Category Archives: Bay Area

Looking for Answers on Bay Bridge Delays

Bay Bridge photo Bay-Bridge-Rendering-SAS_zps7261224e.jpgBridge faces delays of up to several months

by Brian Leubitz

The bad bolts on the Bay Bridge now mean that the post Labor Day kickoff will be delayed for weeks, perhaps months:

The Bay Bridge’s broken bolts have busted the schedule, forcing the construction team to postpone for weeks or months the opening of the Bay Area’s new signature bridge while critics lambast the builders for missteps that contributed to the delay.

Citing a longer than expected timetable to retrofit the seismic stabilizers where key anchor rods snapped in March, the span will not open to traffic immediately the morning after Labor Day as planned. No new opening date has been set. (Lisa Vorderbrueggen / BANG)

Bay Area legislators are understandably quite miffed. The current eastern span of the bridge is seismically unstable, and will likely come crashing down in a rather devastating fashion if we have any sort of major earthquake. It certainly would have been nice to see that sort of risk eliminated as soon as possible, however, to ensure the longterm stability of the bridge, the delay probably makes sense. The new span is supposed to last 150 years, and cost untold billions to get this far. It would be almost silly to get anxious over a few months at this point.

However, that being said, the money is real, and the delays are real. And all should have been avoidable.

“Heads should roll,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-“Concord. “It’s unconscionable that people have been exposed to so much risk of an earthquake on the old the bridge and paid so much for the new one. People need to be held accountable on these big projects.”

A new report highlighted some of the failures that kept piling upon each other to bring about the delay, but as Sen. DeSaulnier remarked, there is a little desire to find somebody to blame for the mess.

“We are one community”: Interview with Cindy Chavez, candidate for Santa Clara Cty Board of Sups

Cindy Chavez is running for Supervisor District 2 in Santa Clara County. In March, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors called a special election to fill the vacancy for Supervisor in District Two. The primary will be held June 4th. District 2 covers the downtown of San Jose, east side of San Jose, and southeast of downtown San Jose. It is one of the most ethnically diverse-and poorest-parts of Silicon Valley.

As a labor leader, Chavez considers helping working families to be among her core values. She received a meaningful education in public policy through her two terms on the San Jose City Council and as Vice Mayor. I sat down with Chavez to discuss her policy priorities and this race with the Calitics community.

I asked Chavez why her labor and public service background has prepared her well for the Board of Supervisors.

“I think one of the opportunities with this seat is to demonstrate that being a progressive leader and policy maker means that you have the ability and the desire to both make sure the government runs well with high quality services; and that it serves the most needy in our community. That’s why I’ve chosen to run for the Board of Supervisors.”

One of her key priorities is education. As Chavez described, “One of the opportunities we have is a program called School Link Services, which means that we can put (in partnership with school districts) mental health services in the schools and catch the needs of children at a much earlier stage than we do today.”

I noted that when she served on the San Jose City Council, Chavez fought hard to make sure that every child in San Jose County had access to health insurance.  “Children do better in school if they’re healthy and they don’t miss school days,” she said. “So those are the opportunities we have right out of the box to help children thrive in our community.”

Chavez prioritizes education and raising healthy young children to become healthy adults. She explained that public education is about more than measuring test scores and teachers. She explained, “One example is the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. What it means is that we have to be very focused on prevention. So what happens if we can connect with children and families at a young enough age to prevent chronic obesity? That means you’re not going to have somebody potentially with, diabetes, or heart disease, or blindness or amputation. In many respects, the County has an opportunity like we did with tobacco placement to start to force ourselves to invest in children in a meaningful way.”

Chavez says that she is capable of caring about people and governing effectively, and that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. The Chamber of Commerce has targeted her for her ties to organized labor, suggesting that her advocacy for workers’ rights could interfere with her ability to govern. I asked Chavez what she would say to an undecided voter about this, and she took the question head on. “I think it’s easier for people during elections to try to categorize people. If you’re pro labor, you can’t be pro business. What’s silly about that is that no leader I know in the labor movement is opposed to healthy vibrant businesses. We need companies to thrive in order to make sure that folks have decent wages, and access to health insurance and all of those benefits allow people to be part of our society.”

Chavez continued, saying that abandoning working people to score political points can negatively impact one’s ability to govern. “San Jose was one of the safest large cities in the nation,” she explained. “But we’ve seen a huge rise in crime because the mayor took an anti-labor position in an attempt to manage the budget. But all we did was take a really safe city and make it unsafe. And so we need leaders who can both understand the importance of growing healthy vibrant economy – not on the backs of people, but with the vision and the idea that we are one community – and that we need to be able to invest, whether that’s in education or in safe jobs, at the same time that we support businesses thriving.”

