Uncertainty grows over May 19 propositions

During my recent state travels — both north and south — many people have said they’re going to vote against the six measures that would “balance” the state budget.

images14

I use the word “balance” loosely, because the budget borrows billions of dollars from the future, including lottery proceeds. It’s a farce.

Voters don’t trust the politicians, they worry the initiatives will take money away from the poor and disadvantaged, and they don’t care if the governor suffers a political blow.

The Terminator’s credibility is abysmal in a solidly Democratic state. Many people would rather see a Democrat in the governor’s office in the next election anyway. 

The skepticism about the propositions is not limited to liberals or moderates: Tax extensions in Proposition 1A have angered conservatives.

A low voter turnout also is expected, casting a further doubt over passage of the propositions.

What if voters reject the May 19 ballot measures? The Terminator and lawmakers will have to return to the drawing board and find a way to close the budget gap.

I suspect they’ll do so with more urgency than before, probably before the end of May.

Their own political hides will be at risk like never before. I doubt many of them would be good candidates for any job retraining, and they know it.

Water fight will pit homeowners against farmers

images13Here we go again: El Dorado Irrigation District on Tuesday declared a “stage 1” drought warning, asking consumers to voluntarily cut back their water consumption by 15 percent over last year.

We can expect more of the same from neighboring areas — including here — in the coming months as California faces the third year of a drought.

This is a familiar drill for longtime Californians: Consumers are asked to cut back on watering their lawns; wash cars with a bucket, not a hose; to use their washing machines and dishwashers less; use low-flow toilets; even shower with a friend (more enjoyable).

No problem. Californians gulp up natural resources, ranging from water to crude oil. We need to conserve.

But a big problem — and it will surface again — is all the water used to grow certain crops in California, such as rice and almonds.

Many of the crops touted in trade group booths at the state fair are “water hogs.” For rice, you just flood a field. We also subsidize some crops that are water hogs just to get them to market.

Farmers are represented by big trade groups, with long-reaching tentacles in Sacramento, so it’s always a drawn-out battle.

The recession is forcing us to rethink our practices — at home, in business and in government. It’s about time we rethink our farming practices too.

Video: Will ‘boobs’ save newspapers?

A home-grown video is making the rounds on blogs titled “Saving Newspapers: the musical.”

It’s a humorous 2:49 minute clip on YouTube from a Bay Area youth who runs a Web site called rockcookiebottom.com. You can see and listen to it here

Some snippets:

“Newspapers all across this nation are dying like the plague. Unless we think of something to do, it’s going to wipe us out like an Internet tidal wave.

“We live in digital ubiquity, where you get the news anytime for free. At this point, we’ll try anything to survive.

“Ideas:

“•Selling marijuana when California legalizes.

“•We could start to offer businesses good reviews on Yelp.

“•What about short selling stocks? Let’s make green technology. Let’s rob a bank.”

“If you want to be on the Internet, you gotta start thinking like them.

“It’s been tested, it’s been proven, boobs will get the traffic movin’. Boobs on the front page, boobs on the bloog, boobs in classified.

“What’s going to save newspapers? Boobs.”

Well, it’s an entertaining snippet from an up-and-coming entrepreneur. But newspapers have leaned on boobs for a long time (the women in British tabloids), and “advertorials” about businesses (AKA Yelp in print) are commonplace nowadays. (Advertorials are ads on the news page).

What’s next? How about some entertaining videos?

Will Berriman Ranch housing get to ‘cut in line’?

A proposed raise of up to 5 percent for Grass Valley’s top administrator  — just when jobs are being axed at City Hall — is still a side show to the most intriguing news at Tuesday’s council meeting:

The Mayor is carrying water (again) for SCO Engineering — comprised of local “powers that be” — and San Diego-based Asset Management to fast-track the Berriman Ranch housing project. The development is on a farm just south of McKnight Way near Highway 49.

Construction could start years earlier than targeted under the General Plan in a proposal to be discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting.

