Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year!

We'll see you all here in 2005. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, have a great holiday, everyone.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ballooning Budget to Build Bay Bridge

Today at 9:00 AM. the California State Auditor released a report on Caltrans’ handling of the east span of the Bay Bridge's reconstruction. The auditor’s report reveals a number of reasons for the unexpected escalation in cost:
- Caltrans did not create a comprehensive risk management plan for the East Span, and lacked processes to identify, track, and quantify risks throughout this project's life.

- Caltrans' cost update for the August 2004 report to the Legislature was its first program-wide update of cost estimates since April 2001.

- Caltrans failed to disclose information to the Legislature according to the law's regular reporting schedule and disclosed huge cost overruns long after it should have been aware of them.

- In November 2003, Caltrans' financial plan update to the Federal Highway Administration did not reveal the probable extent of estimated program costs. At that time, based on internal reports, Caltrans should have known that the program was over budget.

As you probably know, the cost of rebuilding the east span of the Bay Bridge has ballooned from $1.3 billion in 1997 to an estimated $5.1 billion in July 2004. Over the next several months, my colleagues and I will ask some tough questions as we review the Governor’s plan for the “freeway on stilts proposal” and the state audit. If you are interested in reading the audit report for yourself, it is available at

I would love to hear what you think. Which bridge design should the Legislature approve – the “signature” self-anchored suspension or the “freeway on stilts”? Who should pay for the cost overruns? Would you support a one-dollar toll increase on all of the Bay Area’s bridges?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Stem Cell Oversight

With the passage of Proposition 71, the University of California and other medical research foundations will be given a much-needed $3 billion in grants to conduct stem cell research. This cutting edge medical research has the potential to develop treatments for some of humanity's most debilitating diseases.

I want to ensure that there is maximum transparency in this process, and that the newly created Stem Cell Committee has maximum public input. I will watch the Stem Cell committee closely to ensure an open and democratic process.

Go here to read more.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Oakland faces own gambling controversy

Yesterday's Contra Costa Times reported on a hearing regarding a proposed casino over in Oakland.
Increased problem gambling, suicide, domestic violence, traffic and the impact on an endangered bird at the adjoining wetlands were among the concerns of some 50 speakers who bashed a proposed Indian casino near Oakland International Airport.

Click here to continue reading the article.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Who are the Lyttons?

The article in today's Contra Costa Times begins,
"On the industrial western coast of Contra Costa County, a band of 277 Indians with no ancestral ties to the East Bay stands poised to open the Golden State's first urban casino.

...Sacred and sovereign is how they describe the San Pablo site -- home of an Arabian-themed card room that a British gaming company built and Congress turned into an Indian reservation exclusively for the band."
Click here to continue reading the Times' in-depth special report.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Like a Bridge over Troubled Waters...

The San Francisco Chronicle's Matier & Ross ask, "Will Bay Area get 'freeway on stilts' and higher toll?" From the column,
But Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, isn't ready to throw in the towel yet on a fancier bridge.

"This is one of the most beautiful areas in the world and our public structures should reflect that," Hancock said. Besides, she said, "the Bay Area was already paying an extra dollar for a 'signature bridge' -- so it's still a question of us buying a Cadillac, then turning around and being given a Chevy.

"Plus, I'm not sure this redesign isn't going to cost us a lot more time in redesign and re-permitting -- and we have 300,000 cars going over that bridge every day," Hancock said.

Friday, December 10, 2004

What about the Bay Bridge?

In today's Oakland Tribune, I am quoted on the subject of the deliberations over the final design and construction of the bridge:

"The question is: Is it going to save significant money and can it be done speedily without being held up by permits? Will it be something built for a couple of generations or will it be shoddy?"

The project has been surrounded by rumors and secretiveness, and plagued by sky-rocketing costs, so these issues need to be confronted. Go here for the rest of the article.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Bogus System: End it, Don’t Amend it!

My hat is off to our local CAL football team for playing their hearts out and going 10-1 to rank in the top 10 in the country for the whole season. But, the fact that CAL has been bumped from the national Rose Bowl Game because of a bogus system is an outrage.  The voting system, based on votes from coaches and sportswriters, is worse than the touch screen voting systems in Ohio.