I pointed out that the Chamber has been trying to make the case that County services are going to have to be cut in order to maintain public employees’ wages and pay for the pension plans that the County agreed to years ago.

Chavez responded that as the economy swings back out of a bad business cycle into a better one, making smart continual investments is one way to attract the best and the brightest to apply to be in the public sector.

“They forgo high pay for a stable retirement, and that promise has served the public sector well. That being said, everybody understands that we need pension reform–but if we don’t understand how we got into this situation, then we don’t address the problem clearly. So we have to acknowledge that there were huge dips in the economy that cost everybody. Everybody – even cities that were fully funding their pension plans have had challenges, so that’s one set of realities. But the other is that we have a really expensive health care system – and as soon as we can get our arms around health care costs, a lot of the pressure does lift off our pensions.”

I asked Chavez to say more about public safety and what steps she would take to enhance it and make it sustainable for the County.

“When as an average voter you call 911,” she said, “you don’t look at whether it’s the sheriff or the Highway Patrol or who’s responding to you. You want someone to respond.  You want an ambulance to arrive for a loved one. Part of what this economy is allowing us to do is to take a look at services that we provide and figure out how we can work together. So for example, the County has maybe 13 cities total, and many of those cities have their own police forces, not all of them. Some have the deputy sheriff. I think it’s very possible to have the deputy sheriff work with the police departments in all of the areas to make sure that we are fighting crime as a team. Because, frankly, criminals don’t respect too many boundaries, and we have to stop thinking in a boundaries way. We have to start analyzing problems, dealing with those problems, and then being aggressive in terms of safety. We should take our resources that are scarce, say let’s better utilize them, and work more collaboratively.”

Chavez pointed out the importance of fully funding after school programs, as a less expensive way of preventing crime. “As soon as those after school programs went away, we saw a spike in crime because children didn’t have anything to do after school. We saw an increase in burglaries and other kinds of crimes. So one of the things we have to do is take our scarce resources and invest them in after school activities, making sure that children have a safe place to be, that they’re occupied, and that they have a place to do their homework so they stay in school. It is a relatively small investment for a huge payoff as these children become responsible adults.”

Recently Chavez received a high profile endorsement from BAYMEC, the regional LGBT advocacy group. I asked her how she views her responsibility to members of Santa Clara County’s LGBT community.

“When a person runs for office, we all have an obligation to make sure that we come into office with our values, we serve with our values, and we leave with those values,” Chavez responded. “BAYMEC has a special place in my heart because the civil rights of the gay and lesbian community and civil rights in general are core values for me. Getting BAYMEC’s endorsement was a reminder that we are in this together. That we have to continue to see the civil rights of the gay and lesbian community and transgender community the same way we see that for every other community, and be aggressive in fighting for it. It’s easy to see here in California where Proposition 8 passed not so many years ago, that a majority can make a bad decision about a minority. The role of government is to protect the interests of all voices, weak or strong. It’s been an honor for me to support gay marriage when I was in office. In fact I was threatened with a recall for my support of the gay and lesbian community, and it was one of my prouder moments.”

I asked Chavez to explain what approach she will take as Supervisor in working with the business community.

“When I was on the San Jose City Council I collaborated with the business community on many, many endeavors; building high rise housing in downtown San Jose, trying to streamline the permitting process, working on new ways to attract businesses, bringing big events to San Jose that we thought would put us on the map. Anybody who chooses to run for office, win lose or draw, you have to be somebody who believes that all of us working together is better than all of us working apart. I would be no different. I hope that now I’m a more experienced candidate and have had more time to work in the community, I will do an even better job as a member of the Board of Supervisors.”

Chavez had one final thought on being considered a polarizing figure: “I do think that when you choose to run for office you have core values that you believe in and that you hope that others share. If they don’t, then you want to be persuasive about them. For me this is equality and transparency and honesty. But it also means being as strong as you can be for the community that you represent, and this seat would represent some of the poorest people in our community.”

“My comfort is the saying that polite women don’t make history. More importantly, polite women or polite leaders don’t get health insurance for kids, or don’t raise the minimum wage, they don’t make it safe for people to work in their workplaces. They don’t miss an opportunity to make sure that everybody has the right to marry who they love, and they don’t miss an opportunity to protect workers – not just the job, but their right to bargain collectively and to organize.  And for all of that I am unapologetic. We need to be bold, all of us, in saying what we think needs to happen in this community.”

