Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Monday, February 20, 2017
Feb. 9, 2017
Updated Feb. 12, 2017 10:29 a.m.
By ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER EDITORIAL BOARD
Rainwater spills over a clogged storm drain Tuesday, Jan 5, 2016, in San Leandro, Calif.AP PHOTO/BEN MARGOT
California voters have said emphatically, and repeatedly, that they want to vote on tax increases, but some lawmakers just don’t want to hear it.
A new bill by state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, could lead to significantly higher property tax bills without voter approval. Senate Bill 231 would accomplish this by changing the legal definition of “sewer service” to include stormwater, allowing local governments to charge property owners for the construction and operation of stormwater management projects.
Under Proposition 218, passed by voters in 1996, citizens have the right to vote on taxes, fees and assessments, with three exceptions: trash, water and sewer service.
A 2002 state appeals court ruling said stormwater was not included in these exceptions. Consequently, taxes, fees and assessments for stormwater projects must be approved by two-thirds of voters.
Sen. Hertzberg thinks the court got it wrong, so SB231 would simply redefine “sewer” and “sewer service” to include stormwater and storm drains.
The cost could be considerable. Under federal and state law, state regulators require cities in California to comply with a special permit to discharge stormwater through storm drain systems. The MS4 permit, as it’s known, mandates stormwater capture and the reduction of pollutants.
A California Supreme Court ruling last year indicated that parts of this permit may be a state mandate, meaning the state would have to pay for it, unless local agencies have the means to pay for it themselves.
By changing the definition of “sewer,” Hertzberg’s bill would give them the means: higher taxes with no need for voter approval.
The cost of stormwater permit compliance for cities in L.A. County alone has been estimated at $20 billion. Property tax bills could rise by hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay for it.
This is Hertzberg’s second attempt to pass a bill redefining “sewer” to get around the requirements of Proposition 218. Last August, SB1298 was on the verge of passing when it was derailed by a surge of opposition from taxpayers and many local government officials.
It doesn’t smell any better now. Californians have the right to vote on taxes. There should be no confusion about the meaning of that.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL IN a certain village there lived ten cloth merchants, who always went about together. Once upon a time they had travelled far afield, and were returning home with a great deal of money which they had obtained by selling their wares. Now there happened to be a dense forest near their village, and this they reached early one morning. In it there lived three notorious robbers, of whose existence the traders had never heard, and while they were still in the middle of it the robbers stood before them, with swords and cudgels in their hands, and ordered them to lay down all they had. The traders had no weapons with them, and so, though they were many more in number, they had to submit themselves to the robbers, who took away everything from them, even the very clothes they wore, and gave to each only a small loin-cloth a span in breadth and a cubit in length.
The idea that they had conquered ten men and plundered all their property, now took possession of the robbers' minds. They seated themselves like three monarchs before the men they had plundered, and ordered them to dance to them before returning home. The merchants now  mourned their fate. They had lost all they had, except their loin-cloth, and still the robbers were not satisfied, but ordered them to dance.
There was, among the ten merchants, one who was very clever. He pondered over the calamity that had come upon him and his friends, the dance they would have to perform, and the magnificent manner in which the three robbers had seated themselves on the grass. At the same time he observed that these last had placed their weapons on the ground, in the assurance of having thoroughly cowed the traders, who were now commencing to dance. So he took the lead in the dance, and, as a song is always sung by the leader on such occasions, to which the rest keep time with hands and feet, he thus began to sing:
"We are enty men,
They are erith men:
If each erith man,
Surround eno men
Eno man remains.
Tâ, tai, tôm, tadingana."
When two traders discuss the price of an article in the presence of a purchaser, they use a riddling sort of language.
"What is the price of this cloth?" one trader will ask another.
"Enty rupees," another will reply, meaning "ten rupees."
Thus, there is no possibility of the purchaser knowing what is meant unless he be acquainted with trade language. By the rules of this secret language erith means "three," enty means "ten," and eno means "one." So the leader by his song meant to hint to his fellow-traders that they were ten men, the robbers only three, that if three pounced upon each of the robbers, nine of them could hold them down, while the remaining one bound the robbers' hands and feet.
The three thieves, glorying in their  victory, and little understanding the meaning of the song and the intentions of the dancers, were proudly seated chewing betel and tobacco. Meanwhile the song was sung a third time. Tâ tai tôm had left the lips of the singer; and, before tadingana was out of them, the traders separated into parties of three, and each party pounced upon a thief. The remaining one—the leader himself—tore up into long narrow strips a large piece of cloth, six cubits long, and tied the hands and feet of the robbers. These were entirely humbled now, and rolled on the ground like three bags of rice!
The ten traders now took back all their property, and armed themselves with the swords and cudgels of their enemies; and when they reached their village, they often amused their friends and relatives by relating their adventure.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Friday, February 17, 2017
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Pressure Mounts in Marinwood Plaza Toxic Waste Case As Water Board Looks For AnswersSUMMARY: In a Regional Water Board hearing last week, residents, their County Supervisor, and members of the Water Board took a property owner to task for missing deadlines, lack of a project manager, and failure to demolish the building as ordered by the state.
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - February 13, 2017 - Residents of Marinwood, an unincorporated neighborhood in Northern Marin County, along with their county supervisor, Damon Connolly, testified in front of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board last Wednesday during the Regional Water Board Meeting and redirected a usually low-key status update to focus on several concerns related to the Marinwood Plaza PCE cleanup project. Issues they addressed included a missed February 1st deadline for soil excavation at the source and a failure to follow state ordered building demolition. Following testimony by “interested parties,” Members of the Water Board then voiced their own concerns about the handling of the project and asked the property owner’s representatives for details about cleanup.