Three cheers for CAL for a hard fought football season! Go Bears!
 Read more here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

San Francisco Chronicle weighs in

From today's editorial page:

The state needs to take a fresh look at gambling -- a message voters appeared to send when they rejected two initiatives that would have allowed an explosion of more casinos throughout the state. Previous approvals for Indian casinos were based on the expectation that the gaming would be limited in scope and located primarily in rural areas.

In today's paper, the Chronicle goes on to demand more light be shed on the process for approving Indian gaming compacts, making special note of my constitutional proposal, and the series of near-misses our state has had with the explosion of casino gambling in communities throughout California. Click here to continue reading the unequivocal editorial.  

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

My first bill of the legislative session

Yesterday I introduced ACA 2. It's a constitutional amendment to provide 60 days of public review before each and every Legislature vote on Indian compacts. This story in today's Contra Costa Times is a great article about it.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Back to Business

Today the Legislature convenes to begin this year’s legislative session. I am excited and optimistic about what we--as a statewide legislative body--can achieve this year. There are two landmark pieces of legislation already introduced this year that I would like highlight.

Legislation by Assemblyman Mark Leno acknowledging the right for all people, regardless of sexual preference, to be married. The time has come for us as a State to treat everybody equally under the law.  So long as the state licenses marriages, creates rules about marriages, and provides benefits to married couples, all couples should be able to receive those benefits. 

Also being re-introduced this year by Senator Gil Cedillo is legislation to permit all Californians to apply for drivers licenses. The driver’s license bill is common sense legislation to ensure that every Californian is able to go to work, drive safely and earn a living.  Immigrant labor drives our economy; nevertheless, our policies ignore this reality.  It does not make sense to me to deny immigrants the right to obtain a driver’s license, restricting immigrants from driving their children to school, driving a sick relative to the hospital, or driving to work.    
I will be introducing a substantive legislative bill package this year. My flagship bill this year is The California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2005. This bill creates real and genuine campaign finance reform. The problem is clear.  Year in and year out we see rivers of campaign contributions flooding into the coffers of politicians. Increasingly, we are seeing campaigns are being funded by special interests, political action committees, large corporate donors, and from those who have a stake in what happens in Sacramento. As the old saying goes, ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.'
This must stop.  The only way to turn around this dependency on special interests to finance campaigns is to create system of public financing.  Under my bill the process is simple. A candidate need only gather a small number of $5 dollar contributions from within the district to qualify for the program. It is that simple.  We must start looking at the corrosive influence of special interest money has on public policy. We have to turn around the increasing cynicism about our political process. I believe public financing of campaigns is the way to do it. 

Friday, December 03, 2004

Still waiting for your workers comp rates to drop?

Here is an article that shows the experience of a great number of California’s small businesses. As many such businesses can testify, workers compensation rates have yet to drop. The reason is simple: no amount of “reform” will reduce workers comp rates until we have concrete legislation that guarantees substantial rate reduction for our California businesses.

Knowing that, I voted against the reforms passed by the State Legislature and proposed by the Governor because they missed the most critical component: genuine rate relief. In addition, workers comp reform eroded injured workers' rights to choose their own doctor and to receive adequate medical care.
So, how about you? Have your workers compensation rates gone down? If you’re an injured worker, has your medical care and rehabilitation been impacted?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Scant fiscal oversight over Indian casinos

This article in Gambling Magazine shows how California’s Gambling Control Commission has dubious legal authority for fiscal oversight over Indian casinos. 

Here's a question for you: If Indian casinos have pledged revenues to the State, how can we be sure that those revenues are coming to the state without having the ability to audit Indian casinos? Shouldn't the State have the regulatory authority to audit Indian casinos' winnings?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A slot machine by any other name...

Did you see this morning's San Francisco Chronicle? Governor Schwarzenegger and a major Indian tribe are haggling over the definition of slot machine. And though the technical, legal aspects may be sleep-inducing, at first glance, the fact is that depending on who wins the argument, the tribes may get a free ride to install as many gambling machines as they like, and make an end-run around lawful state limits.

Here's an excerpt from the article:


Should video lottery terminals be determined as legally distinct from slots, other gaming tribes -- most of which have compacts that run through 2019 and have so far declined to negotiate with Schwarzenegger -- would gain a clear path to limitless expansion without sharing their profits or submitting to increased state demands.

Essentially, that could mean tribes would gain the same benefits promised by Proposition 70 but without having to pay a cent to the state's general fund -- and leave them little incentive to negotiate with Schwarzenegger.