With corrupt, inefficient, and expensive boondoggles…
Gov. Jerry Brown is gearing up for an infrastructure-building spree, as he hopes to create the nation’s first high-speed-rail system and bore giant water-moving tunnels underneath the Delta. Before the state moves forward with these multibillion-dollar projects, however, Californians might want to look at how the state has built other recent projects.
They got a rare opportunity to do so in recent days, as the head of the state Senate’s transportation and housing committee released a preliminary investigative report into the California Department of Transportation’s years-long effort to build the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The results are alarming.
“In the course of this investigation people with significant credentials have made serious accusations about critical components of the bridge regarding welds in the roadway decks and large bolts that fix critical bridge components,” explained the report, commissioned by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat (and congressional candidate) from the East Bay.
“(T)here appear to have been chronic attempts to keep many of the serious safety allegations quiet,” the report added. “Furthermore, this inquiry has come to the inevitable conclusion that there are legitimate concerns that this appears to be part of an institutionalized, if not malicious, lack of transparency in the project.”
Caltrans officials depicted whistleblower allegations as “differing engineering opinions,” said that questionable welds were certified and assured senators that the agency carefully addressed all safety concerns. The Caltrans director said the bridge is safe and exceeded standards. But the findings are just the latest in a series of construction controversies and cost overruns that have plagued this signature project since 2005.
During a Capitol hearing on Friday, one Caltrans engineer detailed his two-plus year effort to alert the agency to Caltrans employees who were falsifying tests on the bridge. After being ignored, he finally took his story to a newspaper reporter.
The new Senate report detailed an incident where an engineer with a quality-assurance firm found hundreds of cracks in welds and rejected them given that the contract called for no cracks. Instead of fixing the problem, the engineer said “his Caltrans supervisors told him he was being ‘too rigorous’ in his findings” and the agency eventually switched to another quality-control firm.
The Senate’s bridge report also details the mushrooming budgets on a project with costs that soared from $1.4 billion to nearly $6.4 billion. Overruns are par for the course for large projects, but the lack of transparency on quality-of-construction issues is far more troubling.
Reports about Caltrans’ problems are nothing new. A 2013 report from the California state auditor confirmed those media reports that Caltrans workers had falsified test data on various projects, thus casting doubt on their structural integrity. A 2011 state audit found that Caltrans was awash in overruns in support costs, has done little analysis on the matter and failed to inform “stakeholders of the overruns.”
Yet the Caltrans director was reconfirmed a few months ago with only three dissenting votes. Two of the dissenters were San Diego-area Republican Sens. Joel Anderson of El Cajon and Mark Wyland of Solana Beach. An April memo from Anderson’s office criticized Caltrans’ culture of cover-up and detailed its many problems as well as the poor condition of the freeway system the agency oversees.
“I believe the oversight function is far too modest; it should be dramatically expanded,” Wyland told me. “The fiasco of the Bay Bridge is a perfect example, which should engender an investigation and complete restructuring of Caltrans.”
DeSaulnier said his goal was to come up with specific reforms, such as creating a place where state employees can take their concerns about safety free from retribution. But another lesson seems clear: Maybe the state ought to at least try to straighten out its main transportation agency before embarking on massive new projects.
As if the condition of the roads and the efficiency of the highways in LA weren’t enough to cast doubts…
Drivers in California can legally read a map on their hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 5th District Court of Appeal reversed the case of a Fresno man who was ticketed in January 2012 for looking at a map on his iPhone 4 while stuck in traffic. The driver, Steven Spriggs, challenged the $165 fine.
Los Angeles Times gets its hands on an investigation into border patrol practices by the Police Executive Research Forum, a “nonprofit research and policy organization in Washington that works closely with law enforcement agencies” that was “allowed to examine internal Border Patrol case files on 67 shooting incidents from January 2010 to October 2012.”
Some findings from the Times:
Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border, according to an independent review of 67 cases that resulted in 19 deaths.