For more information about Cindy Chavez or to support her campaign, please go to Volunteers and donations are urgently needed ahead of the primary on June 4th. (If necessary, a run-off election will be held on July 30, 2013.)

Amy Dean is a fellow of The Century Foundation and principal of ABD Ventures, LLC, an organizational development consulting firm that works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement. Dean has worked for nearly two decades at the cross section of labor and community based organizations linking policy and research with action and advocacy. You can follow Amy on Twitter @amybdean, or she can be reached via

Thoughts from the California Redistricting Commission Meeting

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(The meetings are happening across the state, you can get more information at – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Cross posted on my blog http://racesandredistricting.b…

Redistricting is one of my biggest passions and California’s redistricting situation is no exception. I have published three maps for California’s Congressional redistricting and the most recent one is here: http://racesandredistricting.b… On May 20th, I decided to share my thoughts with them because the commission would be holding a public comment meeting in Santa Rosa. Although California is keeping all 53 of its congressional districts, slow population growth increases the likelihood that the Bay Area will lose a district. Some proposals say that Marin County should be combined with San Francisco and as a Marinite, I like San Francisco but we do not belong in the same district. We belong with Sonoma County instead.

As I drove north to Santa Rosa, I looked at the traffic on the highway. This further highlighted my argument that Marin County and Sonoma County were communities of interest in the way they shared commuting issues. San Francisco did not have these same issues. I was not surprised to hear three people mention the traffic in their public comments about how the similar traffic issues connect Marin County and Sonoma together.  

We arrived smoothly and I became speaker #23 by being the 23rd person in line. While waiting on line, I talked to three women. They were all from Napa and one of them wanted to connect Napa and Sonoma together. Another though wanted Napa to be in a more agricultural district with Central Valley counties. She drew a map with Napa, Yolo, Glenn, Colusa and Lake Counties. It was handrawn so I said, “You should try Dave’s Redistricting App (DRA). It gives you the correct population numbers and demographics.” They said they would check it and I hope they like DRA as much as I do. They later introduced me to a few Republican activists from Napa who were very nice. I did not mention that I am a Democrat. A few minutes later, I told a Mendocino presenter about my recent redistricting plan. I told her about my proposal for the 1st district. She liked that I included Lake County, liked that I added Trinity but I am not too sure if she liked that I added Yolo County. I quickly explained that my 1st district was composed of tourist areas and university areas. Yolo County is a university town with UC Davis while Humboldt County has Humboldt State. Also, the liberals in Yolo County probably agree on more issues with North Coast liberals than conservative rural voters in the Central Valley or more moderate Democrats in Solano County.

When I arrived, there was a small line of people waiting for ticket numbers but as 6:00 drew closer, more people arrived and all the seats were filled by 6:00. At 6:00, the commission member presiding was Vincent P. Barabba, a registered Republican from Capitola. He has connections to Marin County though by serving on the now closed Hamilton Air Force Base.

As the speakers began, I believed there would be similar perspectives on Marin and Sonoma County staying united. The first speakers though were from Mendocino arguing for placing as much of Sonoma County as possible with Mendocino County. The Mendocino County speaker I spoke to advocated for not placing Redding and Mendocino County in the same district. She and one of her friends said that it takes around 3 hours on a day with no traffic to drive to Eureka from Redding. “We have nothing in common with Redding,” they said. I agree because the Redding area and the Central Valley have an agriculture based economy while Mendocino/Humboldt Counties are based less around agriculture. Another Mendocino County speaker was a member of the Pomo tribe and wanted all the Pomo Lands in the same district. Not many people consider Native American tribal lands while redistricting in California (they do though in Arizona with the Navajo and the Hopi) so I was really glad the Pomo tribe member shared her concerns.

Also, a presenter stated that she wanted Sonoma and Napa to be combined into the same districts because she wanted the wine country to stay united. The Napa County Board of Supervisors wanted Napa to stay united too. I agree with keeping Napa united but it is possible the commission will place American Canyon in the same district as Vallejo because they are similar communities. Another speaker suggested that Napa should be combined with Central Valley counties such as Glenn and Colusa. The next speaker though advocated for not combining Central Valley counties north of Yolo with Napa County because the agricultural interests are different. Napa grows mostly wine while Colusa and Glenn grow other crops such as almonds.

