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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Massive Campaign Contributions Reveal the Power of PG&E

In a week when two sitting lawmakers demanded an additional criminal probe into Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. (PG&E), some very sizable contributions to a local candidate revealed the raw power and campaign finance might of the beleaguered utility.  The contributions have raised several questions, and have left local activists wondering just how bottomless PG&E's war chest is.

Here's the background:  PG&E has been widely criticized for their activities and poor safety record, that was revealed all too painfully in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.  That explosion killed eight human beings and destroyed countless homes of local residents.  The utility giant's response to the tragedy was widely panned too.

The explosion came at a bad time for PG&E politically.  Editorial boards around the state were already upset at the giant utility for its "cynical power play" at the ballot box.  PG&E had spent millions lubing the political loins for a "fraudulent initiative" to take away the ability of customers to contract with plucky solar startups.  The papers were uniform in condemning the political and campaign chutzpah of PG&E.

And Erin Brockovich thought she was up against millions of dollars.
Despite the controversies, PG&E kept an unlimited wellspring of campaign funds ready to flow into Sacramento, there to lube and grease the pols willing to do PG&E's bidding.  To community activists trying to fight the good fight, it seemed like their local politicians were just, well, beholden to the giant utility.

How deep are PG&E's pockets?  So deep that it can contribute $17,500 to a state politician who hasn't been in office since 2012, and who isn't running for anything until 2016.
Yes that's right.  PG&E has lavished local loser, Anthony Portantino, the perpetually campaigning,  always on the trail, overambitious gladhander, whose main contribution to life in our neck of the woods has been his overbearing need to seek love from locals despite being out of office for a long time, with enough to buy a damned nice car.

Why did PG&E duke Portantino with $10 grand in September 2014?  Why did they duke him with a further $7500?   If PG&E can afford to spend this kind of money on politicians who are out of office it begs the question as to just how big their politico-lobbying complex is.  
And why Portantino?  What did he do for PG&E that they would be willing to give his slush fund over four times the legal maximum to give to a candidate?  We noticed that PG&E was the only
entity, person or corporation, in the state of California and the world, to fund that Portantino committee.

We feel some of the coverage to PG&E lately has been unfair, particularly the exaggeration of certain phrases in emails to Michael Peevey, husband of beloved local official Carol Liu, and who has done a fine job as CA's top utility official.  However whether you think recent coverage of PG&E has been fair or not there is no doubt the utility is in trouble.  
PG&E watchers now have to wonder just how huge a political budget they are up against.  Giving to an official who has been out of office for years just looks bad, it looks like a payoff for services rendered in the past.
Campaign finance and transparency activists have to wonder why PG&E would funnel tens of thousands into a committee that they effectually control, becoming the only funder, under a misleading and different name.  Can another investigation be far behind?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beneath The Radar Bill Would Halt Seafood Mislabeling

Legislature Approves Padilla Bill Focused on Seafood Mislabeling

Smell somethin fishy?  Under a kinda quiet, unappreciated bill, you wouldn't anymore anymore.  Two weeks ago during the final flurry of lawmaking, the state legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 1138. The bill, by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling.  The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.

“SB 1138 addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling by making sure that seafood is labeled accurately.  Mislabeled seafood threatens public health, honest businesses and imperils the sustainability of sea life in the Pacific Ocean and oceans around the world,” said Senator Alex Padilla.  “My bill will ensure that seafood is labeled accurately,” added Padilla.

"The seafood we buy at the grocery store should be what the label says. The seafood we order at our favorite restaurant should be the seafood we are served," said Senator Padilla.  "To protect our health, oceans, and economy, it is essential that seafood be accurately labeled,” said Padilla. "Honesty is always the best policy," added Padilla.

While spending on seafood in the United States has grown to more than $80 billion annually, state law does not provide clear guidance regarding accurate labeling of seafood.  The lack of standards has led to high rates of mislabeling throughout our state.  A recent study by Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, found 52% of all fish sampled in Southern California and 38% of all fish sampled in Northern California were mislabeled.

SB 1138 would make it unlawful for any person to knowingly sell or offer to sell at wholesale or retail any fresh, frozen, or processed food fish or shellfish without identifying the species of food fish or shellfish by its common name. The bill also makes it illegal to mislabel seafood as farmed or wild caught, and its country of origin.  A violation would be punishable by $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.  The bill is modeled after similar legislation approved in the state of Washington.

