Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Counties miffed that they have little say over Brown’s prison-realignment money

The millions of dollars that Gov. Jerry Brown is giving to counties to manage the state’s prisoner surplus is bypassing the watch of county boards of supervisors. And some counties don’t like this.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors this week passed a resolution vowing to exercise final say over its share of so-called prison realignment funds, despite what Brown’s realignment policy calls for, reported Brad Branan of The Sacramento Bee.

The realignment policy dictates that panels of law-enforcement and social service officials divvy out the cash. It’s a change from the way funds are normally distributed: through elected county boards of supervisors, which oversee just about all county matters.

The Board of Supervisors in Fresno County is also raising questions about the change.

“There is a problem when supervisors cannot participate in the deliberative process,” said Supervisor Andreas Borgeas. “We are virtually irrelevant here.”

The 1½-year-old realignment policy, which has been no stranger to controversy, has put counties in charge of thousands of felons who were formerly managed by the state in an effort to reduce California’s prison population. The state is compensating counties accordingly.

The money, however – about $28 million next year for Sacramento County and about $25 million for Fresno County — is being routed in an unprecedented fashion.

The panels set up under the realignment, called Community Corrections Partnerships, decide how to spend the state funds and county supervisors then vote on the spending plan, but in a way that deprives supervisors of any real power. The supervisors need a four-fifths vote to reject the plan; in other words, only two votes are needed for approval.

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Pete Weber: Observations from China (Part Two)

Gov. Jerry Brown arrived in China on Tuesday, ready to promote California exports, tourism and greenhouse gas-reduction policies, and to open a foreign trade office in Shanghai. He’s joined by a handful of advisers and about 75 business delegates, including three from the central San Joaquin Valley: John Harris, a prominent west-side rancher who is Harris Farms CEO and chairman; Don Peracchi, another west-side grower who is chairman of the Westlands Water District board; and Pete Weber, a leader in California Forward and co-chairman of California Friends of the San Joaquin Valley.

Pete Weber

This is the second in a series of reports from Weber recapping some of his impressions. To see Weber’s first report, click here:

The big event yesterday was the signing of the international Trade Agreement with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Everything in China occurs on a grand scale. Held in a huge auditorium, the event was attended by hundreds of Chinese officials and business people. Chinese Ministers spoke of plans to make investments in California over the next ten years that could range from $10 to $60 billion. U.S. companies are also making big investments in China. For example, the largest investment ever made by the Walt Disney company is occurring in Shanghai. 

It’s instructive to see the level of commitment that has been made by the Bay Area and L.A. to attract some of that Chinese investment. The San Joaquin Valley has no comparable commitment. This is an issue for the Central California Economic Development Corporation to consider, recognizing that China, in my impression, is a high risk-high reward market. Part of the risk is that China will be traversing a perilous path in the next few years. They have high internal debt, low returns on invested capital, rising labor costs , serious income inequality, big environmental issues and a population that is demanding better quality of life and more freedoms (influenced significantly by the availability of information that the government is increasingly unable to constrain). How effectively they will be able to navigate this difficult terrain is yet to be determined.  

After a reception at the embassy last night, We had a great dinner  at Duck De Chine, a beautiful restaurant that supposedly serves the best Peking Duck in Beijing (I’m no expert, but it sure was good).  Like so much of Beijing it’s very new (about two years old) and definitely targeted at the affluent.

The delegation is heading to Shanghai today  – traveling by high speed rail. Unfortunately I won’t be taking that train cause I’m heading back to Fresno today for an important meeting on Friday. Perhaps John and Don will share their reaction to the train ride.



Patterson holding Fresno fundraiser to help close campaign deficit

Newly minted Assembly Member Jim Patterson is holding his first Fresno fundraiser since winning election last November.

It looks like the Fresno Republican needs it.

Campaign finance reports that run through the end of last year show Patterson with around $8,300 in his coffers — and nearly $76,000 in debt.

Patterson, Fresno’s former mayor, already may have hosted some fundraisers in Sacramento, but if not and this is his first, more will almost certainly have to follow to close that budget deficit.

Entry to the event, scheduled for Pardini’s, is $250. However, there are $500, $1,000 and $2,000 donor levels, or the maximum donation of $4,100 to be a sponsor.

Patterson no doubt would accept any amount between that low and high.
Sponsors listed on the invitation include west-side rancher John Harris (who is in China with Gov. Jerry Brown and certainly won’t attend), Granville Homes President Darius Assemi and Fresno businessman Ed Donaghy’s Donaghy Sales.

Also listed is the Fresno Police Officers Association Political Action Committee.
It seems the FPOA has gotten over its anger at Patterson over the smaller raises he sought for officers as he left the mayor’s office at the end of 2000. Either that or the union is trying to make up to Patterson for endorsing Clovis Council Member Bob Whalen, Patterson’s fellow Republican, in last year’s campaign.

