Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ruth Gottstein: Three articles pertaining to the Fire Fighting Fee

The following articles by Ruth Gottstein have been published in the Upcountry News
Also posted at: http://ruthgottstein.blogspot.com

#1

THE STATE LEGISLATURE PASSES A CYNICAL FIRE FIGHTING FEE STARTING SEPT. 1, 2011

I have had great difficulty writing this column because I am so angry...and therefore have postponed it until I was up against my publishing deadline...amd I am still angry.

The issue I am addressing is one of the most cynical pieces of legislation I have ever witnessed, and I am 89 years old, a lifelong registered Democrat. In my opinion, what I am about to describe was passed because those voters living in rural, eastern California areas are mainly Republicans, and therefore, there would be little political fallout as a result to the legislators supporting the governor's budget.

So what's the issue?  The governor has called for "...a new, $150 annual state fire protection fee for rural areas."  Under a plan approved by the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (which is the state board responsible for rural areas), CalFire will be authorized to charge upward of $90 annual  fire prevention fees to the estimated 850,000 rural residents living in these "state responsibility areas".  This is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1, 2011.  The fact that no one knows better about our fire dangers than we who actually live here is seemingly unknown even to our local legislators.  Over generations dating back to the Gold Rush, we have created multiple fire districts with paid staffs and volunteer fire fighting organizations, and have voted to pass special sales taxes to fight fires, as in Amador county's Measure M. How is it possible that the legislature was either unaware of our own ongoing fire fighting programs--or just didn't care?

Yes, some of California's general taxes do apply to our "state responsibility" areas.  But state taxes are never applied evenly. For example, if that were the case, there would be toll booths along the freeways to tax those drivers who actually use them daily.  We who live in remote, rural counties rarely ride them.  Perhaps in our "naiveté", it doesn't occur to us that therefore some of the money we pay for state taxes should not be spent on maintaining and developing freeways.

I  perceive this fire fighting issue as one of cowardice--the legislature is going after the most vulnerable citizens--easy pickings. I haven't read anything about the legislature asking the federal government to increase fire protection funding for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land which surrounds us.  Or, asking Sierra Pacific Properties--the second largest landowner in the United States--to come up with fire fighting funds for their land which is also surrounds us.  The legislature obviously knows these attempts would be futile.

Easy way out, legislature?

__________________



#2
The state of California is being "Balkanized."  Whatever do I mean by that?  Well, if you look up the term in Wikipedia, you will read "...a geopolitical term, one used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a state into smaller regions or states, that are often hostile or non-cooperative with each other."  And therein, you have a perfect description of the fire tax (AB29X) which has been imposed on rural counties throughout the state by the urban-based California legislature.  The California Board of Forestry & Fire Protection is responsible for the adoption of permanent regulations regarding the State Responsibility Area Fire Fee (SRA). I am not going to write further about the history of how the tax was imposed (even if in its cowardice the legislature called it a "fee" because it would not have been legal to impose a "tax") --except to say that as of 10/12/12, $16 million dollars has already been collected--and that's not counting the anticipated revenue from counties following Plumas (the collection is being made alphabetically by counties).  The state legislature expects to raise about $85 million annually from the tax from more than 846,000 homeowners who live within more than 31 million acres of "state responsibility areas".  The whole issue of fire prevention services that already exist in this huge area--some even dating back to the Gold Rush--has been totally ignored.

 But back to the legislature.  Its power is vested in urban votes, giving it the right to make decisions for the entire state--and no state has greater power--and diversity--than California.  Forgive me for going into the following statistics, because they are the key to "Balkanization."  We are the third largest U.S. state in square miles, and we have the highest population and GDP of any other state.  At the same time, we are incredibly diverse, when you think in terms of deserts and mountains, farms and cities, suburbia and coasts. We are the number one state for food production--on a global level, we are the fifth largest food provider in the world.

At the same time, California citizens are experiencing the same poverty which is happening all over the country.  According to a recent census, one of six Californians is living in poverty.  How can those of us rural folks living with that economic reality come up with the sudden tax with big penalties, because an urban legislature told us we had to? 

Sadly, it's my opinion that this "Balkanization" of California is just beginning.  If you want to see it changing elsewhere, watch the news for Scotland (and perhaps Ireland) as they prepare to leave England after hundreds of years.

__________________

# 3
As faithful readers of my column know, I have been writing about the unbelievable fire "fee" (about which the governor has not ruled out revising the tax structure--and changing the way people are taxed...thereby turning the "fee" into a "tax" and  transferring it to the general fund).  Why would he do this?  To block a law suit challenging the legality of the fire fee, which is going to be brought by Howard Jarvis.

What are the financial stakes?  As of this writing on Nov. 21, according to the Fire Fee Weekly Report from the State Board of Equalization, the money already collected amounts to nearly $35 million dollars.  To clearly understand the significance, that money has come in from counties which have already been alphabetically billed.  Currently being billed is Santa Cruz county, and after that the following counties will be billed--Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo and Yuba.  And, this money is being collected from people, one of six according to current census reports, are living in poverty.

The annual tax will be billed to you again in 2013.  Enough said--I have not heard of any significant pushback, and as your faithful columnist, I know when to give up on a subject.  If you want to see my already published October column on the fire tax in which I characterize this kind of extraordinary financial discrimination as "Balkanization of California"--let me know.

This is going to be a short column.  It's already past my publishing deadline, and now I head to the kitchen to prepare the stuffing for the turkey to be served tomorrow to a wonderful family.  Two sons, four grandkids with assorted spouses and "others",  three great grandkids, not to mention a daughter-in-law out of the country at this moment, and a dear friend.

I hope your Thanksgiving in any form or number or location was good for you, and for us all.


Ruth Gottstein

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Progressive Women's Committee - Thurs Feb 7

The Progressive Women's Committee will meet on Thursday, February 7, 2013, 11:30 a.m. at Thomi's Banquet Room in Jackson.

Reservations are required.

Please respond to Sally at trestrail@gotsky.com no later than Monday, February 4th , (Sooner If Possible!)

The buffet luncheon is $15.00 which includes an entree, salad, vegetarian offering, various drinks, coffee, tea, dessert, tax and tip

Pay at the door -  cash (the exact amount is appreciated) or personal check only.

Note and this is Important:
If you make a reservation and cannot attend please call  267-0177, to cancel, by Wednesday at noon.
You may be billed for the luncheon if you do not show up and have not cancelled.


Sheriff Martin Ryan has an unavoidable conflict with February 7 and will be unable to be our speaker. He will, however be the speaker for the Progressive Women;s Committee on Thursday, March 7.

Maureen Funk of the Amador Council on Tourism, who was scheduled to speak in March, has agreed to be our speaker in February.

Murder Mystery Dinner Benefit for Food Bank - April 20

Save the Date!
 
April 20th 2013 Murder Mystery Dinner featuring the Volcano Theater Company benefiting the Interfaith Food Bank. Can't make the dinner? Event Sponsors are welcome. Call Tom Thompson 209-267-9006 or email feedamador@gmail.com. Details to follow.


Thank you.
Tom Thompson
Executive Director
Interfaith Council of Amador
12181 Airport Rd.
Jackson, CA  95642

Via Citizen Report: A Letter to Vice President Biden Re-affirms Sheriff John D’Agostini’s Oath of Office

An interesting read. What is your opinion on gun control, Amador County?

A Letter to Vice President Biden Re-affirms Sheriff John D’Agostini’s Oath of Office

http://www.edcgov.us/Government/Sheriff/Press_Releases/A_Letter_to_Vice_President_Biden.aspx



Link forwarded by Jackie Vaughn

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gravity Supply Line falls off track

Just one month after Board President Paul Molinelli declared that the Gravity Supply Line (GSL) was “on the fast track”, it seems to have fallen off the track. At the 1/10/13 AWA meeting, the public asked about the status of the GSL and no one at the meeting knew the answers.
 
Jerry Trottier commented that there had not been an update on how the GSL would be financed now that AWA has apparently dropped the plan to use property taxes to pay for the project. Bill Condrashoff asked if the ad hoc committee that was formed to develop a plan to finance the GSL had come up with a source of funds. The Board gave no answer.
 
When asked if AWA had acquired all of the needed easements and permits for the GSL, neither Field Services Manager Chris McKeage nor General Manager Gene Mancebo nor any Board member knew the answers. Both McKeage and Mancebo answered with, “I don’t know.”
 
AWA has spent over $1.5 million pursuing the controversial GSL. AWA claims that the project will save money, but they do not have a means to finance the project without a rate increase or property tax. Opponents to the project claim that it is a developer handout and that if the GSL truly saved money, AWA would not need rate increases or new property taxes to pay for the project.
 
So far, the Agency has spent over $250,000 to develop a plan for financing the GSL. Mancebo explained that accounting problems at AWA have delayed the release of the rate study that shows what rates are needed to pay for the GSL. Mancebo did not give a date for the release of the study and Board members did not ask when the study would be ready.
 

  • Water Agency Solution to $5,000 Pump Repair is $6,000,000 Pipe 
  •  
    In his 1/10/13 staff report, General Manager Gene Mancebo told the AWA Board that it would take at most $35,000 to repair a pump that moves water into the Amador Canal from Lake Tabaeud. Mancebo went on to say that the long term solution to pumping issues like this one would be to build a small diameter pipe in the canal. AWA has estimated that project will cost as much as $6,000,000. Mancebo said he will bring the canal piping project back to the board with a comprehensive report.
    Field Services manager Chris McKeage told the board about a solution to fix the pump problem for around $5,000. The solution would be to use a surplus submersible pump that AWA no longer needed for its original purpose. The Amador Canal serves about 100 customers, so the repair will cost about $50/customer. The $6,000,000 canal piping project will cost around $60,000/customer. However, the cost of either would be spread among all of AWA’s customers in Jackson, Ione, Sutter Creek, Plymouth, Drytown and Amador City, even though those customers will not benefit from the project.

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    No Casino In Plymouth: Update

    Seasons Greetings from No Casino in Plymouth
    Hoping You Had a Merry Christmas & Wishing You a Prosperous New Year

                2012 is now history.  NCIP takes this opportunity to say Thank You for your support all these years. (10 yrs in April)  It has been quiet and uneventful in recent years but that changed on May 30th when Acting Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs, Donald E. Laverdure issued a Record of Decision (ROD) to take the Plymouth parcels into trust for the Ione Band's casino.

                NCIP quickly engaged the services of Attorney Ken Williams and filed a challenge in Federal Court to the ROD on June 29th.  Separate challenges were also filed by Amador County and members of the Ione Band.  NCIP's challenge is based on five (5) claims.
    1.  The Secretary does not have authority to take land into trust because the Ione Band was not federally recognized and under federal jurisdiction in 1934 as required by Federal law and pursuant to the 2009 Supreme Court decision in Carcieri.
    2.  The Department of Interior (DOI) failed to comply with its own regulations governing fee to trust. (25 C.F.R. Part 151)
    3.  The Secretary has no authority to "take" a State's sovereign lands into trust for an Indian casino based on the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and the 2009 Supreme Court decision in Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
    4.  The Defendants' opinion/decision that the Ione Band is a restored tribe pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act has no basis in fact, law, or regulation because the Ione Band was never terminated.
    5. The DOI failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and its implementing regulations by relying on an incomplete and inadequate Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

    A copy of NCIP's amended complaint can be viewed at: http://www.nocasinoinplymouth.blogspot.com/p/current-information.html
                Based on initial contacts with and responses from the Federal Defendants we expect a lengthy Federal Court process.  However, we remain patient and are confident we will prevail in this matter and there will be No Casino In Plymouth.  The next item on the Court's calendar is the filing of a Joint Status Report (JSR) on or before May 3rd.  (A JSR is a statement of the parties on how to proceed with the case.)
                Without your financial support and encouragement over the past  9+ years this would not have been possible,  so once again we at NCIP say THANK YOU.
    NCIP is planning a Dinner Dance for March 23rd so please mark your calendars!

    If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.
    Email:             nciplymouth@hotmail.com
    Phone:            209 245 6115  or 209 245 4588
    Mail:               NCIP
                            P.O. Box 82
                            Plymouth, Ca. 95669

    Via Citizen Report: Big news, spread the word! KQBM is now streaming on the net!

    Some of you might know that the Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families of West Point was granted a full FM license by the FCC to create a
    community radio station, the first in our neck of the woods.KQBM, Blue Mountain Radio , was born. For the past two years , the KQBM team ( Mark
    Dyken, Forest Flanigan, Catherine Lambie, Mitch Mitchell, Rick Torgerson, and Fred Velasquez) has been working hard to get the station on the air.
    With the help and generosity of many, we now have a fully functioning studio on the BMCYF grounds in West Point. And with the expert and dedicated help of radio engineer from Nevada City Steve Michaelsen we have just reached a significant milestone: we are now streaming on the net! To check us out, go to www.myradiostream.org/kqbm . Feedback, comments, congratulations and generous donations are welcome! Also, if you want to become a programmer, please send us ( KQBM box 41 West Point, CA 95255) a sample of what you have in mind, or contact us at 293-7177. Our program committee will review the submissions. You can go to KQBM.org or check out our Facebook page for more details. Get excited, get involved, support YOUR local radio station !

    Nora Coryell

    Monday, January 7, 2013

    "Promised Land" (New Movie) & Connection to Amador County

    Check out this video on YouTube:

    http://youtu.be/rBQvHhQzBCo


    In the film The Promised Land, a corporate salesman is sent to a key rural town to close leases for his company's expansion plans. The salesman makes vague promises to the locals, saying they could get money for the untapped gas under their farms, hinting at better schools and increased local revenues. The company does not point out the serious risks with the drilling. With the town having been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years, the drama is about short term relief versus a long term solution and salvaging a way of life without risking all. The film explores America at the crossroads where big business and the strength of small-town community converge. The film was produced by Jeff Skoll and Participant Media.

    In Amador County, a similar pair of projects has been approved at the local level that will cause formidable environmental destruction and end an agricultural way of life. A new strip mine called Newman Ridge and hot asphalt plant called Edwin Center North, are now planned 1-3 miles from Ione, by getting the area rezoned for heavy industrial use. The ridge is one mile long, 500 foot high with spectacular views of the sierras, and hosts a wide array of wildlife. The strip mine and the asphalt plant are being planned directly next to a valley of farms and ranches. The local town is only 1 mile from the site and the winds blow from the site directly to the town. The project is backed by a famous San Francisco based hedge fund called Farallon Capital Management and two other investors, none of which live in Amador County.

    In the film Promised Land, Hal Holbrook plays a town senior citizen and scientist, who stands up to the huge company and raises concerns about the pollution and poisoning that the drilling could cause. In Amador County, 94 year old Col. Fraser E. West (USMC retired) and family are leading a group called the Ione Valley Land, Air & Water Defense Alliance (LAWDA) to oppose the Newman Ridge projects, based on serious environmental concerns.

    Col. West’s granddaughter, major label recording artist Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy (www.afinefrenzy.com) is the US Ambassador for The
    International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - http://www.iucn.org/about/union/iucn_ambassadors/alison_sudol/ and joins the opposition: “ The quarry and asphalt plant will permanently destroy a beautiful area teeming with wildlife, some endangered, that we should be conserving to add value for all visitors and residents in the county.”

    TakePart.com, a pro-social media organization and part of Participant Media (that produced The Promised Land) covered the story in depth:http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/10/03/not-my-backyard-94-year-old-retired-marine-corps-colonel-fights-strip-mine.

    The environmental consequences of these projects will add 100 tons a year of Particulate Matters (PM10 and PM2.5) -of Toxic Air Contaminants. The project proponent Bill Bunce admits: "The overall impacts of the proposed Newman Ridge Quarry project or Edwin Center North Alternative asphalt plant related to GHG emissions and global climate change would be considered significant."

    There are also many other environmental concerns in addition to air pollution: water quantity and quality concerns as this is a drought area, heavy truck traffic on country roads going directly through a tiny town, destruction of all habitats of threatened and endangered species, and rock blasting noise – which is louder than a commercial airliner landing 200 feet. The health risks for serious respiratory disease for those living near a quarry or asphalt plant go up more than 50%. The public did not have a chance to review detailed information that could affect their health directly.

    The business needs for the project have been unsupported and vague. The proponents have no mining experience and the area is currently being served by 3 existing quarries and asphalt plants – currently operating at under 30% capacity, serving the County well and could grow if needs grow.

    The project is opposed by local families in the Ione Valley, and also has attracted International attention from the opposition petition hosted by MoveOn/SignOn, with more than 750 signatures from concerned people all over the world.

    On October 9th, the Amador County Board of Supervisors ignored the questions and concerns from the families that spoke directly to them at that meeting. The Ione Valley LAWDA legal team presented the environmental violations, adding to deep concerns from several State Agencies (including CalTrans, Fish and Game, the Office of Mining and Reclamation, among others) and the lack of business justification. The County Board ignored all of this and approved the Quarry and Asphalt Plant and approved the rezoning.