When my number 23 was called, I felt a bit worried because many of the previous speakers advocated for uniting Sonoma County with Mendocino or Napa Counties. I was worried my comment would go over the two minute limit but I stood and began to read. I talked about how Marin and Sonoma are two counties with mostly upscale suburban communities and San Francisco is an urban area not even connected by land to Marin County. As I stopped, I turned around to see applause. My suggestion that these two “upscale suburban communities” should be combined was even quoted in the paper:…

As the meeting progressed, more and more Marin speakers appeared, advocating for uniting Marin and Sonoma. I realized that many of the Marinites were stuck in the traffic that I faced while driving to Santa Rosa. A few of them mentioned it in their comments. I heard other great arguments from the speakers for uniting Marin and Sonoma Counties. A firefighter discussed how the routes he drove to fight fires showed how Marin and Sonoma were connected. A Marin County resident stated how Marinites care about grass fires, not graffiti and that Marinites care about the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, not Hetch Hetchy. A speaker from San Anselmo in Marin County who helped repair the damage of a flood that decimated local businesses said, “We would be more forceful if we joined forces with Sonoma County, a similar county.” Another speaker asked the commission, “How many redwoods are in San Francisco?” Marin County has a reputation for its redwood forests and hiking trails on Mt. Tamalpais while San Francisco does not have much hiking. A speaker who lived in both Marin and San Francisco made a great argument by saying, “San Francisco has universities and public transportation. When I lived in San Francisco, I saw Marin as “the country.” It reminded me of my Grandma’s Farm outside of Boston.” Also, I was not the only young person at the meeting. An eighth grader from Sonoma said she supported uniting Marin and Sonoma Counties. Susan Adams, one of Marin’s County Supervisors also gave a strong argument for uniting Marin and Sonoma Counties. Judy House, a former city council member of San Anselmo gave a summary of the crowd’s feeling by saying, “There is an overriding sense that Marin would like to be with Sonoma.”

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the commission meeting. Although a few people supported combining Sonoma with Mendocino or Napa County, the crowd clearly favored combining Marin and Sonoma Counties. I hope that the commission sees the connections between Marin and Sonoma Counties and decides to draw a district similar to the current 6th district which combines Marin and Sonoma Counties. We belong together and if we are combined, we can work together to solve common problems.  

Fair Districting?

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DREAM ACT Eligible City College of SF Student Facing Deportation in AZ

On September 15, 2010, life as Shing Ma “Steve” Li knew it ended suddenly. On that warm summer morning about a month and half ago, two men knocked on the door of his San Francisco apartment. Inside, 20-year-old Steve was getting ready for a full day of classes at the City College of San Francisco. He could not have imagined that within the next couple hours he would be arrested and detained as a fugitive criminal. In the ensuing two days, Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) processed Steve and his mother and sent them to their detention facility in Sacramento. Several weeks later, he was moved to the ICE detention center in Florence, Arizona, where he now awaits deportation.

Steve had no idea of his family’s status. Though he was born in Lima, Peru on July 3, 1990, Steve grew up right here in San Francisco. He attended Francisco Middle School and graduated from George Washington High School in 2008. Of ethnic Chinese dissent, Steve’s family arrived in San Francisco in 2002 after escaping from hardships in Peru. His parents came to America hoping for a fresh start. Steve was currently enrolled at the City College of San Francisco and was preparing to transfer to San Francisco State University where he planned on studying to become a nurse.

Sadly, Steve could have been spared this awful situation if Congress had passed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act. This bill provides relief for certain inadmissible or deportable alien students who arrived in the U.S. as children, who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. Qualifying students have the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency if they complete two years in the military or two years of schooling at a four-year institution of higher learning.

The DREAM Act will get another vote later this year, as an amendment to the National Defense Reauthorization Act. The DREAM Act has bipartisan co-sponsors, and majority of the Senate has voted for it in the past. We hope and pray that Congress will pass the DREAM Act this year.

I was Steve’s professor at City College of San Francisco, and along with Steve’s other teachers and friends, we are writing to everyone we know to publicize Steve’s unjust detention, to educate people about the DREAM Act, and to try to forestall Steve’s deportation in the hope that the DREAM Act will be passed through Congress this year.

Steve Li had a bright future ahead of him. He was a good student at the City College of San Francisco. He was well on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a nurse and helping others. As I said, he began preparing to transfer to San Francisco State University by enrolling in San Francisco State’s Summer Science Institute, an intensive program that supports undergraduate students pursuing a career in health care. This past summer, he was at the Summer Science Institute at 8am every weekday working on his Biology, Chemistry, and Physics prerequisites.

However, Steve’s dreams and his life were shattered into a million pieces when ICE came knocking at his door. His parents had applied for asylum in 2004, but were denied and their visas eventually ran out. Steve was not even aware that he had overstayed his visa until the ICE agents raided his home last month. Steve and his parents were all initially incarcerated in San Francisco, but Steve was forcibly separated from his family when his parents were subsequently released on October 4th. His parents are Chinese nationals, but because Steve was born in Peru, he was transferred to a detention center in Arizona to be processed for immediate deportation. He is only 20 years old, and has never lived away from home. Nevertheless, the U.S. government and ICE has ripped this child away from his family and locked him up like a criminal for something over which he had no control.

Steve has no family or friends in Peru.  If he were deported, he would be homeless and alone upon arrival. Sadly, he will be deported soon unless we can mobilize our elected officials to do the right thing. America is Steve’s home. It is no fault of his that he finds himself in this situation. Why would we send this young man to a country he hasn’t lived in since he was in elementary school? Steve is a young man with immense potential, and he has never been in trouble with the law. He has worked hard to help support his family and pay for his own education. He only wants the opportunity to complete his education and give back to the country that he has called home for most of his life. Isn’t this the exact type of person we want to keep in our country?

Please help us circulate Steve’s story: Send online petitions (links below) to our California senators and representatives in support of Steve and the DREAM Act, and write about Steve on blogs, Twitter, or Facebook. We need to get the word out!!!! If you have media contacts, let them know about this story.


1) SF City Council Member Eric Mar is introducing a resolution on behalf of Steve to the SF Board of Supervisors next week.

2) On October 28, 2010, the CCSF Board of Trustees passed a unanimous resolution demanding officials stop Steve’s deportation.

3) SF Chronicle was set to run a story on Steve’s case. We are unsure when though we were told last Saturday

4) World Journal has done a story.  

5) Sing Tao is also working on a story

6) Contra Costa Times ran a story last Friday, and they are working on a follow up:…

7) Univision radio and television has also picked up on the story






1) Please support Steve by directing your friends, family, and colleagues to our online petition at:

2) We are organizing Call-In parties across several California college campuses for this Tuesday and Wednesday.

Even if you’re not attending a “call in party,” still show your support by calling:

Senator Feinstein: (415) 393-0707

Senator Boxer: (415) 403-0100

For John Morton (ICE Director): (202) 282-8495

If voicemail box full, call live line (202) 732-3000


Senator Scripts – “Hi I’m calling to urge Sen. Feinstein/Boxer/Director Morton to sponsor a private bill for Shing Ma “Steve” Li, who faces deportation any day now. He is an asset to our community. I ask that Sen. Feinstein/Boxer intervene today.”

If asked Steve’s A# (Alien Registration Number) is 076-143-010

Morton Script – “Hi, I’m calling to leave a message of support for Shing Ma “Steve” Li A#076-143-010 who is going to be deported any day know. Steve is pursuing a degree in nursing and he is an asset to our community. I ask that John Morton please step in and defer his deportation, thank you.

If asked Steve’s A# (Alien Registration Number) is 076-143-010

3) GET the WORD OUT! We have gotten some press from the media outlets listed below, but we need to get some serious media attention on this case or Steve will be deported! Please circulate Steve’s story in the blogosphere and beyond! We are holding a press conference/rally next Friday Nov 5th (12 pm) on the City College of San Francisco’s Ocean campus. Pass this info onto to interested individuals in the Bay Area who might want to come out to support Steve Li.

Did PG&E Delay Pipeline Fix To Spend Money on Prop 16?

The SF Chronicle reports that PG&E planned to fix part of the pipeline that exploded in San Bruno – but last year delayed the fix to spend the money elsewhere. The big question is, did that delay happen so PG&E could spend $46 million to try and undermine local democracy in their attempt to pass Prop 16?

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. asked state regulators three years ago for permission to spend $4.87 million to replace a portion of the same natural gas pipeline that ruptured last week and set a San Bruno neighborhood on fire….

Neither project has come to fruition. The South San Francisco project was moved down the priority list and the money spent elsewhere, and the southern project is still pending approval from state regulators. And now some observers wonder if the utility missed a chance to spot flaws in the pipeline that could have contributed to the Sept. 9 explosion, which killed four people, left three missing and destroyed 37 homes.

As the article explains, PG&E’s deferred maintenance policies are nothing new:

In one infamous case, a 1998 report from the California Public Utilities Commission found that the utility had taken $77.6 million that was supposed to be spent trimming trees near power lines – a vital step in wildfire prevention – and used it to boost corporate profits instead.