“Today is a win-win-win for public health, honest businesses and ocean health,” said Ashley Blacow, Pacific Policy and Communications Manager of Oceana. 

Joe Cappuccio, President of Del Mar Seafoods, one of the largest commercial fishing operations in the United States and founded and located in California said, “In order to ensure imported seafood is treated the same as exported sea food, Del Mar Seafood’s is supportive of requiring consistent seafood labeling requirements for both foreign and domestic entities. Lack of labeling requirements on imported seafood creates an uneven playing field for California companies.”  (Capuccio is also a former football star and married to a TV star!)

In 2013, Oceana released the results of its nationwide study on fish sampled at retail outlets, such as restaurants, grocery stores and sushi bars including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Monterey and found:

•           84% of sushi samples were mislabeled in Southern California
•           58% of restaurants visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish
•           52% of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Los Angeles and Orange Counties
•           38% of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Northern California
•           27% of grocery stores visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish
•           Southern California leads the nation in mislabeled fish

While seafood is an excellent choice in a healthy diet, seafood mislabeling can lead to the consumption of seafood that is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Certain species of fish can have unhealthy levels of mercury or can cause severe allergic reactions.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives a clear warning about the dangers of mercury to fetuses, infants, and children.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend that women of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding avoid eating certain fish such as swordfish and shark.

Seafood mislabeling also undermines conservation efforts and threatens at-risk species. Conservation efforts rely on an informed public making responsible and sustainable choices.  However, it is difficult to make sound choices if seafood is mislabeled. Between 1950 and 2006 the world’s annual fishing haul more than quadrupled, from 19 million tons to 87 million tons.  The Census of Marine Life, a decade-long international survey of ocean life completed in 2010, estimated that 90% of the big fish had disappeared from the world’s oceans, victims primarily of overfishing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Muni Elections in Burbank & Glendale Post

OK gang of assiduous followers, we need your thoughts by email or comment on upcoming election is our fair little burgh and next door.

We've heard a lot of chatter about Glendale School Board.  Here's the background: Mary Boger recently retired and left the Board, so the talk has been who does the Board appoint?  There are so many candidates interested in seeking an appointment and running in April 2015.  The question is whether the Board appoints someone who previously sat on the Board and/or someone who will commit to not seeking the post in election (think what Frank Quintero did on Council), or whether it will appoint someone without regard to whether that person will seek the full time elected post.  Expect some drama, mama.

In Burbank the question has been how big the Council field will be, as there is strong interest for the first time in a long time and credible challengers.  For School Board it has been shockingly quiet so far but perhaps that is because no one has made an announcement yet on the current board one way or another as to whether they will retire or stay.

We welcome all tips!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Los Angeles Council District 4 Race Heating Up

Neighbors to our west and south will have a passing of the guard election in the spring as they will choose a successor to Councilman Labonge, who was in many ways a spiritual as well as historical successor to John Ferraro, who served on the LA City Council since time immemorial.  The election will be a big change...

The field as LA council races tend to be is vast.  Here are the PLAYERS so far and their dough:


Wally Knox   

Joan Pelico   

David E Ryu   

Steve Veres   


And now for the word on the STREET.

Teddy Davis has sent out a lot of emails with clear attempts to engender Kennedyesque images in the readers' minds.  He has also worked the district pretty hard.  A chance to make the runoff as he has ties in the community but has to fight the dilettant label.

Wally Knox was a Member of the State Assembly for years but his district was considerably farther west.   If he won, he would be the 8th member of the council, a majority, who were in the state government.  Kind of an odd run people say, but certainly a favorite of some oldsters on the westside.

Tomas O'grady is a charming and good looking Irishman, who made lots of money and now spends lots of time doing things like community gardens and other improvements at "eastside" schools.  He almost forced Labonge into a runoff last time but the question is whether he can run a professional campaign.  He has major cred in Silverlake and Los Feliz.

Joan Pelico works for Paul Koretz and Koretz is savvy and operational and wants to empire build.  She will put together city hall money and has a great base in Sherman Oaks but most people do not consider her a runoff contender.