Following a status report presentation by the Water Board’s assigned staffer, a total of seven “interested parties” came forward to comment on the situation. Rene Silveira, representing her family’s farm, Silveira Ranch, was the first to come before the board, and in a quivering voice, delivered a heartfelt plea, saying, “As I stand here right now, PCE is continuing to migrate toward and onto our property...and that is a very troubling thought, especially since no remediation has yet been done on our property...It really does worry us to think that that we’re going to be waiting another year and a half, or more perhaps, before any actual remediation is conducted on our property.”
Marin County Supervisor, Damon Connolly, also addressed the board with a calm but forceful message highlighting that the February 1st deadline for the completion of source area soil excavation and cleanup had lapsed. Referring to it as a “blown deadline given the ample time line for clean up is very disappointing, and in fact, inexcusable,” Supervisor Connolly made it very clear that he and his constituents are looking for enforcement action from the Water Board. Public backlash directed at the property owners continued from there with almost all speakers repeating a common refrain, requesting a full and proper cleanup and many of them demanding penalties.
As soon as the comment section for the agenda item had wrapped up, Water Board members began questioning both the hydrogeology firm contracted by the property owner and Wells Fargo Real Estate Investment Manager, Tom Fitzsimons, about the matter. Board member Kissinger began by asking about the size of the excavation site and verification of the size and depth. Assigned Water Board staff member, Ralph Lambert, explained that his lack of “Level C” hazardous materials certification prevented him from fully inspecting the contamination site. From there, Mr Kissinger pressed on asking Mr Lambert for details about whether demolition of the building where the dry cleaner operated was required, to which Mr Lambert responded, “...it’s mentioned...but that was only a means to get to the soil, the important part is...the dirty soil.”
Board members also quizzed Wells Fargo’s Tom Fitzsimons about his role in the property and why he was there representing the owners. New to the Water Board, Jayne Battey, joined in lamenting, “I would really have liked to see the owners here today.” Toward the end of the question and answer portion, board member, Steve Lefkovits, pointedly asked, “Who’s the project manager ultimately responsible for the time line?” When Mr Fitzsimons explained that it’s really the owners, Marinwood Plaza LLC, and presumably its president, Lee Hoytt, Mr Lefkovits persisted, asking: “Is there a specific person who’s overseeing all the work?”
The presiding Vice-Chair, Jim McGrath, in an attempt to keep things on track interrupted and reminded everyone that the actual scope of the agenda item was to get a progress report on the remediation action plan addenda recently submitted by the property owner’s geology consultants
But the tough questions kept coming as board member, Dr Newsha Ajami, struggled to understand the delays, stating: “...it troubles me me to see that you guys did not come to the conclusion a lot earlier to take on Plan B[internal only demolition] and you were still trying to demolish the whole building, which was obviously, it was a cost savings measure, but it wasn’t essential to what we wanted here. Why didn’t that decision come earlier?”
But before Mr Fitzsimons could even answer, new board member, Jayne Battey, piled on, asking, “If you knew in October that you weren’t going to make February [the deadline], was there any effort to contact staff or the board to let us know that you were not going to be compliant? Mr Fitzsimons of Wells Fargo responded by explaining some of the history of getting bids and how future plans for the plaza, once sold, will almost certainly include full demolition of the structure without answering the question of whether they updated the Water Board in a timely manner of the changes. Board member Battey continued, returning to the topic of collecting bids for demolition, claiming, “I have a lot of experience in this area and it’s hard for me not to believe that people really did the best they can do.” Documents available from the Water Board’s website show that starting in November 2016, Wells Fargo was required to provide biweekly progress reports in writing. None of the biweekly reports submitted indicated anything about expected delays in meeting the February deadline.
As the Marinwood Plaza portion of the meeting drew to a close, the Water Board’s Executive Officer, Bruce Wolfe, explained that the next steps will include revising its original cleanup order to bring it up to date with current developments. This revised cleanup order will be circulated for public comment and, barring any hurdles, be approved. In his testimony to the board, Mr Wolfe indicated that enforcement against the two violations is being considered. The Clean Up Marinwood Plaza Now Oversight Committee indicated they are in the process of submitting a formal written request to Mr Wolfe to press for adding enforcement and penalties to next month’s agenda.
About The Marinwood Plaza Toxic Waste SpillOriginally discovered in 2007, a case with the SF Bay Regional Water Board was opened in 2008 as a result of one or more PCE spills that occurred on the property by former dry cleaning businesses. California law holds the property owner responsible for any and all cleanup caused by such a chemical spill. The Marinwood Plaza owners were ordered by the Regional Water Board to supply an approved remediation plan by September 1st, 2016 and clean up the source of the PCE plume by February 1st, 2017. While a cleanup plan has been submitted, it was late adn hasn’t yet been approved. The source excavation cleanup is still incomplete. California Water Code Section 13350 allows the Regional Water Board to impose fines of up to $5,000 per violation day. Oversight committee members say they will be demanding the maximum fine allowed.
Video recording of February Water Board Meeting
The RWQCB February meeting agenda
Original RWQCB cleanup order from Feb 2014:
Letter from Marin County Supervisor to Regional Water Board
Property Owner’s Request for Extension to 1 March:
The RWQCB follow-up order from June 21st 2016
The original RWQCB April 19th 2016 order is here:
Clean Up Marinwood Plaza Now Oversight Committee info: