Tag Archives: Schwarzeneggar

On Filling Sieves With Water: Prop. 92 and The Value of Public Education

( – promoted by Robert in Monterey)

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a brilliant metaphor for how the debate over problems often totally misses the root of a given problem itself: “How Best to Fill a Sieve With Water”:

There are many arguments over which is the correct course of action which I liken to debating how best to fill a sieve with water. By this I mean that they ignore the fact that their premise is wrong.

Obviously the first thing an impartial observer would say when the two camps are debating whether to use a spoon or a cup would be to point out that one can’t fill a sieve without first plugging the holes. This seems to be my current role, pointing out assumptions which are either wrong or taken as being obvious without any examination.

Here are a few current (and not so current) examples.

The best way to stimulate the domestic economy is by raising/lowering taxes. Perhaps the best thing is not to stimulate the economy at all but to redistribute the present wealth better or to shrink the economy to a sustainable level. “Growth is good” is the sieve.

The best way to aid the development in the third world is by foreign investment/local projects. That the goal should be “development” goes without saying. What development means is the sieve.


The way to control foreign powers is by the use of military might/diplomacy. That other states need to be “controlled” is the sieve. Perhaps they just need to be left alone.

The writer, rdf, offers a bunch of other examples, but the principle is clear enough.

Then, I came across this post at Davis Vanguard that brings out one such example of debating the filling of sieves with water, in the context of intra-educational battles over California’s Proposition 92, which would set minimum levels of Community College funding and limit tuition to $15 per unit, paying for it out of prop. 98 funds.

There is no doubt in my mind that community colleges are one of the most laudable aspects of the American educational system, if not the most laudable. The second chance (and third chance, etc) that they offer to students who may not have been ready for college at 18, or people for whom life’s hard realities intervened, or who don’t have the cash to go to a state college, or who are just interested in a skill or a given subject serves to make the American educational system far more democratic in terms of openness and serving the whole population than the far more tracked systems of Asia or Europe (even as our structural flaws and barriers to true equality of access to education place our systems at a distinctly inferior position when looked at from the vantage point of the systemic or societal level). Community colleges are, in a broader educational context that leaves a lot to be ashamed of, a justifiable point of pride. And they only serve that critical educational function when the cost of attending is nominal if not entirely free. So at a gut level, while I’m unsure if prop. 92 is the best means to get to that end, generally I’m quite sympathetic to what they’re trying to do with it.

But it is a mistake to get sucked into fighting over scraps of the pie, when we should be asking why the pie is insufficient for public education at all levels in this state. The CCs work synergistically with the UCs, CSU and the primary educational system. If they’re all hurting for funding, let’s look at where waste can be rededicated toward more productive ends (namely, by moving funds from the embarassingly overpaid administrative area to the long-neglected salaries of staff and faculty or physical plant area). It would probably cut costs significantly were we to have decent public health insurance, to contain that exponentially rising cost of forking over a grotesque profit margin to the insatiable insurance and pharmaceutical corporations. But after you cut the obvious waste, we really need to get serious and start acting like adults about raising taxes to pay for this public good. Jacking up fees is a terrible (and illegal, if you look at the 1960 California Master Plan For Higher Education‘s requirement that fees never go to pay for educational costs, long since breached in bipartisan practice from Gov. Reagan on down to another B movie actor-turned-Governor) way to make up the shortfall, because it strikes at the very heart of an open public educational system by rationing the common good of education by ability to pay (or at least by willingness to accrue sizeable student debt).

Tuition in Calfornia has risen at a rate far exceeding inflation or state costs since 2003, while state spending on higher education has been falling as a % of the state budget for decades now. This is not by accident, this is the result of a deliberate plan to gradually privatise the whole educational system by Governor Schwarzeneggar’s finance director, Donna Arduin. From an LA times article two months ago:

To reorganize the state’s finances, Schwarzenegger recruited Donna Arduin, an advocate of privatizing government services who had been Florida budget director under Gov. Jeb Bush. As California finance director, she soon became known as Schwarzenegger’s “bad cop.”

Her budget plan for UC and CSU called for hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts for the third consecutive year, major student fee hikes, a reduction in enrollment and a plan to steer thousands of students to community colleges instead of the universities.

These “crises” are not accidental or temporary, they’re structural, and are instrumentally used to set different parts of the educational community against each other to distract from the privatization and slow destruction of what was once a world class public institution with free tuition and low fees, open to anyone with the grades. With every tuition and fee hike, and every shift to corporate or private donations (with strings attached, it should go without saying), the very idea of the public is watered down and eroded, and we all get suckered into just accepting it as a natural state or random “crisis” instead of as a system under deliberate atack on ideological grounds.

The solution here is not to fight over the scraps from the table, but rather to demand that funding matches the needs of a world class, accessible educational system. you cannot have quality on the cheap, and there is a vast public interest in having the social mobility and economic dynamism that comes from such an educational system, from the CCs on up.