Pete Weber: Observations from China

Gov. Jerry Brown arrived in China on Tuesday, ready to promote California exports, tourism and greenhouse gas-reduction policies, and to open a foreign trade office in Shanghai. He’s joined by a handful of advisers and about 75 business delegates, including three from the central San Joaquin Valley: John Harris, a prominent west-side rancher who is Harris Farms CEO and chairman; Don Peracchi, another west-side grower who is chairman of the Westlands Water District board; and Pete Weber, a leader in California Forward and co-chairman of California Friends of the San Joaquin Valley.

Pete Weber

Weber sent a note recapping some of his early impressions:

As just about everyone knows, China has experienced an amazing economic transformation, but there is no substitute for seeing it in person: the impressive construction, the entrepreneurial spirit that has taken over the country, , the commitment to customer service wherever you go, the ascendance of an affluent middle class estimated at about the same size of that in the U.S. (although still  representing a relatively small percentage of the Chinese population). In addition to seeing what’s happening locally, it’s very instructive to share experiences with other delegates who are doing business in the country.  

We had a very full first half day, with interesting briefings about what’s going in China. The most useful part of our first day was a meeting with the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal-by-Products (try getting that on your business card in both English and Mandarin!). We met with the President of the Chamber and about 15 of the Chamber’s members, all of them interested in importing more from the U.S. Ag exports from California have quadrupled in the last 4 years, but are still a drop in the bucket compared to the potential. Doing business in China is very complex, but the possible benefits to California Ag exporters are huge.

The Governor arrived late yesterday afternoon (flight was an hour late), and after cleaning up at the hotel joined the delegation for dinner. We start the day this morning with the MOU signing ceremony. More later.


Three prominent Valley Republicans will join Brown on China trip

Three high-profile central San Joaquin Valley Republicans will be among 75 state leaders who will head to China next week with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

John Harris, a prominent west-side rancher who is Harris Farms CEO and chairman, will head to the Far East along with Don Peracchi, another west-side grower who is chairman of the Westlands Water District board, and Pete Weber, a leader in California Forward and co-chair of California Friends of the San Joaquin Valley.

Harris, who noted that everyone is paying their own way, said he was “thrilled to be invited.”

“The purpose of the trip is to build and strengthen California’s trade with China,” Harris said.  “Agricultural trade is an important ingredient.  Almost everything we produce here has China as a potential customer. I am a big free trader and I feel that any better access we have to China is a plus.”

As for teaming up with Brown, who is a Democrat, Harris offered high praise for the governor.

“I have known Jerry over the last 35 years or so, and he is definitely the key right now to turning California around, which he is working really hard on doing,” Harris said. “He is leading the water efforts. I don’t think we are all that far apart on most issues.”

Peracchi and Weber couldn’t be reached for comment.

Brown will meet with Chinese government and business leaders and open a new California foreign trade and investment office. The trade mission will include stops in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

It will be from Wednesday, April 10, through Tuesday, April 16.

The delegation joining Brown was organized not by the Brown administration, but by the Bay Area Council, a nonprofit economic advocacy group.

Besides Harris, Peracchi and Weber, the group includes business, economic development, investment and policy leaders from around the state.

Several administration officials will also go along, including California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard.

Gov. Brown appoints Nevarez to Bigelow’s Madera Co. Supervisor seat

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday appointed Manuel Nevarez to replace the departed Frank Bigelow on the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

Nevarez, a Madera resident, will face re-election in June 2014. That is when Bigelow’s current term expires.

Bigelow, of O’Neals, won a seat last November in the state Assembly.

Nevarez has been an account executive at PMAC Lending Services Inc. since 2010 and owner of ACN Inc. since 2008. He is registered as “no party preference,” which used to be known as “decline-to-state.”

But between 2007 and last September, he was registered as a Republican. Through the early part of last decade, he was registered as decline to state.

Bigelow is a Republican, and the district — which covers places such as Madera Ranchos and Yosemite Lakes Park — leans GOP.

In addition to his work in the financial sector, Nevarez is a member of the Madera Community Action Network and chairman of the Madera Unified School District Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee.

The position, which does not require state Senate confirmation, pays $71,515 per year.

Judge says those in legal world must speak up for court budget

The way Fresno County Superior Court Judge Gary Hoff explains it, these are not happy financial times for the state’s superior court system.

In the past five years, the amount of the judicial budget covered by the state’s general fund has fallen from 56% to 20%. Last year alone, general fund support for the judicial branch of government dropped by $544 million.

Judge Gary Hoff

Ideally, the Fresno County court system should have 584 employees to adequately meet its staffing needs, Hoff told a Bench Bar Media luncheon group today at the Downtown Club. At one point, that number reached 550. It is now at 420 and is expected to continue on the downward trend.

