Ignore the likes of state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who called the Affordable Care Act and Covered California the “greatest domestic failure in the history of America.” Really? Greater than slavery or segregation? California should not take steps that would return to the old days of insurer discrimination, which left millions of people uninsured.

Covered California’s board should avoid a one-year delay. It should help people who have received cancellations. And the state must do everything that it can to help Californians enroll in quality health insurance.

___

Nov. 19

Los Angeles Daily News: Raising film, TV tax credits would help a cast of thousands

L.A.’s new mayor and new film czar are grabbing headlines all over California with a stepped-up campaign to persuade lawmakers to give more tax incentives to movie and TV companies, which have been leaving for more generous states and taking thousands of jobs with them.

This is good and bad. Good because the issue of runaway production needs attention. Bad because too much of the attention is going to the efforts of Eric Garcetti, the mayor, and Tom Sherak, the studio executive now serving as director of the Mayor’s Entertainment Industry and Production Office.

The more this is seen to be about the hip young big-city mayor and the Hollywood big shot, the more ammunition it hands to opponents — such as The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, which warned a few days ago that state legislators may “swoon” in the presence of the “glitterati” and too eagerly sign off on “Tinseltown tax breaks.”

While Garcetti is to be applauded for making the strength of the Southern California entertainment industry a top issue, the focus of this campaign must quickly move beyond political and industry leaders and stars.

The focus needs to be on the Southern California workers who depend on movie and TV production for their livings. Entertainment is said to account for a half-million jobs in Los Angeles County. By a count late last year, runaway production has cost 90,000 jobs and $3 billion in wages in the past decade.

The local loss of production includes head-turners like “The Tonight Show’s” planned move from Burbank to New York when Jimmy Fallon takes over from Jay Leno. One of New York’s production tax credits seemed designed specifically to lure “Tonight.”

California’s $100 million a year in production tax credits is a fraction of New York’s. The push is on to raise that amount and expand the qualifications to include more blockbuster films.

The argument against film and TV tax credits is that many industries need help, that lawmakers shouldn’t pick winners. But this isn’t picking winners, it’s helping an industry that long ago picked sunny Southern California for its home, and helping the tens of thousands of people here who have come to rely on this vital industry — and associated industries — for their livelihoods.

Sacramento needs to see and hear from them and realize this isn’t about the glitterati.

___

blog comments powered by Disqus