So what might have PG&E wanted to do with its money instead of repairing a pipeline that was known to be among the most dangerous in the country, desperately in need of repair?

Well, it was in late 2009 when PG&E leadership decided to spend millions of dollars to pass Prop 16, which would limit local democracy in order to preserve PG&E’s monopoly. PG&E executives warned shareholders to expect a loss in 2010 because of spending on Prop 16, which would indicate that it may well have been a factor in PG&E’s decision to defer maintenance on the pipeline that later exploded.

Once again, as I explained recently, this shows why we should not leave important infrastructure like this in the hands of private corporations. It needs to be publicly owned and operated to be effective and safe, because corporations will always have the incentive to spend to protect their profits and their market position instead of provide safe services to the public.

PG&E Saw San Bruno Pipeline As “Unacceptably” High Risk

Gerry Shih at the Bay Citizen has another important story on the San Bruno gas pipeline disaster, following up on their earlier report about residents complaining of a gas leak that PG&E knew about but was unable to fix. Their newest story shows that PG&E knew the pipeline had a very high risk of failure but was not planning to replace it until 2013 or 2014:

As early as 2007, Pacific Gas & Electric Company officials considered a portion of the gas main that ruptured and triggered the deadly San Bruno blaze on Thursday to be at “unacceptably” high risk for failure, according to documents obtained by The Bay Citizen.

The documents raise new questions about the extent of PG&E’s responsibility for the biggest disaster in the utility’s 105-year history in California.

The utility company had planned to repair by 2013 a 7,481-foot long section of pipe, which it deemed-based on internal risk assessments made in 2007 – one of PG&E’s “top 100 highest risk line sections.”

The obvious question is “why 2013?” If the pipeline was so dangerous – among the top 7% most dangerous pipelines in the nation, according to the AP – then you’d think PG&E would have moved more quickly to replace it.

But that wasn’t done. Apparently, PG&E had other priorities, which included spending $46 million in a failed effort to limit local democracy and protect their monopoly with Proposition 16.

Others are asking the same question, including Christine Pelosi:

These are funds that could have been used to repair what the utility’s own survey said was a high risk pipeline on the SF peninsula. So why make the decision for politics not pipelines? If the spending decisions were not related, why not? At the very least, PG&E should have a moratorium on political spending until they compensate the San Bruno victims and fix the pipelines.

“Ratepayer say on utility pay” is a good start, but this tragedy should force us to ask an even more fundamental question: Wouldn’t we be better off with PG&E under public ownership?

We keep hearing from the right, and from even neoliberal Democrats, that the private sector can do things better than the public sector, and so we should turn over things currently handled by government to the private sector.

Yet what we see in PG&E’s case is that they would rather protect their monopoly rather than provide safe and efficient service. $46 million would have bought a lot of new pipeline and paid the training and labor costs of the technicians who would install it. This is typical of the private sector, where capturing rents and using their wealth to fend off competition is preferred to innovation and providing quality services.

The public sector can always do a better job providing for these core services, and indeed many municipalities, such as Seattle, have publicly owned electric and gas utilities that haven’t had these problems.

But the private sector and their neoliberal allies in both parties long ago learned that the income streams currently going to public services – and the competition to corporate wealth and power posed by those services – can be undermined if government is defunded. Without proper funds, government services quickly deteriorate in quality, and the public becomes susceptible to an argument that the private sector can do things better. As more money and services are then handed over to the private sector, the public sector enters a downward spiral, with worse service quality that fuels calls for further cuts and privatization, causing further service problems and reinforcing the loop.

This tragedy isn’t just the result of a leak in a gas line, or of bad practices at PG&E – but of the entire concept of letting the private sector own and operate the basic infrastructure and services of a modern society. It’s time we addressed that root cause, to ensure this tragedy doesn’t happen again.

PG&E Knew About San Bruno Gas Leak

As the death toll climbs from the tragic natural gas explosion in San Bruno, news is emerging that residents in the area knew about the leak and reported it to PG&E – as far back as three weeks ago. After a cursory glance around the neighborhood, however, PG&E apparently did nothing to address the leak. Shoshana Walte and Gerry Shih of Bay Citizen have the story:

“They already knew about the leak and they didn’t do anything,” said Alex Monroy, who lives on Claremont Drive, not far from where a broken gas main burst into flames early Thursday evening, scorching everything around it….

Tim Gutierrez, another resident, told CBS 5 that he smelled a gas-like odor for several days before the accident. He said representatives of PG&E searched the neighborhood looking for a leak.

“A little later they took off and that was it,” said Gutierrez.

