Santa Cruz Sentinel on new governor facing California's economic challenges:
In addition to challenges Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom faces on high-speed rail and health care (Nov. 25 Editorial), here's another: The state's economy — including housing, pension liabilities and public education.
Newsom, as we noted Sunday, will take office with a Democratic supermajority and a projected budget surplus. California is currently riding high, with the world's fifth largest economy. But there are warning signs that will demand his attention — chronic problems such as high housing costs, unfunded pension liabilities and an education system failing many at-risk kids.
The unaffordability and limited supply of housing, especially in our coastal areas, is hardly news and threatens the overall stability of the labor market, with many workers simply unable to find or afford housing close to jobs.
One proposed solution on the Nov. 6 ballot was rent control. Voters, however, soundly rejected this counterproductive measure, statewide and even in a progressive city like Santa Cruz (although a new progressive majority on the Santa Cruz City Council could move to put in restrictions despite voters' overwhelming thumbs down).
Newsom, though, can provide leadership to stimulate housing development by addressing restrictive land-use regulations and restrictions, including zoning and permit policies that continue to suppress housing in California.
Increasing the housing supply would not only bring down prices but grow the economy while improving the lives of millions of Californians.
On pensions, Newsom has publicly stated he's fully aware of the dangers of unfunded liabilities (the gap between what retirement systems have in assets and what they'll need to meet their obligations to retirees), which some economists have said could reach more than $750 billion — or higher.
The state's major public employee retirement systems — CalPERS and CalSTRS — have had to curb optimistic investment return assumptions, which previously helped make the high cost of pensions not look so bad.
But now CalPERS and CalSTRS, along with other state and local systems, are desperately trying to reduce the shortfalls mostly by ramping up mandatory "contributions" from public agencies. These escalating demands are pushing some cities and school districts to talk of impending insolvency while slashing spending on public services and/or asking voters to approve tax hikes (which they've been doing). With the unfunded liabilities also affecting the state budget, Newsom needs to lead the charge for much stronger reforms to stop the bleeding.
Regarding public education, the Nov. 6 election showed that the state's teachers' unions remain the power brokers. Reformer Marshall Tuck lost for the second time in a bid to become state schools' chief, to Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who was backed by the education establishment. The powerful California Teachers Association, solidly joined with the state Democratic Party. also backed Newsom.
The problem is the K-12 system isn't bringing enough students to proficiency on core educational standards, and California continues to occupy a bottom tier on national test results.
The reformers have said improved administration and more parental options, such as charter schools, are needed to raise the academic performance by the state's 6 million K-12 students and close the "achievement gap" that separates poor and English-learner students from more privileged kids. They also argue for reforms to the tenure process, which can make it almost impossible to get rid of ineffective teachers.
The CTA maintains more money for schools will improve outcomes. A recent comprehensive study of California schools reported that raising per-pupil financing to a level needed to meet state academic goals would cost about $25 billion more a year, 36 percent higher than current spending. Newsom would have to make some tough choices on what to cut to find the money.
But there are other avenues he can pursue: Making it easier for people to become teachers, expanding early childhood education (one of the next governor's stated priorities), coupled with a comprehensive data system that will show what's working in the classroom and what isn't.
Our hope is that Newsom will be willing to make difficult decisions for the betterment of California — on housing, pension liabilities, and public education — even if this goes against political orthodoxy and his own supporters.
The San Diego Union-Tribune on considering a federal carbon tax:
At a time when the president of the United States doesn't believe his own administration's dire warnings about how catastrophic climate change is for the economy and the planet, many leaders in California — the world's fifth-largest economy — don't turn a blind eye to science. In San Diego, enthusiastic bipartisan support endures for an ambitious city Climate Action Plan adopted in 2015, which requires greenhouse gas emissions to be cut in half and all electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035. In the Capitol, Gov. Jerry Brown won bipartisan renewal until 2030 of the state's cap-and-trade program — which requires polluters to pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases — then signed a bill mandating carbon-free energy by 2045.
Yet a new California Air Resources Board report raises profound questions about whether state residents, starting with local officials, are willing to change their ways to stave off disaster down the road. The report outlines how a 2008 state law intended to prod local authorities to build more housing near transit centers to reduce pollution from commuters had yielded scant results. This is reflected in the disturbing fact that carbon emitted from vehicles has risen in California in recent years.
The National Climate Assessment released Friday by 13 agencies of the federal government shows how high the stakes are. It cited vast evidence that the carbon buildup in the atmosphere had made the planet hotter, made wildfires more devastating and threatened coastal areas with severe flooding in coming decades because of melting ice caps and glaciers. The resulting damage could cost hundreds of trillions of dollars — and harm public health.
This is why it's time for a bolder approach at every level of government. To overcome the NIMBYism that dominates local land-use debates in California, the Legislature should again take up legislation like this year's Senate Bill 827, which would have made it much easier to build four- or five-story apartment and condominium buildings within a half-mile of transit centers. The Senate Democrats who helped kill the measure didn't grasp that this isn't just a response to the state's housing shortage; it reflects the commitments the Legislature has made over and over again to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, specifically from vehicles.
But the most important work must be done at the federal level, where President Donald Trump's bizarre refusal to believe, let alone heed, his own administration's warnings about climate change make the future especially cloudy. What's needed is a bipartisan embrace of a broad carbon tax, a concept The Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell this week called "a no-brainer." It's not just the most effective way to discourage the use of fossil fuels. It would also supercharge efforts to develop cleaner, less-carbon-intensive technologies.
On Tuesday, House members Ted Deutch, D-Florida, Francis Rooney, R-Florida, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, introduced a bill that would impose a $15-per-metric-ton carbon fee on the oil, gas and coal industries, with all revenue rebated to the public to limit the pain of higher fossil fuel costs. It merits careful consideration as a huge and decisive step toward a healthier planet.
Every year that the nations of the world — and the NIMBYs in our backyard — dawdle, the problem of carbon buildup in the atmosphere becomes harder to address. It's time for all elected leaders to rise to the occasion and act. If leaders don't lead, our children and our grandchildren will be far worse off.
The Fresno Bee on California turning its back on wind energy:
In the 1980s, California was a wind energy superpower — No. 1 not just in the United States, but also in the world.
As scores of huge turbines appeared in places like the Altamont Pass east of San Francisco and San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs, a name was coined: The Great California Wind Rush.
That era is over. While wind and solar are lumped together in almost every discussion of California's energy future, wind is lagging, and political resistance is one of the reasons.
Several counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego, have passed restrictions discouraging or banning development of large-scale commercial winds farms. Naturally, those are the very places most suited to harnessing wind energy.
When weighed against the benefits of switching to renewable energy, some of the reasons for banning wind turbines are ridiculously flimsy, unreasonable and selfish.
Windmills have been blamed for ruining views; disturbing desert habitat; eating up too much rural land; killing bats and birds (never mind that fossil fuels kill far more birds, as do cats); and creating a nuisance for nearby residents with noise and blinking lights.
Even President Trump has weighed in on the evils of wind turbines; before he became president, he famously opposed the installation of wind turbines off the coast of his golf course in Scotland.
"I want to see the ocean, I do not want to see windmills," he harrumphed at the time.
Trump's campaign against the windmills was ultimately unsuccessful.
That hasn't been the case in California; as a result of restrictions, onshore wind farm developers "have packed up and left," said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association.
Texas now produces four times as much wind energy as California, which has fallen to No. 4 in the United States — not a promising trend, given the state's ambitious goal of switching to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
New opportunities for wind energy have surfaced offshore, but those, too, face hurdles.
Take the floating wind farm proposed off the coast of Morro Bay, in San Luis Obispo County. If approved, the development would generate 1,000 megawatts — enough to power 300,000 homes.
A Facebook group, Stop the Morro Bay Offshore Wind Farm, cites an array of concerns, including bird kills, dangers to migrating whales, an increase in marine traffic, effects of turbine vibrations on marine life, and obstruction of ocean views. Although the turbines would be sited more than 30 miles offshore, opponents say they could still be visible, especially at night.
"Turning our coastline into a nighttime Christmas light brigade is reason enough to prevent this atrocity from happening! STOP THE MADNESS!!!" wrote one opponent.
Even the head of Hearst Corp., one of the largest landowners in the region, worries that turbines could spoil the view from the iconic Hearst Castle.
"When anybody walks into any room facing west in the Castle, they'll walk by all the artifacts, all the artworks," Stephen Hearst told a reporter for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. "They walk to the window and say, 'You've got to be kidding!'
It's doubtful that visitors to Hearst Castle would be distracted by wind turbines far off shore.
If they are, so what? Having a view "disrupted" by windmills is a minuscule price to pay when weighed against the benefits of stopping or at least slowing the devastating, worldwide effects of climate change.
We already are seeing those: deadly wildfires, shrinking glaciers, loss of land to rising seas, destruction of coral reefs, disruption of food supplies.
And we're not going to do everything in our power to prevent that, in order to safeguard our precious views?
That's almost as bad as refusing to acknowledge that climate change is real. It's merely a more subtle form of denial — an insistence that we still have the luxury of allowing relatively minor annoyances derail plans to transition away from coal and oil and natural gas.
We don't. It's time to wake up and realize that if we are going to transition to 100 percent renewables, have to accept that solar panels and wind turbines will be part of our landscape.
At the local level, counties that have closed their doors to wind energy need to rethink their policies.
And at the state level, Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and our state lawmakers must work not only on removing impediments to wind energy, but also on incentivizing its development.