It is a smaller-scale proposal than initially planned, at least at the outset. The details are here: Berriman 2009

In March 2007, the council voted 5-0 to reject a similar request to fast-track development (though not as scaled down). The details are at: Berriman 2007

The out-of-towners who bought the property in the “go-go” days knew that the designations for development were in the 2016-2020 timeframe under the plan — not now.

On one hand, we could use the jobs that go along with any housing construction, and the scaled back plan is a plus.

On the other hand, the council agreed to the “rules of the road”  for housing development and — in fact — fought to defend them in handily defeating the recent growth measures. (Berriman’s backers contributed to measure “Y.”)

Under measure “Z,” which lost in last November’s election, modifying a deal such as Berriman Ranch would have required a “vote of the people.”

In addition, we already have some housing projects in the pipeline.

SCO Engineering’s leaders include a head of the county Economic Resource Council, and one of the founders is the chairman of KNCO — a tight-knit local group. “Da Mayor” has long supported them.

To be sure, they’re *all* good people. But we have to think this one through. To move our community forward and build credibility, we have to “do the right thing” for our constituents. Will we?

Study: Low-level ozone exposure can be lethal

Here’s a new report worth noting in our county: Low-level ozone exposure can be deadly over time, according to a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

How ozone is formed
How ozone is formed

Though not like L.A., the Sierra foothills is exposed to abnormally high ozone levels on hot days and when pollution from more heavily populated areas blows against the mountains.

On some days, the ozone level here is among the most dangerous in the country, according to the American Lung Association.

“Environmental scientists already knew that increases in ozone during periods of heavy pollution caused short-term effects, such as asthma attacks, increased hospitalizations and deaths from heart attacks,” the L.A. Times reported.

“But the 18-year study of nearly half a million people . . . is the first to show that long-term, low-level exposure to the pollutant can also be lethal,” it added.

Ozone increases the yearly risk of death from respiratory diseases by 40 percent to 50 percent in heavily polluted cities such as L.A. and by about 25 percent throughout the rest of the country, according to the research.

The report is expected to prompt the EPA to step up efforts to revisit current ozone standards.

Cheap land for government is upside to recession

Here’s a scooplet: The closed-door, real-estate discussions at Tuesday’s county Board of Supervisors are for buying land for a new corporate yard, according to my sources.

The 6-year effort to relocate the yard is more affordable now, thanks to the slump in real estate — about the only benefit of a recession like this. The separate deals being discussed will clear the way for a new yard.

This includes a 20-acre site at North Star, an 18-acre site at South Hill, an 8-acre site near Rough and Ready, and a 14-acre next to Juvenile Hall. All sites are mentioned on Tuesday’s agenda.

As reported, the county has been seeking a new corporate yard to replace the one near the Loma Rica airport.

Relocating the facility means the Loma Rica airport can expand, as well as the businesses in the area.

The new locations typically are below the snow line, flat and centrally located. A joint yard with Grass Valley also is possible.

One other deal is for the Tahoe Forest Hospital to buy land next to the government offices in Truckee.

It’s a good time to snap up some inexpensive real-estate, no doubt about that. North Star, for example, is in foreclosure proceedings.

How social networking, politics mix around here

images34We have many politically active people in the Sierra foothills, including our county, and social networking is an ideal way to connect them.

In rural areas, social networking Web sites provide a link that can bond us together. It’s happening more and more, too.

Here’s a good example: Ron Paul’s grassroots social network site called Campaign for Liberty.

The mission: “Promote and defend the great American principles of individual liberty, constitutional government (and) free markets by means of educational and political activity.”

Members here can sign up and interact with each other in a password-protected part of the site. The membership is active and growing — even though the election is over.

There are categories for our county, as well as the 4th Congressional district, a “hyper local” approach for a national social-networking site. 

In politics, the sites are a good way to grow grassroots support to prepare for the next election. Paul’s site also promotes his news appearances, such as a video discussing AIG’s bonuses on CNN from last Friday.

Campaign for Liberty’s traffic is growing since a dip after the election, according to Compete.com.  The site is attracting more than 140,000 unique visitors per month, up from about 80,000 in December.

While Facebook is the giant among social networking sites, Paul’s site show the clout of a so-called vertical, which can bring together like-minded people.

Expect the boom to continue.