Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A tweak here, a tweak there....

Following is my latest Claremont Courier column appearing last Friday. I will add that California Governor Jerry Brown, who I have always liked and voted for in any office he has run for, was set to sign a bill, as part of the annual budget due July 1, allowing local governments to choose to not follow parts of the Public Records Act giving people easy and timely access to public documents. The reasoning was this would save the state millions of dollars, not having to reimburse the local governments for providing the documents. Fortunately, after much outcry from the media and public, the bill was stripped from the budget, and there is talk of making the records act an amendment to the state constitution with the mandate that local governments cover the costs. On the other hand, I saw today that Brown has signed the bill I mention below.


“After attendance at the hot topic presentations begun to dwindle, Ms. Glaudi begun seeking ways to revamp the program.”

Sounds simple enough. And smart. Sometimes, when things are not working out, it’s good to revamp, shake things up, try something new. Sort of like getting a new perspective.

That’s what Shannon Glaudi, senior recreation leader at Claremont’s Joslyn Senior Center, was thinking. As noted recently in these pages, it was in regard to a longstanding interactive morning lecture series held at the center.

It appears that she was right. And, in this case, it was indeed simple. A change of rooms played a big part in the reboot. Once the series was moved to the Oak Room dining hall, the dwindling reversed, and there was “a much bigger turnout than the select few attendants that would show up for the previous program, according to Ms. Glaudi.”

Tinkering with the morning program at a senior center is one thing. What about tinkering with Claremont’s streets?

What about changing the road when we don’t like the rules of the road?

This is essentially what is being done as Claremont officials experiments with redesigning some streets rather than raising speed limits. As strange as this sounds, it stems from a stranger requirement from the state that the speed limits be raised.

Even stranger is that the state says the speed limits have to be raised, because people are driving faster. Never mind that speed limits are supposed to limit speed.

Here’s how the reasoning, if that is what it can be called, works: Cities are required to set a speed limit within a certain number of miles per hour of the speed a majority of cars travel at. Otherwise, a speeding ticket isn’t enforceable in court.

Not only did a Radar Speed Survey conducted last year suggest that people are driving faster in Claremont, but, with recent changes in the state regulations, the City now has to set the speed limit at the nearest 5 mph rather than within 5 mph of the majority speed. This means, for example, that if the speed of the majority of drivers on a street is 28 mph, the speed limit can’t be 25 mph but has to be 30 mph.

Like I said, strange.

Many Claremonters thought it was not only strange but also unfair and dangerous, and they told City officials so, citing children playing and the like. Hence, a dozen or so street segments are being changed, with crosswalks, bike lanes and other “traffic calming measures” costing $165,000.

“What we need is really a small decrease in speed, just 1 or 2 mph on most of these streets to bring down the speed limit,” Interim City Engineer Loretta Mustafa said. “That’s what we are looking to do here.”

This scheme is most likely for the best, but Ms. Mustafa and the rest of us should be clear that that is what this is - a scheme. We shouldn’t deny - not that we are - that we’re fudging here, changing the rules when we don’t like the game.

A bit of fudging may well be perfectly harmless and may even be beneficial when it comes to a discussion program at the local senior center or even the city streets, but what about when it comes to the way the government operates or is run? Is it good when our officials fudge, change the rules when the game isn’t working for them, even if the result may be generally for the best?

Eyebrows were raised earlier this month when California legislators sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown that would allow him to attend closed meetings with county officials. The measure, AB 246, was written by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) in reaction to a county prosecutor declaring that a private 2011 meeting between the governor and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law. The topic at the meeting was Brown’s “realignment” plan to hold nonviolent felons and certain other low-level offenders in county jails rather than state lockups, following federal court orders to reduce prison crowding.

While those in favor of the bill claim it simply adds the governor to a list of officials and experts allowed under the Brown Act to attend closed-door meetings regarding public security matters, critics hold that it could be a slippery slope, used for an ever-expanding range of “public security matters,” in addition to noting that it being requested by L.A County reflects badly on the supervisors.

As Terry Francke, the general counsel for the open-government advocacy group Californians Aware, said, “This is how they correct violations of the Brown Act when they’re caught in the act: They change the law so it will give them cover in the future.” Mr. Francke also pointed out that if the governor signs the legalization, it will mean “he knew....the meeting was illegal” when he spoke behind closed doors with the supervisors in 2011.

Likewise, there was some head-scratching here last month when there was what appeared to be rule-bending or rule-stretching at a City Council meeting. It was all the more curious and perhaps disturbing when the cause was a well-intentioned one.

The cause was the Mayors Against Illegal Guns petition encouraging the adoption of laws to ban “lethal, military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines,” develop technology to help law enforcement better trace illegal guns and punish those who obtain or deal such weapons and ammunition. Over 800 mayors in 44 states have signed the petition supporting the enforcement of gun laws within their respective communities and started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the cinema shooting in Aurora, and other shocking mass shootings, like the one recently not too far in Santa Monica.

The discussion at the meeting seemed to be at an end when a motion to direct the mayor to sign the petition failed on a 2-3 vote, with Mayor Opanyi Nasiali and Councilmen Corey Calaycay and Sam Pedroza uneasy with forcing the mayor petition against his will and with dealing with a “national or state” issue, as Mr. Nasiali indicated, and one that is not so clear for all Claremont residents. “It’s not for the city to put all of the residents on record,” Mr. Calaycay declared.

Mr. Pedroza began the bending and stretching by proposing a motion to “authorize” the mayor to sign the petition should he wish to do so now or in the future. The final twist came after the motion was approved, with Mr. Nasiali and Mr. Calaycay voting no, and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said that, “under the government code” and with the mayor “unavailable or [refusing] for any reason to carry out your authorization,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Lyon could “step into his shoes” and sign the petition.

Even residents in favor of the petition, like Claudia Strauss who “take[s] heart in the fact that a majority of the council and the audience came forward in support” of it, were perplexed. “I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea that the mayor pro tem can step in,” she admitted. “I won’t go against legal counsel, but this is education for all of us.”

For sure.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lost in a tricked-out digital world

Not unlike the drifter who narrates the hilarious and harrowing novel, The Fuck-Up by Arthur Neseerian, about his hapless adventures in New York City, I lost the book. And I was almost done with it.

I had it next to me when I went out in my wheelchair, and I realized sometime after I returned home that it must have fallen through the gap between the seat and the armrest sometime during my bumpy journey. Just like I always thought it might - an accident waiting to happen. I went out, going along my route, hoping against hope I would find the book, but to no avail. I hope whoever found the book gets as much as a kick out of it as I was getting.

I really wanted to finish the book, so I went online to Amazon.com to order another copy, figuring that going to Barnes and Noble would be a waste, that I wouldn’t be lucky like I was when I stumbled across such a title on its shelves (plus I didn’t want to have to try to ask for it). I ended up ordering it and four other books. It would have been five, but I deleted one when it turned out I was confused.

The reason that I ordered more books is that, besides thinking I may as well stock up while on Amazon, I wanted to spend enough to get the free, fast shipping. However, I found out that some books aren’t eligible for the deal. These included The Fuck-Up.

Like I said, it was confusing.

I opted out of the Amazon Prime program minutes after opting for it, because I didn’t want to forget cancelling it before the $79 annual fee automatically was charged to my credit card when the 30-day Free Trial Period ran out. No doubt Amazon was counting on my forgetting and now has some sort of black mark by my name.

I kept seeing that I could get books “within minutes” if I had a Kindle. And a bunch of books appeared to be available only on Kindle. If only I could afford a Kindle! Anyone want to get me one? It’s almost my birthday.

After nearly 2 hours (when my attendant put me in bed, she said I looked exhausted - thanks!), I completed the order, which included paying extra for expedited shipping for The Fuck-Up (I really do want to read the end, and I still have to get it spiral-bound when I get it - yes, another reason to have a Kindle, but, then again, I’m old-school and prefer/like the printed page, not to mention bricks-and-mortar bookstore). I ended up paying almost $55 - not bad for 5 books, really, but considerably more than the $25 or $35 - which was it? I’m still confused - I needed to spend to get the free shipping, and I wasn’t expecting to be spending anything.

On the other hand, I don’t have to buy books for a while. Unless I fuck up and lose them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Peace for Gabriel, agony for the rest of us

The teacher “said the boy told her he had been shot in the face by a BB gun and had ‘perfectly circled bruises all over his face.’”

I can’t get these “perfectly circled bruises all over his face,” mentioned in aa article in the Los Angeles Times a couple weeks ago, out of my head. I guess I’ll never forget this and that it was one of the abuses done to an eight-year-old boy, Gabriel Fernandez, by his mother and her boyfriend.

Just like I can’t forget Johnny, who I posted about a couple years ago. Johnny was a boy about the same age abused by his mother and her boyfriend. Among other things, he was repeatedly burned all over with cigarettes and made to sit in his piss and shit and eat from a dog food bowl.

At least Johnny was rescued and reportedly thrived in a new home. Eight-year-old Gabriel, who lived in Palmdale near Los Angeles, died after suffering numerous injuries resulting from abuse, including a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns. Pellets have also been found embedded in his lungs. The mother and the boyfriend, who said that Gabriel was being punished for “lying and being dirty,” were taken into custody, charged with murder and torture.

In addition to the pellets embedded in Gabriel’s lungs and other details about the injuries that he was made to suffer, such as black eyes and a “busted lip” as noted by the teacher, a steady stream of subsequent articles in the Times revealed that the county’s Department of Children and Family Services was well aware of the boy’s situation and did precious little to protect him. Social workers got many concerned calls about the child, including from the teacher, and they knew that the mother and the boyfriend were heavily involved in drugs and criminal activities, including with other children, but they were “overwhelmed” by hundreds of pages of sometimes contradictory rules as well as tremendous pressure to keep families intact.

When social workers would interview Gabriel in front of his mother and her boyfriend about his reports of abuse, he would recant them. Duh! And when the 8-year-old expressed a desire to commit suicide, the social workers dismissed it, because the boy “had no plans for carrying it out.” Several workers have been put on “desk duty” while the case is being investigated.

So Gabriel was tortured and killed, lost due to red tape and incompetence. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has been known for poorly trained and swamped staff and its shoddy work and sometimes tragic record, since before Johnny was made to endure incomprehensible abuse until he was finally rescued after dozens of allegations.

Yes, this is outrageous - and there has been many commentaries and letters in the paper expressing outrage over what happened to Gabriel. It is tragic that this county department, which does vital and wrenching work, isn’t as well-funded and supervised as it must be, and I’ll add that there is a bitter irony in caring people not being able to adopt children in many places because of being gay or lesbian.

But what really bothers me, what I really want to know, is this: How can this be a society in which a parent can even think of punishing a child by using a BB gun to leave “perfectly circled bruises all over his face?”