Saturday News Briefs
September 28, 2012
$13.3 Million to be spent on Valley road projects
• More than $13 Million in Valley highway projects funded
• A new way to protect your retirement through the state
• And a lot more….
The California Transportation Commission has OK’s spending more than $13.3 million on various highway and street improvement projects throughout the Central Valley.
It’s part of a total of $236 million in new funding to 32 projects that are expected to improve the state’s transportation system and strengthen California’s economy.
Central Valley projects approved include:
• $4,040,000 – Butte County, seismic retrofit of Feather River Bridge
• $2,049,000 – Fresno County, repave highway 168 near Prather
• $3,713,000 – Fresno, Kings, Madera couynties, seismic retrofits of 11 bridges
• $1,075,000 – Stanislaus County, five structures on Highway 99 in Turlock, Ceres and Modesto at various locations from Linwood Avenue to Beckwith Road.
• $344,375 -- Elk Grove Creek/SR-99 Trail Crossing & Pedestrian Bridge/ City of Elk Grove
• $575,098 – Fresno County, Multiple street projects
• $983,928 – Tulare County, strteet rehab in Tulare
• $595,000 – San Joaquin County, raide share program
“From one end of the state to the other, transportation projects are providing jobs while at the same time reducing traffic congestion for people and businesses in California,” says Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.
Landmark retirement savings bill signed into law
It may be possible for millions of Californians to have the chance for retirement security, under two bills just signed into law.
Together, the bills establish the “California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust” – introduced by Sen. Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, and co-authored by California Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
The trust is aimed at the 6.3 million Californians, mostly lower and middle-income workers, who have no access to a retirement plan at work, by providing them a portable and reliable retirement plan that will serve as a modest supplement to Social Security. It is modeled in part after successful annuity funds offered to colleges and nonprofits, and to several international retirement systems.
“This is a major step forward for retirement security in America,” says Mr. De León. “There is still much work to do ahead but this could serve as a national model for retirement savings.”
Under the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, voluntary contributions from employees would be deposited into a professionally-managed retirement fund that leverages economies of scale and longer investment horizons to provide every California worker the chance to enroll in a retirement savings program.
Unlike employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k)s, employers participating in the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program would not bear any fiduciary responsibility and would not be required to pay administrative fees or comply with federal quarterly-reporting mandates.
Air alert declared for parts of Valley
Unusual late-season high temperatures and stagnant atmospheric conditions, combined with vehicle emissions, have prompted the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to declare the second “Air Alert” of the year, Saturday through Wednesday.
The alerts are declared Valley-wide when conditions are favorable for ozone levels to exceed the federal one-hour ozone standard unless action is taken to prevent them from increasing.
“We’re facing abnormal conditions this week and it’s critical to minimize our emissions,” says Seyed Sadredin, the district’s executive director and air pollution control officer.
During an air alert, residents and businesses are urged to put into place measures that reduce vehicle emissions.
State Fair’s general manager to retire
California Exposition and State Fair General Manager Norb Bartosik says he will retire at year’s end.
Mr. Bartosik, 62, started at Cal Expo in 1994 after stints as the general manager of the Orange County and Antelope Valley Fairs, and Du Quoin State Fair in southern Illinois.
A self-described “fair junkie” who started his fair management career in 1972, he served the industry in a variety of capacities and is a member of the Hall of Fame of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions and Western Fairs Association.
State toughens its open government law
Violations of California’s local government transparency statute known as the Brown Act are expected to decrease thanks to a new state law, prompted in part by a Central Valley court case.
SB 1003, authored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco and signed into law Friday by the governor, adds language to the current Brown Act to allow for injunctive and declaratory relief for past violations, which will more closely mirror the Bagley-Keene Act – the open government statute for state agencies.
In other words, the new law allows members of the public to file a lawsuit – under certain circumstances – against local agencies that violate the open government statute.
“SB 1003 ensures the public has the tools necessary to hold public agencies that violate the Brown Act to account,” says Mr. Yee. “Absent this new law, some public agencies would continue to violate the public trust without consequence.”