The state is requiring reserves to be spent by mid-2014 — at least that is the plan for now — with a reserve no greater than 1% kept on hand after that.

“One slight mistake, we aren’t making payroll,” said Hoff, the current presiding judge of the Fresno County Superior Court.

So what to do?

Those in the judicial system often say they are an easy budget cut because they have no constituency. A few judges, prosecutors and others complaining to legislators don’t carry the weight of broader constituencies who might be affected by budget cuts in other areas.

Think education.

But today, Hoff — as well as U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii, speaking on the federal side — told attorneys they should urge their clients and other people affected by any proposed budget cuts to speak up.

These aren’t the judges or prosecutors, but real people who are paying higher fees to use the court system, or who are facing delays in their hearings.

With the drop in general fund support for the judicial budget, Hoff said, the expectation is the difference will be made up by user fees.

That means higher traffic fines, penalty assessments on convictions and filing fees in areas such as custody or divorce cases. These often hit hard-working taxpayers, Hoff said.

In 2007, Hoff said, court filing fee costs ranged from $180 to $320. Now it is $225 to $435.

Said Hoff: “It’s not a good business model.”

The challenge is convincing state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown. And those were the marching orders Hoff gave to the luncheon guests.

Valley legislators cheer Brown’s State of State call for CEQA reform

As if it wasn’t clear to this point, Gov. Jerry Brown in his State Of The State address today once again talked of reforming the California Environmental Quality Act.

Name-checking the 43-year-old state law was cheered by three San Joaquin Valley legislators, two of them Republicans, the third a key Senate Democrat.

Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, has made it clear he wants serious reform to the law, and he is chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which would hear any reform proposals.

Michael Rubio

The law, better known as CEQA, is a central tenant of California’s environmental protections. But is also under fire for slowing major projects and for stymieing infill development projects.Rubio specifically mentioned a proposed infill project at L and San Joaquin streets in downtown Fresno that has been halted by a CEQA lawsuit.

Brown — who has previously stated the need for CEQA reform — once again seemed to agree, this time using the annual gubernatorial address.

“We also need to rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act,” according to Brown’s prepared speech. “Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays.”

Rubio said he was encouraged that Brown chose to not only to bring up CEQA in the speech, but also to add a bit of detail on providing certainty and cutting delays.

“Clearly, it is a priority for the governor and provides great momentum for a coalition that is forming to move forward in streamlining CEQA,” he said.

He said Brown’s support will help embolden the coalition. He said legislation is currently in the works, with plans to introduce it next month ahead of the Feb. 22 deadline for filing bills.

Assembly Member Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said she wanted “a more detailed plan for spurring job creation” from Brown, but was “pleased that he at least wants to reform CEQA and provide more certainty to businesses.”

Anthony Cannella

State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, dedicated a whole paragraph to CEQA reform in a written statement.“I believe that the goals of CEQA are valuable to our communities, but reform is needed so that special interests can no longer subvert the system by using it as a tool to unnecessarily delay development through litigation,” he said.

Now, all that remains is pushing that legislation through the Assembly and state Senate and then to Brown.

Many environmentalists will work to kill any such CEQA reform proposals, and might even find allies among the Valley’s agriculture community, some of whom have filed CEQA suits to stop the state’s proposed high-speed rail project.

Valley lawmakers ask governor for more prison money

More than a dozen Valley legislators are joining the region’s counties in urging Gov. Jerry Brown to deliver more money for public safety.

A letter sent to the governor this week by 13 lawmakers identifies the bum deal that the San Joaquin Valley got when it came to slicing up funding for the governor’s prison realignment. The letter asks the governor to reconsider the distribution.

“I haven’t met one person who thinks the current allocation is fair,” said state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, who spearheaded the bipartisan push in Sacramento to get the Valley more money.

Brown’s prison realignment is shifting low-level felons once managed by the state to local jails and probation departments. Many law enforcement agencies are complaining that the shift is bringing too much responsibility and not enough money.

As revealed in the Bee last spring, the 12 counties between Kern and San Joaquin are getting smaller shares of realignment funding this year than they got last year.  Meanwhile,  seven of nine Bay Area counties are getting larger shares.

Fresno County, for example, is getting $12,176 for every offender projected to be shifted from state to county supervision while Contra Costa County in the Bay Area is getting $40,346 per offender.

Brown officials have told The Bee that they’re not taking responsibility for the allocation, saying they passed it off to the county’s statewide lobbying association. The counties, however, have been bickering within the association.

Rubio hopes that, at the least, next year’s state budget will contain a more equitable formula for distributing the funds.

Among the lawmakers signing this week’s letter to the governor are Sens. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Assembly members Connie Conway, R-Tulare, Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, Henry Perea, D-Fresno, and Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals.