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Posts Tagged ‘California’

Messaging That Isn’t All Wet

The grass isn’t greener in Sacramento

The long-awaited and often-delayed California water bond is one of the primary agenda items during the brief mid-summer legislative session in Sacramento. Before August 31, two-thirds of the Legislature must agree to a new bond, or to remove the old bond from the ballot. If they don’t, the old $11.14 billion water bond will go on the ballot with Gov. Brown’s active opposition, and will almost certainly be defeated.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, purveyors of what’s second only to air for 19 million Southern Californians, definitely has a dog in this fight, and that dog has a very well-constructed bark: MWD’s messages regarding what they’d like to see in a water bond are clear, straightforward and strong.

In the interest of recognizing good messaging, here it is:

Water Bond Priorities
Restoring Delta, Reducing Reliance, Statewide Improvements

Public water agencies and business organizations from throughout California that receive supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta are united in their support for a comprehensive Water Bond that achieves the co-equal goals of restoring the Delta and providing reliable water supplies statewide. 

Delta Restoration – Critical for California’s environment and economy
•  
Must provide significant funding for public benefits associated with habitat restoration
•  Must provide significant funding for voluntary flow purchase programs to improve fish conditions

Department of Fish &  Wildlife – Best agency to oversee restoration funding 
•  Has decades of experience facilitating and managing habitat restoration
•  Already subject to direct oversight by Legislature
•  Has successful track record and institutional infrastructure in place to facilitate and manage habitat restoration.

Delta Conservancy – Not best agency to oversee restoration funding
•  Has no experience facilitating or managing habitat restoration
•  Primary focus on economic sustainability could conflict with restoration objectives
•  Five board members represent counties opposed to Bay Delta Conservation Plan, one of the most promising and comprehensive restoration plans in the nation designed to achieve co-equal goals.
•  Habitat restoration projects should be funded based on scientific merits and public benefits, not local politics
•  Was never intended to be sole agency for reviewing or implementing habitat restoration in Delta

Reducing Future Reliance on Delta through Development of Local Supplies 
•  Must provide funding for urban conservation, recycling, groundwater remediation, desalination, watershed management and stormwater development
•  Must provide funding for on-farm efficiency, system improvements and increased groundwater storage
•  Local matching funds should be required, as appropriate

Statewide System Improvements 
•  Must provide funding for public benefits associated with surface and groundwater storage
•  Projects must openly compete for bond funding
•  Local matching funds should be required, as appropriate

That’s it, and that’s about as good as it gets. Why? First, MWD  has taken one of the most controversial and complex issues in California and boiled it down to one page. Then there’s the clear statement of purpose below the headline, which focuses the discussion back at the basics, the co-equal goals. After that comes a structure makes it very easy to get to the topic of the moment, with each bullet presenting a single point as a fact, unencumbered by partisan rhetoric.

Whatever your position on this (and if  you don’t have a position, don’t worry – you’re like almost everyone outside the water wonk community), you should see this as a model of good messaging.

Home Is Where The Good Quotes Are

I heard two great lines at the recent No Place Like Home conference at the Disney Grand Californian.

The first was from British philosopher Samuel Johnson: “The end of all striving is to be happy at home.” Amen. Laer Pearce & Associates has been involved in the regulatory approvals of 400,000 homes, and we hope they are bring much happiness to their owners.

Lakewood as it came to market

The second came from the dinner keynote speaker, Kevin Starr, former California State Historian and author of a fantastic multi-volume  history of our state. He asked, “Will there be there new Lakewoods in California’s future, or only new Carmels?” Lakewood, of course, is the massive suburban housing tract that meant a new beginning for thousands of post-World War II Angelenos.

Starr’s question is sad, indeed. California is supposed to be the place you go to realize your dreams, but the ever-increasing price of admission is turning too many away.  One study of the added costs regulations impose on housing found that out of 250 cities studied, the 20 with the highest regulatory burden are all in California.