When you look at what benefit has accrued and continues to accrue to the state of California from the existence of our public higher educational system, it is well worth the money. As these fees continue to be raised, that once great engine of social mobility will slow down and eventually grind to a stop, and those social benefits will not accrue in the same way. Cutting a segment of the population out makes it harder to justify paying for the system collectively. Turning away California’s poor, California’s working class and increasingly its middle class as well as starves our economy and our culture from the dynamism and works that those students might have created with the stimulus of a world class education.

If one believes in an educational meritocracy, education ought to be completely free, to let the cream rise to the top. What privatizers like Schwarzeneggar and Arduin mistakenly assume is that those with the money are the cream by virtue of their having all that money in the first place. The history of America and the history of California suggest otherwise.

I’m going to have to read up on prop 92 to decide whether it’s worth pursuing, but in the big picture, it’s a symptom of a greater problem that we’re not addressing as a state.

(This grew out of a comment on the Davis Vanguard thread, that got so long I figured it needed its own diary. Originally at surf putah)

Still Working On Those Levees…

(The levees should see some money out of the bond packages. Problem is that we have to wait for the legislature and governor to allocate those funds. That must be the top priority. Also, check out wu ming’s blog, Surf Putah – promoted by SFBrianCL)

An article in yesterday’s Chronicle suggests that we could be in for another nail-biter of a winter storm season. While the bond measures thankfully passed, the funds won’t be available until next June, while repairs on last year’s erosion damage are still ongoing, and running out of time before the rains start:

More than one month into California’s flood season, engineers are scrambling to repair 71 deeply eroded spots that water officials worry could lead to collapse of the delta’s levee system, which protects more than 500,000 people and property valued at $47 billion.

The nearly unprecedented repair efforts — such work is generally not done this close to winter, when weather is bad and water levels high — come after the state spent the summer and $176 million strengthening 33 other sites it feared could lead to levee breaches when battered by winter storms.

“I expected at this point in time to be patting everybody on the back saying we solved the erosion problems for the year,” said Les Harder, deputy director for public safety for the state Department of Water Resources. “Instead, we now have another 71 to do. We’re actually further behind than when we started.”

High floodwater levels in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds lasted well into the late spring, making both surveys below the waterline and repairing storm damage difficult. To make things worse, we still don’t really know what the levee system is actually made of, although the state hs begun frantically taking core samples from urban levees (the government of West Sac had the sense earlier this fall to start doing the job on its own, instead of waiting for the state to get around to it).

At least Lois Wolk is looking a bit ahead to dealing with the root cause of the problem (ie. sprawl in the floodplain), with land use restrictions:

Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, whose district includes major parts of the delta, favors a similar distribution formula where areas of highest population and risk get first attention. But she also insists land-use rules need to change.

“We need to create good policies that don’t put more people at risk,” Wolk said. “Development continues where it should not be — behind these eroding piles of dirt. No one should be under the illusion that everything is fine.”

Of course, the Water Reclamation Board got fired by Schwarzeneggar last summer when they made the same suggestions on reining in development in the floodplain, and were replaced with developer-friendly types. Here’s hoping Arnold v. 5.0 will pay attention a little better than v 3.0 did, before Natomas or Rio Vista looks like this:

In related news, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency is considering charging fees on urban development and using the revenue to purchase development rights on adjacent ag land in Yolo and Sutter counties to prevent development in the floodplain, in hopes of preserving the current hydraulic system in a manner similar to the Yolo Bypass. By preserving ag land adjacent to the Sacramento River, floodwaters past a certain level would be drawn away by weirs and other waterworks, and allowed to flood fields in exchange for payments to farmers. The idea sounds good, and the fact that Sacramento is pursuing it is great news for Yolo County, which as a small county simply doesn’t have the resources to fund the same sort of easements or flood protection. In the future, if we’re smart, government will do more of this sort of thing, thinking in terms of hydrological watersheds instead of artificial county boundaries.

In his book The Retreat of the Elephants about Chinese premodern environmental history, Historian Mark Elvin makes a strong case for the dangers of relying upon massive levee systems to defend urban centers, and the problems that occur when manmade defenses against water encourage more development behind  levees, when combined with the inevitable decline of those hydraulic systems over time, and the natural propensity for rivers to silt up, change course, erode their banks, etc. Before an area is developed and levees established, it is easier to set aside open areas such as the Yolo Bypass to lessen water bottlenecks during a flood, but that once those areas are built in, the whole economy ends up locked into a system that is expensive to maintain, and which tend to get underfunded and neglected until the next disasterous system failure.

We cannot change the way that the Sacramento River drains through the Central Valley, and we can’t do much about the cities that already exist, but getting smarter about developing on higher ground, concentrating growth in well-defended urban centers, and hardening the levees we have, are well within our grasp, should there be the political will to resist selling out to developer interests for short term political gain. While “no growth” is not a reasonable solution, smart growth, especially in a region so vulnerable to flooding, should be a no-brainer.

Now let’s all cross our fingers and hope that this winter doesn’t send us a pineapple express to rain on the snowpack, like has happened in past El Niño years.

Originally posted at Surf Putah