Carolyn Ramsay is the establishment candidate to the extent by establishment you mean Councilman Labonge since she serves as his staff chief.  She's put together serious money, has a base in Hancock Park and points east, and most people expect her to be fighting for 1 of the 2 slots in the runoff.

David Ryu has put together a crap-ton of money from the Korean community but it remains to be seen whether he can run a campaign showing community ties.  The API community certainly wants a councilmember in LA but the candidates in recent memory have not been great.  Paging Mike Woo.

Steve Veres works for State Senate Speaker Kevin Deleon and it would be a huge embarrassment to Deleon if Veres didn't kick butt and take names.  Veres has put together money but no one in the community I talk to seems to know him or what he stands for.

If you analyze the race geographically you assume that Pelico and Knox compete for the western portion of the district and cause MAD.  You assume that Ryu doesn't quite have enough to make the runoff.  That leaves Veres, O'grady, Davis, and Ramsay.  Assume that Veres doesn't make it because of a lack of deep longtime community supporters in the very parochial district.  Assume that O'grady doesn't have appeal outside the eastern half and doesn't run the most expert campaign.  That leaves a potential runoff of Ramsay against Davis.

As noted before another Sacramento pol Adrin Nazarian is widely thought to be considering a run.  He hasn't done much of anything in state government and folks say he doesn't play nice in the sandbox.  We've also heard from some that he is actively polling and likely seeking a deal with Veres, like, Veres heads to the assembly if Nazarian wins but the question is what fool would take that deal since another person might very well take the Assembly seat and Veres would need to back out of his council run before he even knew if Nazarian could win the council seat.  If Nazarian gets in to CD4 race he would have to get in soon and we don't even think he makes the runoff.  Pelico, Davis, and others would take away Sherman Oaks votes from him and after that, it's not like Silverlake or Hancock Park goes for him.

There aren't too many interesting races this fall what with the Governor ahead in the polls by like 30 points.  Expect this one to heat up and get very interesting even for those of us who are mere spectators!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

News Tidbits

With elections in Burbank coming again in February 2015, two new candidates have already declared for council.  No silly, not Anthony Portantino.  Craig Sherwood has the story here.

Whoever is elected to council will have some additional budget headaches, thanks to a $1.4million settlement handed to a BPD officer for wrongful termination.

In our neighbor to the east, intrigue continues over who will be appointed to the GUSD School Board to fill the post by the beloved Mary Boger who has moved away.  Another excellent board member, Joylene Wagner offers her thoughts.

Now it is time for yours!  It has been fairly quiet about local school board elections for example.  Below feel free to discuss!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Is This Possible? Less People Using Burbank Airport!

Maybe the lack of charging stations for cell phones has finally gotten to people.  The number of passengers at Burbank "Locals Never Call It 'Bob Hope'"Airport dipped by almost 1% in June compared to a year ago, according to the latest available figures.  That followed a 3.43% decrease in passengers in May compared to May 2013.

For the first six months of this year, the airport has handled just under 2 million passengers, a 1.45% decrease from the same time period last year.

Some might say this is due to a general decrease in flyers due to expensive flights and a still not recovered overall economy.  However, passenger tallies were on the rise at other airports in the region in June, generally speaking.  The number of passengers at LAX rose by 6.7%, while there was a 5.8% spike at Ontario Airport and a 1.2% rise at John Wayne in the OC.

Now don't be mistaken, the bloggers here survived the airport wars of the 1980s and 1990s and do not want to repeat them nor do we want the extra traffic both vehicular and airborne in our little burg, and nor do we love the air and noise pollution.  But the airport is a huge engine for our little city and we maintain with pride that Burbank airport remains the most convenient and homey of all the airports in the U. S. of A.

So, is it the lack of outlet plugs???  Your thoughts on why traffic is down at our home field...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fundraising, Politicking Continued, Instead Of Water Bond Help

On Wednesday, August 13th, 2014, most state and local elected officials were knee deep in water, and we're not talking a flooded basement.  That day almost all state legislators were furiusly negotiating the specs of the new Water Bond in order to make sure their districts and regions came out fairly.  Similarly local officials and chamber heads visited the state capitol to do right for their regions.  Mayor Eric Garcetti led a delegation of local mayors to the capitol that day for example.  In the middle of this horrendous drought, this was the entire focus that day for almost every elected official up and down the state.

However there were two exceptions to this rule.  Outside the statehouse Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian and Senate wannabe Anthony Portantino instead decided that meeting with powerful lobbyists at a steakhouse, enjoying juicy cuts and bottomless drinks, was a more valuable use of their time....

The couple also found time to hold an additional political powwow which reportedly covered various topics including who they were going to try to screw over and how, according to those who overheard bits and pieces.

 "I think I'll have the 26 ounce porterhouse today.  I'm watching my figure."

These low level bit player cogs in a broken machine, waiting on the beck and call of powerful lobbyists, while critical water bond discussions happened without them, provided another rather pitiful example of a broken system at work.

The Portantino Nazarian coitus after the lobbyists got their jollies at the joint fundraiser, explains a lot more than just how irresponsible the two are, and explains more than just how their endless campaigning takes priority, instead of working on the issues we care about.  It explains alot.

Local Democratic activists and members of DPSFV have long struggled to explain the hostility Portantino and Nazarian showed toward Burbank Assemblyman Mike Gatto when Gatto declared for office.  Portantino and Gatto are both of Italian heritage, so one might assume that Portantino would support him as he supported other Italian causes and uses his heritage as schtick any time he can.  Nazarian and Gatto were both staffers of Congressman Brad Sherman as well as being active young democrats.

Yet both Portantino and Nazarian tried to brutalize Gatto, raising money for the most crazy nasty independent expenditures folks had seen in years, and continuing well documented, well known nasty attacks and whispering campaigns to this day.

Yet it all comes into focus when you consider that Portantino and Nazarian are typical politicians who as John Wildermuth sagely noted just "want to run for office, any office."  Such pols think ahead when it comes to their careers and try to bulldoze anyone who gets in their way.   There are two rumours making the rounds of what might be Gatto's future, even if he has stayed mum.  One rumour says he runs for State Senate for Carol Liu's seat, one rumour says he runs for LA City Council for Tim LaBonge's seat. 

Who else wants to run for State Senate for the Liu seat?  None other than Anthony Portantino.  Who wants to run for the LaBonge seat?  None other than Adrin Nazarian.  Both apparently are not than confident should a credible rival enter the race.

Thus, this not-so dynamic duo plot, and engage in deception and negative campaigning even on days where the hard working people of our state really need them to be engaged on the critical issues, like, I don't know, this huge friggin' drought.   Plus our local Assemblymember gets bogus attack after bogus attack, whether in the form of astroturf blogs or planted stories.  A sad reflection of a broken political system.  What, did you think Anthony Portantino actually gave a hoot about transparency?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bill Strengthening California Voting Rights Act Headed to Governor Brown

A bill that would strengthen the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is on its way to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for consideration.  The bill won final legislative approval last week  in the State Senate.  SB 1365 by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) would expand the CVRA by explicitly prohibiting school boards, cities, and counties from gerrymandering district boundaries in a manner that would weaken the ability of a racial or language minority to influence the outcome of an election. 

“With today’s vote, we are one step closer to strengthening voting rights in Californian,” said Senator Alex Padilla.  “As our state becomes increasingly diverse we must ensure that the rights of all voters are protected,” added Padilla.

In 2002, Governor Davis signed the CVRA, which expanded upon the federal Voting Rights Act by requiring that at-large elections not have the effect of diluting or denying the political representation of minority groups.  The CVRA has been used to successfully protect voting rights throughout our state.  When at-large elections are found to violate the CVRA, the most common remedy is to transition to district elections.  In fact, 147 local government bodies have been challenged and have transitioned from at-large elections to district elections in California.  

However, moving to district elections does not, in and of itself, guarantee that the new districts will be drawn in a way that protects the rights of minority voters.  SB 1365 addresses this by extending the CVRA’s protections to district elections and empowering the courts to determine appropriate remedies to address voting rights violations. 

On June 25, 2013,  the United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder weakened important protections of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act of 1964.  In the wake of the Shelby decision, a broad coalition of civil rights organizations came together to strengthen voting rights in California. Working with the ACLU, MALDEF, NAACP, NALEO, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and others, Senator Padilla introduced SB 1365.

This vote is a step against the grain as several states have weakened instead of strengthened similar protections in recent years.  Voting rights activists hailed the vote as a major step in the right direction.