    The project is opposed by local ranchers and families and an International petition to stop the projects now has more than 750 signatures from concerned people all over the world.

    The local people, trying to preserve their health, agricultural way of life and quality of land and water, have exhausted their options and have filed a lawsuit now against the project proponents. On the LAWDA website (www.ionevalleylawda.com) there are many other examples of local groups opposing both quarries and asphalt plants based on both health and environmental issues.

    There are alternatives to this terrible project: drop the unjustified strip mine and asphalt plant, and instead fund an open space park in this pristine beautiful area, with needed hiking, equestrian and bicycling paths, easily accessible to the town and the county. There are two major Conservancy organizations very interested in this land. This beautiful ridge - teeming with deer, bald and golden eagles, beaver, otters, foxes and more, offers spectacular views of the Sierra
    foothills and is next to a reservoir already licensed for public fishing. This conservation and open space alternative would give the County need revues and tourism.

    There is much more information on www.ionevalleylawda.com, including the first press release, video testimonials, newspaper articles, ways to donate to the
    legal fund and why other local communities are opposing the same kind of projects.

    Thank you for writing about this Loraine. We need the support and donations, which is easy to do at: 

    Pursuing this legally is the only option we have now to stop it. Please ask your readers to read the information and donate now. My contact information is all over the website, but here it is again:

    Warmest regards,
    Sondra West-Moore
    Ione Valley Land, Air & Water Defense Alliance
    ionevalleylawda@gmail.com
    818 508-4744 office

    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    Final Rule Supports Family Unity

    *SECRETARY NAPOLITANO ANNOUNCES FINAL RULE TO SUPPORT FAMILY UNITY
    DURING WAIVER PROCESS*

    * *

    WASHINGTON—Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano today
    announced the posting of a final rule
    <https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/01/03/2012-31268/provisional-unlawful-presence-waivers-of-inadmissibility-for-certain-immediate-relatives>
     in the Federal Register
    <http://www.ofr.gov/?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1>
     that reduces the time U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives (spouse, children and parents), who are in the process of obtaining visas to become lawful permanent residents of the
    United States under certain circumstances. The final rule establishes a process that allows certain individuals to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver before they depart the United States to
    attend immigrant visa interviews in their countries of origin. The process will be effective on March 4, 2013 and more information about the filing process will be made available in the coming weeks at
    www.uscis.gov <http://www.uscis.gov/>
    .

    “This final rule facilitates the legal immigration process and reduces the amount of time that U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who are in the process of obtaining an immigrant
    visa,” said Secretary Napolitano.

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received more than 4,000 comments in response to the April 2, 2012 proposed rule and considered all of them in preparing the final rule.

    “The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves,” USCIS Director Mayorkas said. “The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon.”

    Under current law, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who are not eligible to adjust status in the United States to become lawful permanent residents must leave the U.S. and obtain an immigrant visa abroad. Individuals who have accrued more than six months of unlawful presence while in the United States must obtain a waiver to overcome the unlawful presence inadmissibility bar before they can return to
    the United States after departing to obtain an immigrant visa. Under the existing waiver process, which remains available to those who do not qualify for the new process, immediate relatives cannot file a
    waiver application until after they have appeared for an immigrant visa interview abroad and the Department of State has determined that they are inadmissible.

    In order to obtain a provisional unlawful presence waiver, the applicant must be an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, inadmissible only on account of unlawful presence, and demonstrate the denial of the waiver would result in extreme hardship to his or her U.S. citizen spouse or parent. USCIS will publish a new form, Form I-601A, Application for a Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver, for individuals to use when applying for a provisional unlawful presence waiver under the new process.

    Under the new provisional waiver process, immediate relatives must still depart the United States for the consular immigrant visa process; however, they can apply for a provisional waiver before they depart for their immigrant visa interview abroad. Individuals who file the Form I-601A must notify the Department of State’s National Visa Center that they are or will be seeking a provisional waiver from
    USCIS. The new process will reduce the amount of time U.S. citizen are separated from their qualifying immediate relatives. Details on the process changes are available at www.regulations.gov
    <http://www.regulations.gov/>
    .

    For more information, visit www.uscis.gov <http://www.uscis.gov/>

    .