The bill comes as a result of McKee v. County of Tulare, that resulted in a ruling that said that there could be no injunctive and declaratory relief for a past violation because the Tulare Board of Supervisors appeared to stop violating the law after the lawsuit was filed. Instead, the petitioners would need to initiate a new lawsuit if the board returned to its previous bad behavior.
The ruling created the potential for an endless loop – violation, followed by corrective behavior once a lawsuit is filed, followed by a violation again – without any real penalty.
“The Brown Act was designed to bring transparency to government, and not to serve as means to play dodge ball to avoid accountability,” says Mr. Yee. “SB 1003 will close this loophole and provide sunshine into the actions of our public agencies.”
Enrollment climbs at UC Merced
The University of California, Merced, has started its eighth year with 5,760 undergraduate and graduate students, up nearly 11 percent to a new high.
Space constraints forced the university to limit undergraduate enrollment for the first time ever this year, though graduate enrollment and research have not been affected.
Graduate student enrollment hit 329, an increase of 26.5 percent over last year. Overall, graduate students comprise nearly 6 percent of the student body. The campus's ultimate goal is for graduate enrollment to reach 10 percent of the total student population by 2020.
"Graduate students are integral to our mission as major research university and will help attract increased research funding while enhancing UC Merced’s growing contribution to the San Joaquin Valley, state and society as a whole," says Acting Dean of Graduate Studies Chris Kello.
$2.4 Million plea deal in Kern County fraud case
The owner of a garbage collection company that illegally dumped Los Angeles County garbage in a Kern County landfill has agreed to pay $2.4 million to settle state charges, according to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Paul Michael Benz, 68, owner and operator of Benz Sanitation, pled guilty in Kern County Superior Court to one felony charge of presenting a fraudulent claim for payment to the government.
Between January 2008 and September 2012, Benz Sanitation had a waste removal services contract with Kern County that allowed it to take Kern County’s residential garbage and deposit it at local landfills at no charge. During this time, Benz Sanitation also contracted with almost 1,500 residents and businesses in Los Angeles County to remove their residential and commercial garbage.
The state says Mr. Benz then manipulated these contracts by fraudulently mislabeling the Los Angeles County garbage as originating in Kern County so that he could dump it free of charge in Kern County’s landfills.
Fresno State research shows tomatoes benefit from a CO2 boost
A plant science experiment being conducted by a Fresno State graduate student has attracted the attention of researchers from universities and government agencies interested in the prospect of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Since plants require CO2 for their metabolism in the same way humans require oxygen, researchers are trying to find out if plants are more productive if they get extra doses of the gas they love.
Bardia Dehghanmanshadi, an international student from Iran, is completing his master’s thesis with a study of how treatments of carbon dioxide gas on fresh-market tomatoes affect plant growth rate and yield.
As part of the experiment, plants were sampled regularly during the growing season and measured for leaf area, nutrient content and weight. Photosynthesis measurements were taken for each CO2 and irrigation treatment.
At the conclusion of the growing season earlier this month, tomatoes from the different treatment groups were harvested. Yields will be measured along with plant and root biomass.
State claims its underwater light and sound show protects salmon
An underwater light and sound show may be keeping juvenile salmon on the right path in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state Department of Water Resources says.
A “bubble barrier” of underwater strobe lights and electronic sounds seems to have kept approximately two-thirds of ocean-bound Chinook salmon from taking a risky detour into Georgiana Slough from the relatively safe main channel of the Sacramento River, DWR says.
Studies indicate that 65 percent of the salmon smolt that swim into Georgiana Slough near Walnut Grove don’t survive to reach the ocean. The slough leads young salmon through the predator-infested waters of the interior Delta toward the huge export pumps of the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project.
DWR installed the “bubble barrier” – so called because the strobe lights and offensive electronic sounds are contained within a curtain of bubbles – at the head of Georgiana Slough in February of 2011. Results of the barrier were evaluated over a 45-day period by DWR, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey. Approximately 1,500 juvenile salmon were tagged and tracked, using underwater sound receivers.
The bubble test was in response to a National Marine Fisheries Service requirement that DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation pursue engineering solutions to reduce the diversion of young, ocean-bound salmon into the central and southern Delta.