That’s ridiculous, and it’s what we at Laer Pearce & Associates have dedicated our careers to fighting. California has a chronic supply/demand disparity caused only in part by a large population and an appealing climate and mystique.  More, it’s regulations. litigation and and legislative and judicial foolishness that make California a place that has priced out the up-and-comers. Home costs in California have risen so much, and regulations have become so snobbish and excluding that it is hard indeed to imagine a new Lakewood.

That’s too bad and it doesn’t bode well for our state’s future. Neither does the fact that thanks to the Coastal Commission, it’s just as hard to imagine a new Carmel.

OMG! Texts R Public!

A judge in San Jose has ruled in favor of a community activist seeking to close what many see as a flagrant loophole in California’s public record act – the continuing privacy of text messages sent and received by elected and appointed public officials and public employees. Private email accounts were also included in the judge’s ruling.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg ruled that “emails, texts and other messages sent to and from personal devices by Mayor Chuck Reed, council members and redevelopment officials about city business including subsidizing a development in San Pedro Square downtown on property owned by former Mayor Tom McEnery and his family” should be turned over to the activist who filed a Public Records Act request for them. Read the Contra Costa Times article here.

The decision doesn’t have statewide application yet, but it’s only a matter of time.  Public officials should not be caught short by this decision – it was bound to happen. California has a strong public disclosure tradition that has morphed over the years in include other emerging technologies – faxes, emails – so any public official or public agency employee who thought their text messages would remain out of the public view was short-sighted.

Our rule of thumb when working with public agencies is that any and every communication may become public, so every communication needs to pass scrutiny of the “What if this was on the front page?” sort. We advise others to take the same approach.

After all, the best way to avoid a crisis is to not do things that could cause one.

 

Crazifornia: Three Crappy Regulatory Battles

Here’s Laer’s latest column on California’s crazy regulatory environment, which is cross-posted at CalWatchdog.

For a lot of very good reasons, California’s environmental regulators have earned a reputation for being, well, crappy to the rest of us. Three ongoing California regulatory battles over poop reinforce their already well-deserved reputation.

The first battle is between the California Coastal Commission and the city of Morro Bay over the city’s proposed new wastewater treatment plant. The city, called by some the Gibraltar of the Pacific because the massive Morro Rock dominates its harbor, made the terrible mistake of wanting to do the right thing. It, along with the Cayucos Community Services District, wants to replace an aging wastewater treatment plant with a new facility that will clean wastewater to higher levels and produce recycled water.

Less pollution going into the ocean and less fresh water used to water yards seem like good ideas … except to the California Coastal Commission. The Commission’s executive director, Charles Lester, has decided coastal towns should move their unsightly infrastructure away from the coast, to inland locations. There’s one little problem with this idea: It defies gravity.

Sewage treatment plants are located at the low point of local geography – the coast in California – because it’s much cheaper to let the sewage flow by gravity to the plant than it is to pump it uphill to an inland plant. In Morro Bay, the Commission’s staff, on its own, found a site about one mile from the coast it decreed to be the superior location for wastewater treatment. It is recommending the Commission force the city to build the plant there.

If the eco-bureaucrats prevail, they will turn the three-year project into a ten-year one and raise its cost from $60 million to $90 million. They will also saddle Morro Bay’s 10,000 residents with higher bills, since it takes a lot of money – and burns a lot of carbon fuel – to pump sewage uphill. This fact seems to be lost on the Commission’s staff, which claims it wants to move infrastructure off the coast not for aesthetic reasons, but because of sea level rise caused by global warming … which in turn is caused, we’re told, by burning a lot of carbon fuel.

The matter was on the Commission’s October agenda, but staff pulled it when the city pointed out major inaccuracies and flawed assumptions in the staff’s report.

Cormorant Poop

Then there’s the battle over cormorant, pelican and sea gull poop that’s piling up on the rocks in the tony San Diego coastal enclave of La Jolla.  Scenic, rocky La Jolla Cove has become an open cesspool, resident Ed Witt told the Union Tribune, adding, “You couldn’t operate a zoo like this.” The problem started when much of La Jolla’s rocky shore was put off limits to humans, encouraging birds to flock to the rocks, relieving themselves with impressive regularity.