He said shortly afterwards, he believed that he smelled the same odor emanating from a sewer.

This is a pretty stunning report. If it’s true that PG&E failed to properly investigate and stop the leak, then they’re almost certainly liable for the mayhem that the explosion has caused.

It also would call into question the priorities of PG&E’s leadership, which spent a whopping $46 million in their failed attempt to pass Prop 16, which would have undermined local government efforts to provide renewable energy to their residents. The CPUC has announced an investigation, and part of it should examine whether PG&E has cut back on maintenance and field crews in order to pad their profits and fund their ballot initiative campaign.

PG&E clearly has a lot to answer for in this disaster.

UPDATE: PG&E’s stock is falling fast as investors worry about the company’s liability for this disaster. I’d sell too if I owned any stock.

Northern California Residents: I’m Hosting a Job Resources Fair this Saturday

A new report out on job creation in March showed that 162,000 jobs were created last month, more than any other month in the past three years.

Yet recovery is incomplete until everyone who wants a job has a job. Throughout California, most communities are still facing double digit unemployment rates, and the district I represent – the 10th Congressional District – is no exception. We’ve survived the worst of the Bush recession, but we have a long tough road ahead.

That’s why this Saturday, I am hosting a jobs resources fair at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill (321 Golf Club Road at the DVC Cafeteria). More than 40 organizations and employers will be on hand to help unemployed residents develop the skills necessary to find a job.

More information, including how to RSVP, is over the flip…

Participating organizations and employers include AAA, AARP, Aero Precision Industries, AT&T, Back on Track Expungement Services, California Department of Rehabilitation, Central Sanitation, CMS (Medicare), Contra Costa County Central Labor Committee,  Contra Costa County Library System, Contra Costa Water District, Department of Veterans Affairs, Dow Chemical, DVC Career & Employment Center, DVC Green Tech Program, EBMUD, EDD, EDD – Senior Employment Services, Experience Works, Inter-City Services Inc., IRS, Kaiser Permanente, Las Positas College Veterans First Initiative, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Michael Chavez Center for Economic Opportunity, Northern CA Teamsters Apprentice Program, Opportunity Junction, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), PG&E, Pile Drivers’ Union, San Francisco Business Times, Sandia National Laboratory, Social Security Administration, Solano Community College – Employment Development Office, Solar Universe, State Farm Insurance, Sybase, U.S. Army National Guard, University of Phoenix, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Postal Service, Wells Fargo, and Year Up.

At the job resources fair, participants will have access to one-on-one resume review and interview skills training. In addition, we are also hosting some helpful workshops, including:

  • Social media for the uncomfortable
  • Accelerating Career Transition: how to use local market-place information as an effective tool to identify companies, job leads and career opportunities, and preparing for interviews with Jud Walsh, Director of Business Development, SF Business Times
  • Introduction to networking
  • Green jobs panel session
  • Tools for mature (55+) job seekers
  • Careers of the future: top ten growth industries

All are welcome. The event is free and open to the public. To guarantee yourself a spot at the workshops, we request that you RSVP in advance here.

I will do all I can in Washington to promote legislation that creates jobs and improves our economy, but nothing replaces old-fashioned initiative.

If you are one of the 12.5 percent of Californians still looking for work, or if you simply want to brush up on your job skills in preparation for a new career, you are welcome to stop by. If you know someone who might be interested in attending, feel free to invite them.

Attend our job resources fair, and who knows? The tools you need to finally land work may only be a workshop away.  

Sen. Mark Leno and some intriguing musical chairs

STATE SEN. Mark Leno has represented the Marin/Sonoma 3rd District for only a short time, but might be interested in trading in that seat for the mayor’s job in San Francisco. There are many variables that could get in the way.

More over the flip…

Leno would be eligible to run for a second four-year term in 2012. However, he could be campaigning in different ZIP codes when the district lines are redrawn next year as a result of the decennial census-taking. These will be determined by a newly created nonpartisan commission that stripped the Legislature of this power with passage of Proposition 11.

When that work is done, Leno’s district, which presently includes a portion of San Francisco, could be moved entirely north of the Golden Gate or possibly reoriented south of the city to exclude Marin and Sonoma entirely.

It could also remain unchanged – a result which Leno would prefer – since he received 80 percent of the general election vote after a very contentious primary that ousted former Senator Carole Migden in what is a very safe Democratic district.

Apparently Leno’s interest in City Hall was bolstered by a recent San Francisco Chamber of Commerce survey of nine wannabe candidates which showed him coming in first. Until now fellow state Sen. Leland Yee had been leading in the early polls.