The report by law enforcement experts criticized the Border Patrol for “lack of diligence” in investigating U.S. agents who had fired their weapons. It also said it was unclear whether the agency “consistently and thoroughly reviews” use-of-deadly-force incidents.
And our brave border protectors wanted to make sure we, or our elected representatives, never found out:
House and Senate oversight committees requested copies last fall but received only a summary that omitted the most controversial findings — that some border agents stood in front of moving vehicles as a pretext to open fire and that agents could have moved away from rock throwers instead of shooting at them.
The Times obtained the full report and the agency’s internal response, which runs 23 pages. The response rejects the two major recommendations: barring border agents from shooting at vehicles unless its occupants are trying to kill them, and barring agents from shooting people who throw things that can’t cause serious physical injury….
Mexican authorities have complained for years that U.S. border agents who kill Mexicans are rarely disciplined and that the results of investigations are not made public for years.
J.D. Tuccille blogged earlier today on Arizonans attempts to rid themselves of an internal “border checkpoint.”
Just a thought: we could cut a vast number of the reasons any of these confrontations happen in the first place with saner drug laws and saner paths for the legal ability to work in this country.
"Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border"
Los Angeles is emerging as a major laboratory for testing and scaling up new police surveillance technologies. The use of military-grade surveillance tools is migrating from places like Fallujah to neighborhoods including Watts and even low-crime areas of the San Fernando Valley, where surveillance cameras are proliferating like California poppies in spring.
The use of militarized surveillance technology appears to be spreading beyond its initial applications during the mid-2000s in high-crime areas to now target narrow, specific crimes such as auto theft. Now, LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff are monitoring the whereabouts of residents whether they have committed a crime or not. The biggest surveillance net is license plate reading technology that records your car’s plate number as you pass police cruisers equipped with a rooftop camera, or as you drive past street locations where such cameras are mounted. …
Two dozen police agencies have gathered more than 160 million data points showing the exact whereabouts of L.A.-area drivers on given dates.
Despite growing concerns among privacy-rights groups, LAPD hopes to greatly expand its mass surveillance: The city traffic-camera system — 460 cameras set above major roads and intersections by the Department of Transportation — which now are used to monitor traffic jams, could be folded into LAPD’s surveillance network. …
LAPD’s mild-sounding “predictive policing” technique, introduced by former Chief William Bratton to anticipate where future crime would hit, is actually a sophisticated system developed not by cops but by the U.S. military, based on “insurgent” activity in Iraq and civilian casualty patterns in Afghanistan. …
This month, LAPD sent a team to Israel, the Jewish Journal reports, to visit drone manufacturers and Nice Systems, a cyber-intelligence firm that can “intercept and instantly analyze video, audio and text-based communications.” Reporter Simone Wilson quoted Horace Frank, commander of LAPD’s Information Technology Bureau, as telling an Israeli conference of data intelligence experts: “Let’s be honest … We’re here to steal some of your great ideas.” …
Ana Muniz, an activist and researcher who works with the Inglewood-based Youth Justice Coalition, says, “Any time that a society’s military and domestic police force become more and more similar, where the lines have become blurred, it’s not a good story.”
The military is supposed to “defend the territory from so-called external enemies,” Muniz says. “That’s not the mission of the police force — they’re not supposed to look at the population as an external enemy.”
L.A. residents may not yet grasp that more and more military technology is being aimed at them in the name of fighting routine crime. But Hamid Khan, an Open Society Foundations fellow who studies LAPD surveillance, warns, “Counterinsurgency principles are being incorporated on the local policing level.”
Curbed LA breaks it down:
In 2010, the LAPD teamed up with Motorola Solutions to deploy military-grade technology in tracking the goings-on in high-crime areas like the Jordan Downs projects; now they’re employing those same technologies and newer, more advanced ones to monitor people across the city before they’ve committed crimes, as LA Weekly reports. How does “predictive policing” work? It starts with your car. If you have a license plate, the LAPD has its eyes on you, thanks to license-plate-reading technology that records your plate number any time you pass police cars with cameras or when you drive past street-mounted cameras. That network could even expand: The LADOT has a system of 460 cameras posted above major roads and intersections to watch traffic, and those could soon be digitized and fed into the LAPD’s surveillance network. The pre-crime approach to policing doesn’t stop there.