So why not just wash off the poop? That would be fine, regulators at the Coastal Commission and San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board say, but only if the city submits a plan describing every detail of how they’ll do it – what methods and materials they’ll use, how they’ll protect the ocean and how they’ll ensure pooping pelicans and cruddy cormorants aren’t bothered.

If the clean-up plan poses any perceived threat to birds or marine life, then the California Department of Fish & Game, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service stand poised to join the battle.

It’s not even possible to create a timeline for reaching a solution to this monumental problem, since the Regional Water Quality Control Board has deemed it a low priority. Residents and business owners, who fear the smell will drive away tourists, disagree.

Home Invasion

San Diego’s Regional Water Quality Control Board – which I fought unsuccessfully when it decreed that rainwater becomes toxic the moment it hits the ground – is the cause of the third poop battle as well.

Because it succeeded in defining fallen rain as toxic, the Board now exerts its authority beyond the prior limits of its purview, the gutter, and reaches into people’s yards. This change is reflected in proposed new regulations that  would subject homeowners to six years in prison and fines of $100,000 a day if they repeatedly let dog poop sit un-picked up in their own backyards.  Similar punishments would be meted out to those who repeatedly allow their sprinklers to hit the pavement and those who wash their car in their driveway.

The Board’s goal is to cut the amount of bacteria in runoff that reaches the ocean. That reminded me of a study conducted some years ago – in Morro Bay, interestingly enough. Scientists collected samples of ocean water and isolated the DNA from fecal coliform found in it to trace its source. They found it to be overwhelmingly not pet or human in origin, but the DNA of coyotes, rabbits, deer, seals, sea birds and fish.

What will California’s regulators come up with next? Diapers for dolphins?

 

The Election – Gee-Whizzer Edition

Say “gee-whizzer,” and most old-line journalists and PR folks will know what you’re talking about. It’s a way of presenting facts, particularly numbers, in a way that gets readers’ attention – so much so they say “Gee Whiz!” – and that helps them to retain the information.

Today it would probably be called  “something meme-able” or “something viral-able.” We prefer gee-whizzer.

ENS Resources, a DC lobbying firm, issued a 2012 election results update this morning with so many gee-whizzers we wonder when their staff slept. Here’s the set-up:  At all levels of government, candidates and SuperPACs spent $6 billion on the November election, and for just the presidential race, they spent $2 billion.  How much is $2 billion? Ah, that’s a question that invites gee-whizzers, and according to ENS, it’s enough to buy:

  • Approximately 3.5 million shares of Apple stock
  • 40 private islands
  • Six Airbus A380 jets
  • An Ohio Class submarine (Definitely what we’d buy!)
  • The college debt of 153,846 students graduating from public universities
  • Or, if given to UNICEF, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and equipment, nutritional supplements, mosquito nets, water and sanitation tools and educational supplies for billions of people in impoverished nations.

As for the election itself, it was anything but a gee-whizzer for California businesses. At this writing, with many absentee ballots still to be counted, it appears the Democrats will hold super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. That means tax increases can be passed over Republican objections, and businesses are a popular target of California tax increases.

Nationally, Democrats will have trouble finding a mandate, but in California they’ll have no such trouble. They picked up seats and they largely got their way with ballot propositions. That means no signals were sent by the electorate to cut back on anti-business policies and regulations.

For more on California’s sad state, read Crazifornia, by our founder and president, Laer Pearce. Called “the most insightful book on California’s perilous condition – ever,” it provides insights on how California got the way it is, how bad exactly it’s become, and what the prospects are for redirecting the state.

Crazifornia is an Amazon #1 best-seller (21st Century history) and is receiving mostly 5-star (highest rating) reviews on Amazon.

You can purchase a copy on Amazon or read about more about the book at Crazifornia.com.

 

Our Crumbling Water Infrastructure

The American Society of  Civil Engineers didn’t have much good to say about California’s water infrastructure in its recent report card on all the state’s civil infrastructure.  Here it is, from an ASCE news release:

Water (2012 grade: C)

“With regard to water supply, California is literally living off of the past and the tremendous legacy of the first Governor Brown. However, that is no longer sufficient,” said Meyer. While taking care to protect the environment, California needs more and upgraded water storage and water transport facilities. Public-private partnerships are particularly useful tool for delivering new water supply projects. “Not only is most of our water infrastructure old, it is no longer adequate to meet the needs of our current and projected population. If we are going to provide job opportunities for our young people, if our farmers are going to maintain the productivity of their land, and if our families are going to have enough water to meet their needs, we simply need more water supply.”

Levees/Flood Control (2012 grade: D)

Today’s engineers and construction contractors have much better tools and much more knowledge about levees, than we had when most of our levees were originally designed and constructed. Rather than wait for another life threatening disaster to happen, California needs to act now to dedicate an adequate revenue stream to get the job done. Not only is this essential for human safety, it will also be far, far cheaper to fix our levees in advance, than it will be to do major clean up and repair work after a disaster. “Most of California’s levees are old and have lost much of their original strength ability to hold back flood waters. The danger to California homes and businesses and human life is very real,” commented Meyer. “There is no excuse for failing to upgrade and strengthen our levees.”

At the local level, we think the “C” grade for water is too low.  Our many water district clients all are excellent at managing and maintaining their systems, as are most other independent water districts.  Some cities do have pronounced problems with aging water infrastructure, however, probably because city councils have used water revenues for sexier stuff that’s more likely to garner votes than a new pump or pipe.

Statewide, however, it’s another story.  We agree that we’ve been riding on Pat Brown’s back for far too long and it’s past time to address the need to upgrade California’s backbone water infrastructure.

Crazifornia: Regulating the rockets’ red glare

The following article by Laer appears on today’s Daily Caller website:

It should come as no surprise that the leftist legislators and authoritarian bureaucrats who run California are vehemently opposed to fireworks shows. After all, the shows are always fun and usually patriotic.

And against them they are. The California Coastal Commission has led the charge with a multi-year assault on the Sea World theme park in San Diego, which blasts fireworks over Mission Bay every night. That effort shipwrecked on the rocks of Sea World’s considerable political clout and even more considerable legal budget, so the Commission looked for a more vulnerable, less wealthy target.

(more…)

A Missed Message

The folks behind the Sacramento Delta water conveyance tunnel have a new message out that has a familiar ring:  Jobs. Heard that much lately?

Drilling large tunnels to divert water around the Delta would create more than 129,000 jobs, almost all of them during the seven-year construction period, according to a recent analysis.

The report by a University of California, Berkeley, economist does not examine how the peripheral canal or tunnel plan might create or destroy jobs in other ways, such as the proposed conversion of tens of thousands of acres of Delta farmland to wetland habitat. (Read more here)

We’ve used that UC Berkeley economist, David Sunding, ourselves and we know his work is solid and these are numbers that will stand up, come testing time.

But there was a powerful and timely message missed here, and that’s too bad.  We’ve all heard stats recently about the cost per job of jobs created by the federal stimulus – from the hundreds of thousands of dollars each to over $1 million for every shovel-ready (or crony-ready) job generated.  A little quick math here – the $12 billion estimated cost of the tunnels divided by 129,000 jobs … wow, that’s just $93,023 per job, which is pretty darn cheap when you consider the number of attorneys that will be working on the project.

Lesson:  When talking about jobs generation, whether it’s about tunnels or anything else, dig a little deeper. Put the numbers in a context that’s current and more people will remember more of what you said.

Blacked-Out Blues

Last Thursday, some poor sap in Yuma flipped a switch and the power went out for millions of Southern Californians. Water systems, which of course are heavily reliant on power, got through the crisis in pretty good shape thanks to lots of emergency drills  – although several water districts had to issue notices to their customers warning them to boil their water before drinking it. That, too, passed.

All this made us think: How do you alert people to a crisis when their TVs, radios and computers are down? On our water Twitter feed, @LPAWater, we tweeted the following answer:

Tweet #1:  How do you notify people of a boil water notice when power’s out so no TV, radio or internet? Answer: Reverse 911, tweets, blast emails,

Tweet #2:  … posted notices, sound trucks, Facebook, police/fire liaison + the usual. Crisis calls for creative solutions.

For more on Laer Pearce & Associates creative solutions to crisis situations, check this out.

Wholesale Species Listings Wholly Rotten

We never thought we’d write one of those sophomoric “What do X and Y have in common” leads, but never say never. Here we go:

Nevares Spring naucorid bug

What do the Amargosa tryonia, American wolverine, ashy storm petrel, Big Bar hesperian, black-footed albatross, Brand’s phacelia, California golden trout, canary duskysnail, Casey’s June beetle, cinnamon juga, disjunct pebblesnail, flat-top pebblesnail, globular pebblesnail, goose creek milk-vetch, knobby rams-horn, Lost Creek pebblesnail, Mardon skipper butterfly, Mohave ground squirrel, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, Mono Basin sage grouse, Nevares Spring naucorid bug, nugget pebblesnail, Orcutt’s hazardia, Oregon spotted frog, Pacific fisher, potem pebblesnail, Ramshaw Meadow sand-verbena, Red Mountain buckwheat, Red Mountain stonecrop, San Bernardino flying squirrel, San Fernando Valley spineflower, Shasta chaparral, Shasta hesperian, Shasta sideband, Shasta Springs pebblesnail, Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog, Siskiyou mariposa lily, Siskiyou sideband, Soldier Meadows cinquefoil, Sprague’s pipit, Tahoe yellow cress, Tehachapi slender salamander, Tehamana chaparral, umbilicate pebblesnail, Vandenberg monkeyflower, Webber’s ivesia, western fanshell, western gull-billed tern, western yellow-billed cuckoo, Wintu sideband, Xantus’s murrelet and Yosemite toad have in common?

Answer: They’re all from California – and they were all just pushed forward towards endangered species listings following smoke-filled-room negotiations between America’s premier environmental litigation mill, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (We’ll leave you to imagine what kind of smoke filled that room … maybe it was Vandenberg monkeyflower smoke … maybe not.)

We are familiar with the Red Mountain buckwheat, San Fernando Valley spineflower and the Tehachapi slender salamander through our regulatory communications work. We are also familiar with the Endangered Species Act and how it’s supposed to work. This isn’t it.

The species are among 757 species pushed forward towards listings as a result of an “historic” settlement of one of the Center’s nearly countless lawsuits.  (Why do the big environmental organizations always say everything they do is historic? Are they seeking eternal purpose?) They call it historic; we call it mind-numbing and a travesty.

The Endangered Species Act has a process to be followed for petitioning for a species to be listed, and for the review of those petitions. The members of Congress who approved the Act never imagined such wholesale actions as this, brought about by legal strong-arming instead of scientific analysis.

The Service is supposed to make the decision whether or not to move a species forward towards the listing process based on scientific findings presented in the listing petition, not litigation. Affected parties are supposed to weigh in on the petitions as interested parties – but were they in the smoke-filled rooms? No.

The CBD has become very adept at forcing these sorts of actions, which remind us of the mass weddings the Rev. Moon puts on – sure the numbers are impressive, but how deep is the knowledge all those brides and grooms really have of each other? How deep was the knowledge the Service’s negotiators had of the 757 listing petitions before them? How could they be at all familiar with the immediacy of the threat to 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 22 reptiles, 33 amphibians, 197 plants and 381 of those cute and cuddly invertebrates spread across all 50 states?

Clearly, the listing petitions didn’t get the attention they deserved, and the public didn’t get the process it is entitled to under our Constitution.

Do we think the Endangered Species Act to ever be implemented through a rational, science-based, fair process? No. We’ve been called upon because of our regulatory communications and public affairs expertise to promote several ESA reform efforts over the years and we know what it’s like to bang our heads repeatedly into a Sacred Cow.  Still, it would be nice if the most egregious excesses in its implementation, like today’s example, would go extinct.