When asked how serious these ambitions are, Leno responded, “It is way off in the future and I love representing the people in Marin and Sonoma.”

Any plans he may have will be further complicated by several possible scenarios all of which involve Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to run for lieutenant governor.

Were Newsom to win in the primary, and then in November beat the sitting lieutenant governor, most likely Republican Sen. Abe Maldonado, assuming the Assembly confirms him, an interim mayor would have to be either appointed or elected to serve out the year remaining in Newsom’s term.

The guessing game is in full swing as to who that might be with the incumbent thereby getting a strong handle up in the next election.

Former Mayor Willie Brown is mentioned as the safest choice since he cannot run for another term. Another alternative might be the appointment of Board President David Chiu, as acting mayor providing he could muster six votes besides his own.

The principal beneficiary of a Leno Administration would be San Rafael Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who is termed out in 2012 and will no doubt be eying the state Senate.

But were Leno to lose his bid for mayor, since he does not have to surrender his seat to run, he could face Huffman who he would consider his strongest opponent in a re-election race.

The last piece of this musical chairs puzzle revolves around Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s plans. Were she to decide to retire, that seat would be an immediate prize with both Huffman and Leno potential contenders.

For now, Leno plans on becoming better known in his district. Although their future paths could tangle, he and Huffman enjoy a close working relationship and are providing North Bay voters with a double punch that is the strongest in years.

In my next column I take a closer look at Leno’s track record and his stances on controversial issues such as Marin Clean Energy (he is strongly in favor), and the state’s fiscal mess.

The High Cost of Closing Down the NUMMI Auto Plant

Twenty-five thousand jobs and $2.3 billion dollars. That’s what California stands to lose if Toyota follows through with its plan to shut down the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), plant in Fremont at the end of the month, according to a study released today by a Blue Ribbon Commission. The Commission, appointed by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, was tasked with assessing the economic, social, and environmental costs of Toyota’s planned closure of the state’s only auto assembly plant.

UC Berkeley Professor Harley Shaiken, chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission:

NUMMI is in the heart of Toyota’s most important U.S. market, NUMMI has Toyota’s most skilled and experienced workforce in the country – one that has consistently won industry acclaim for quality – and California is at the cutting edge of both technological innovation and the green future the company wants to lead. NUMMI and its highly experienced and skilled workers should be valued by Toyota as a key asset for the company as it struggles to reestablish its reputation for quality and green innovation.

The Commission’s report validates what we already know — there are no good reasons for closing NUMMI and many good ones for keeping it open.  

The report found:

§ Even during the recent downturn in auto sales, Toyota’s share of the U.S. market continued to expand. Toyota could easily operate all of its U.S. plants — including NUMMI — at full capacity and still not meet the demands of the U.S. market.

§ NUMMI’s closure would deepen the recession in areas that are already among the hardest hit. Unemployment in the state is 12.4 percent and in Fremont is nearly four points higher.

§ More than 20,000 jobs would be permanently lost according to the University of the Pacific forecast for 2010-2014. Many of these jobs are high quality, well-paying jobs.

§ States and localities will lose nearly a billion dollars of tax revenue needed to fund vital services in the ten years after the plant closes.

§ Workers and their families will suffer not only economically but physically as well, according to new research, which shows that plant closings significantly increase the incidence of heart attacks and strokes by 50-100 percent among older workers like the long-time workforce at NUMMI.

§ Californians buy more Toyotas than anywhere else, and by closing the NUMMI plant, Toyota is drastically increasing the distance that the vehicles must be transported to reach the California dealerships, which will lead to more pollution and result in greater degradation of the environment

If Toyota takes the Commission’s advice and uses NUMMI as the center for developing the eco-friendly California Corolla, it has the potential to lead the auto industry in the development of electric and plug-in technologies. But by leaving California behind, Toyota would also be leaving behind the state that is leading the nation in the development of those green technologies. And by abandoning its workers, the automaker is only drawing even more negative attention to Toyota’s blatant disregard for the well being of those individuals that keep them in business.

As the company seeks to rebuild its commitment to the “Toyota Way,” it needs to seriously reevaluate its recent management decisions. The report concludes

The most immediate, direct, and cost effective jobs program available is to keep NUMMI running. The automaker and California would reap a triple bottom-line benefit: Toyota would restore its image and retain a world-class plant; workers and their families would make it through a dark economic winter; and California would get further down the road to economic growth and a green future.

Rebecca Greenberg is communications organizer at the California Labor Federation Email her at