If you don’t want to be tracked, you could walk or bike, but there’s also tech in place now throughout the Topanga and Foothill divisions of the LAPD that uses live-monitored CCTV cameras outfitted with facial-recognition software. These are supposedly used to tip cops off to people who are on watch lists or have outstanding warrants, but there’s no way to know what is actually being collected, or what they’re doing with it all.
King City, Calif., is a small (population: 13,169) town in Monterey County with a population that is 87 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to 2010 census figures. The town’s crime rate is around or below the national average, but the police there seem to have found ways to keep themselves busy. According to the county, the highest ranking officers in King City have been targeting their poorer Latino residents, seizing their cars, and then selling them for a profit or keeping them for themselves when their owners were unable to pay to get them back. The Monterey Herald reports:
In what is likely the most widespread case of official corruption in Monterey County history, six King City police officers, including the former and acting chiefs of police, were arrested on felony charges on Tuesday, four of them accused of conspiracy, embezzlement and bribery. The owner of a local tow truck company, the brother of the acting chief, was arrested in the scheme, which involved impounding the cars of mostly unlicensed drivers, then selling them when the cars’ owners were unable to pay towing and storage fees.
Prosecutor Steve Somers, who is handling the case, said he considered charging the officers with hate crimes because they targeted disadvantaged Latino residents. He concluded their actions targeted the victims because they were vulnerable, not out of racial animus.
The district attorney’s office had been investigating the claims for the past six months, but they’ve also been tracking allegations about wrongdoing at the police department for at least four years, according to the Herald. They were first alerted to this scheme thanks to online comments posted on a video of a town hall meeting in King City where citizens expressed their frustration with the city’s police department.
Here’s how the towing company gamed the system to make it almost impossible for victims’ to get their vehicles back:
Ana Vargas, co-chairwoman of the South County Outreach Efforts and a King City resident, said community members have complained for months in front of the City Council about Miller’s Towing and the outrageous rules they had to follow to recover their cars. She said Miller’s required owners of impounded cars to keep them there for 30 days, with charges accruing. By the time drivers could pick up their cars, they owed $2,000 to $3,000.
"The cars were not even worth that much," Vargas said. Unable to pay, drivers would just abandon their autos.
Two of the officers were arrested on crimes that had nothing to do with the car scheme. The six of them comprise 35 percent of King City’s police force.
Related: How Government Hurts the Poor
An interesting lawsuit went to non-jury trial in a Los Angeles court room yesterday; nine public school students, with the support of an educational non-profit called “Students Matter,” are suing the state of California over teacher tenure laws and other protections, which they argue prevent school administrators from removing dysfunctional teachers from the system. To skeptics of the eternally optimistic apologists of the government school system, the argument seems pretty open and shut. Tenure and the other public employee protections (which public unions call “due process” as if their jobs were rights and not privileges) make it difficult to remove teachers even in some of the most egregious cases. In 2012, LA Weekly reported the city’s school district had 300 teachers in the “rubber rooms,” where teachers go after they’ve been removed from the classroom but before they’ve had their “due process.” According to LA Weekly, the average teacher spends 127 days hanging out in the rubber room, collecting full salary and benefits while “allegations” against them are investigated. It’s a system that’s pretty recognizably rigged in favor of the teacher and not the student, whose education can be severely handicapped by just one lousy teacher in one school year.The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers intervened and asked the court to throw out the lawsuit filed against the state, including the Department of Education, Gov. Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson.
"It is deceptive and dishonest to pretend that teacher due process rights are unfair to students," said California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt, the parent of a ninth-grade student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. "Students need a stable, experienced teaching workforce. They won’t have one if this lawsuit succeeds in gutting basic teacher rights."
So, teachers have more job security even though when they fail to do their jobs they risk the life-long income earning potentials of their students because that job security creates a stable workforce for them. It’s a bizarre assertion that a labor organization meant to protect the financial interests of teachers as employees could somehow also protect the educational interests of students. Talk about deceptive. The judge rejected the union’s motion to dismiss the case.
Over the weekend, the California Department of Education released a statement insisting there was “nothing in the law” that prevents districts “from removing teachers from the classroom when necessary.” The students who have brought the matter to court, and their parents, disagree. That those who profit off the educational bureaucracy don’t is no surprise.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the West is running out of water. Articles about water shortages are a perennial feature of local newspaper coverage in the American West, but the Los Angeles Times is right. The West really doesn’t have enough water to maintain the status quo.
It’s not global warming or suburban sprawl that is the primary source of the problem. Indeed, the West is no more dry now than it has been at various times through the centuries for which we have a little knowledge about the climatic conditions here. And suburban and urban residents use only a fraction of the water consumed in the West.
To find a clue about the real source of the problem, we need only look to the Times article itself:
Thanks to reservoirs large and small, scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels and diversions, the West had been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered.
Rain doesn’t fall much in the West, so to get water, the people need to go to the water in the rivers, or the water in the rivers needs to be shipped to the people. That’s where all those aqueducts and tunnels and diversions come in.
In an America without the massive coercive power of the federal government, the population centers in the West would generally be near the water sources where irrigation and drinking water would be cheaper and easier to use. When powerful interest groups own land far away from water sources, on the other hand, there is no “solution” so impractical that billions of taxpayer dollarscan’t make it happen. The politicians will simply see to it that the water is moved where the lobbyists tell them it should have been in the first place. The result is that farmers will grow water-thirsty crops in central Arizona and central California where water must be transported over mountains and across hundreds of miles of arid landscape.
Water shortages occur in the West not because too many people are flushing their toilets too often, but because agriculture, heavily subsidized through cheap water made possible by the federal government, continues to grow crops in places that would never support agriculture on a similar scale in a free market. Indeed, agriculture uses well over 80 percent of all the water used in Western states, and most of that water is stored, pumped, and diverted using dams, pumps, and aqueducts paid for by the U.S. taxpayer.
As a result, growers don’t have to face the real-life costs of transporting water to their farms. They only need consider the subsidized price, which is far below what it would be in a private market. Consequently, water usage for growers across the West is much greater than what it would be were there a functioning market for water in the region.
While there are some historical cases of locally-funded major water projects, such as the original Los Angeles Aqueduct, the management of water resources in the West has been dominated by the federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation. Although created in 1902, the Bureau exploded in size and importance during the Great Depression as a part of the New Deal. From Hoover Dam to countless smaller dams and diversion projects, the Bureau became an influential bureaucracy with immense power in the West.
Naturally, the fact that taxpayers pay for all this does not mean that the taxpayers control the water. The most important resource in the West is in fact mostly controlled by Congress and the Bureau of Reclamation, and indirectly by growers and other special interests. Water is distributed in the West not by markets and market prices, but by the political process.
In an arid place like the West, the political control of water translates to the political control of entire sectors of the economy. Writing in 2004, economist William Anderson noted:
No private firm would distribute a precious commodity like water in a desert in the way that the Bureau of Reclamation has done it. While the subsidized farms in the West are private, the federal government owns the main input that is needed for their crops: water. Thus, the term “private enterprise” here is meaningless, since the farms are wards of the state.
The fact that many farms are “wards of the state” as Anderson calls them, does not trouble the more influential growers much, as agricultural interests remain extremely influential in Western states, and they indirectly control most of the water.
What is the justification for such a situation? The virtues of subsidized water are sung using the usual arguments for corporatism and crony capitalism. We’re told that what’s good for the Western farmer is good for America. It’s a matter of national security. Local economies will collapse without agriculture. Subsidized water “creates jobs.” It’s a way of life that must be preserved. And so on.
The political support behind the growers’ continued use of the vast majority of the water resources to grow cotton and pecans in a brutally-hot parched desert is a classic case of politicians supporting what is seen over what cannot be seen.
We can look out over the vast fields of crops in central California and Arizona, where few crops could grow before the federal government taxed families and workers to make it possible, and claim that the alternative is unthinkable. The alternative, of course, is unknown and unseen.
The hundreds of billions of dollars spent over the years to get water to growers and other politically well-connected interests could have been spent on other things. What other things? We’ll never know now, but the Central Arizona Project, which pumps water up 3,000 vertical feet and moves it across 160 miles of desert from the Colorado River to central Arizona at a cost of at least $4.7 billion, would probably not be one of them. Most of that is paid for by people who will never live in Arizona.
Although the special interest groups don’t see it this way, the fact remains that the development of the West, dictated by water, has been dominated by the federal government and its friends for at least 75 years. It props up industries unsuited to the realities of the Western deserts, while populations rely more and more on a diminishing resource controlled by an aging infrastructure of taxpayer-funded boondoggles. Is it any surprise that the West now faces some serious water problems? In spite of this, there is one thing we can know for sure: we’ll be told that the federal government is our best hope for solving the problem.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Peruta v. San Diego, released minutes ago, affirms the right of law-abiding citizens to carry handguns for lawful protection in public.
California law has a process for applying for a permit to carry a handgun for protection in public, with requirements for safety training, a background check, and so on. These requirements were not challenged. The statute also requires that the applicant have “good cause,” which was interpreted by San Diego County to mean that the applicant is faced with current specific threats. (Not all California counties have this narrow interpretation.) The Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 opinion written by Judge O’Scannlain, ruled that Peruta was entitled to Summary Judgement, because the “good cause” provision violates the Second Amendment.
The Court ruled that a government may specify what mode of carrying to allow (open or concealed), but a government may not make it impossible for the vast majority of Californians to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms. …
The Peruta decision examines the text of the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court decisions in Heller and McDonald, and the legal history of the right to bear arms. The Court pays particular attention to the historical cases and commentators that have been favorably cited by Heller and McDonald. The survey leads straightforwardly to the conclusion that the right to carry a gun in public places for lawful self-defense is part of the Second Amendment right. So plaintiffs pass step 1 of the two-part test.
This is a big deal, and an important step in the right direction.
Peaceful Protest Against Police Brutality, Demanding Justice for Kelly Thomas
Hollywood, CA • Feb. 8, 2014.
Some media coverage claims 300 protesters attended. I can personally attest to far more than that.
CHP officer handcuffs Chula Vista Firefighter caught on camera
See more here.
Protests aren’t really my style. I’m more about the intellectual revolution; I prefer education and peaceful noncompliance over potential confrontation. Nevertheless, (1) this could serve that end insofar as it brings attention to this heinous miscarriage of justice, and (2) I will be working that day and my studio is not far from Hollywood & Vine.
As such, it’s very possible that I will attend. Let me know if you might be there.
The NFL is good at fleecing taxpayers. It’s about a billion dollars a year I’ve calculated in public subsidies to NFL owners and this is a group that consists almost entirely of billionaires and yet receiving significant public subsidies every year.
The NFL raked in over $9 billion in revenues last season and the league is pushing team owners to triple that mark over the next decade.
With the league’s overwhelming success, many cities are eager to get a piece of the action, often offering billions in public subsidies to attract (or keep) football in their localities.
But with the NFL making record profits, is it right for cities to spend public money on these type of projects? Especially when over half of NFL team owners are ranked on the Forbes billionaire list?
No where is this illustrated more than in Los Angeles, which has been trying to lure the league back to the area ever since the Raiders and Rams left town 20 years ago. And though numerous economists have demonstrated that sports stadia don’t increase local economic activity, it hasn’t stopped debt-ridden cities like L.A. from approving a $1.2 billion dollar stadium deal that would be financed with nearly $350 million in taxpayer-backed bonds.
I’ve mentioned often how much of a big sports fan I am. But I can’t imagine putting a gun to my neighbor’s head to help pay a billionaire so that I can enjoy my hobby. I hope L.A. gets no more new stadiums or upgrades, so long as said stadiums or upgrades are paid for by taxpayers.
California’s efforts to regulate firearms out of easy availability (an official summary of state gun regulations runs to 50 pages) continue to bear fruit, as Smith & Wesson announces that it’s not willing to comply with the latest round of inane rules, effectively removing most of its pistols from the state’s market. The specific bit of red tape pushing the company out is a requirement that new pistols (including modifications of existing firearms) incorporate controversial “microstamping" technology intended to leave unique markings on fired cases.
In a press release, the company says:
Under California’s “Unsafe Handgun Act,” any new semi-automatic pistol introduced into that state must comply with microstamping laws. In addition, California asserts that anything other than a cosmetic change to a handgun already on the California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale, including performance enhancements and other improvements, requires it to be removed from the roster and retested. For semi-automatic pistols, this means it must comply with the microstamping requirements, as well.
Smith & Wesson does not and will not include microstamp ing in its firearms. A number of studies have indicated that microstamping is unreliable, serves no safety purpose, is cost prohibitive and, most importantly, is not proven to aid in preventing or solving crimes. The microstamping mandate and the company’s unwillingness to adopt this so-called technology will result in a diminishing number of Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistols available for purchase by California residents.
This is not a problem unique to Smith & Wesson. The microstamping legislation and California’s position regarding performance enhancements and other improvements creates the same challenge for all firearm manufacturers, since presumably all of them refine and improve their products over time.
In order to retain a presence in the California market for semi-automatic pistols, the company deliberately plans to make no improvements to the M&P Shield and the SDVE pistols so that they’ll remain on-sale without a need to comply with the microstamping law. Except for the Shield, all of the M&P line of pistols are expected to fall off the roster of guns legal for sale in California by August 2014 (revolvers are exempt).
Microstamping is held out as one of the holy grails of modern gun controllers seeking a technological crutch for their position, but the National Shooting Sports Foundation calls it ”a costly and time-consuming process” that’s not especially reliable. It’s also easily defeated by the clever expedient of swapping out firing pins or other easily replaced parts. Or just filing down the stamp (diamond-coated files are a good choice).
Ruger Firearms already announced that it won’t comply with the microstamping rule. The National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute have filed suit against California over the issue
Smith & Wesson representatives didn’t respond to queries as to whether they would follow in the footsteps of gunmakers like Barrett and also refuse sales to law enforcement agencies in jurisdictions that effectively try to disarm private citizens. Such a move might actually get officials’ attention.
This state is ridiculous.
How deluded must one be to believe that these laws will, in any shape or form, deter criminals from possessing firearms more than it obstructs the ability of peaceful, law-abiding individuals to protect themselves?
The city of Los Angeles is cracking down on pedestrians who sneak across streets when the traffic signal says “don’t walk.” But when you put a price on bad behavior, like being in a public street illegally, you see clearly what a city values.The cheapest parking ticket in Los Angeles (pdf) is $58, and the one most commonly issued for parking in a prohibited zone is $73. Jaywalking—the term of art for a pedestrian crossing against the light—will cost you $197.
And this right on the heels of my paean to jaywalking.
It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward [legal marijuana] dispensaries. Moreover, it appears to directly counter the spirit of Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo, and is in direct opposition to the evolving view toward medical marijuana, the will of the people and, by now, common sense. … It is our view that the intent of the Justice Department is to not enforce its anti-marijuana laws in conflict with the laws of states that have chosen to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses.
It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward [legal marijuana] dispensaries. Moreover, it appears to directly counter the spirit of Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo, and is in direct opposition to the evolving view toward medical marijuana, the will of the people and, by now, common sense. …
It is our view that the intent of the Justice Department is to not enforce its anti-marijuana laws in conflict with the laws of states that have chosen to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses.