Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

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April 15

The Fresno Bee: Horrific bus crash must spur safety action

As horrific as the Orland bus crash was, it could have been even more deadly had students not been aboard a new bus with modern safety features.

Some escaped through windows designed as emergency exits before the motor coach exploded in flames, though investigators are examining how many windows jammed and had to be kicked out. The bus also had seat belts, though not all students were wearing them and some apparently were thrown from the bus.

While not foolproof, these safety features likely saved lives. But they are voluntary on motor coaches despite the fact that safety officials have been calling for them for decades.

There are thousands of motor coaches on the nation's highways without those safeguards. Too many cost-conscious operators have been resistant, and federal regulators have been too slow to force them to act.

The National Transportation Safety Board — which is investigating the causes of Thursday's Interstate 5 collision and expects to issue preliminary findings within 30 days — recommended in 1999 that federal regulators issue new standards for motor coaches so that passengers can easily open windows and exits. The board was responding to a 1997 accident in which a tour bus tumbled down an embankment in Virginia and overturned in a river. Some passengers struggled to escape through the windows.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets vehicle standards, studied the bus evacuation issue from 2007 to 2010. It has yet to issue any rules. In a statement Monday, NHTSA said it is working on the regulations and "is committed to improving motor coach safety.

"It cannot take the nearly half-century that NHTSA waited to require seat belts on tour and intercity buses. The NTSB first urged seat belts in 1968 after investigating another fiery crash in California, this one killing 19 people near the Mojave Desert town of Baker.

The mandate for three-point lap-shoulder belts starts in November 2016 for all new motor coaches, but it still doesn't cover existing buses because that would have been too expensive.

In an average year, 20 people are killed and nearly 8,000 injured in large bus crashes. The nation's 29,000 motor coaches carry about 700 million passengers a year, about the same as the domestic airline industry. But unlike plane crashes, most bus crashes don't get national publicity.

The Orland crash has — and if any good is to come out of this tragedy, it will refocus attention on motor coach safety and finally spur action.


April 12

Marysville Appeal-Democrat: Make some time to remember crash victims

We'd urge everyone in our region to make room for a moment or two of silence this weekend in memory of the victims, and support of families and of the survivors, of Thursday evening's horrific crash near Orland.

A busload of high school students was on the way to Humboldt State University, when a truck crashed into them and fire exploded through the vehicles.

As this was being written, there were 10 dead, including five students, three adult chaperones, the driver of the truck and the driver of the bus. Many others were injured, some critically. Survivors who weren't hospitalized waited for family members to make their way from the Los Angeles area to pick them up, or for other arrangements to be made to help them get back home.

There is so much to reflect on in the wake of this accident. Just a few thoughts:

The very randomness of this accident takes the breath out of you. Of all the times for such an accident to happen. It could be a long time before any sense is made of the scene and some reasoning is figured out for why that truck crossed the median and slammed into that bus.

But why at that time? Why a bus full of kids?

Any loss of life, especially of children, is tragic. But there is even greater poignancy here — this was a group of upward- bound students. Kids from areas where families might struggle, where low incomes might prohibit kids from going to college, and where, if they do go to college, they'd be the first generation to do so.

They were on their way to the university campus in Arcata. To put themselves in that place, to test the reality of it. To dream.

All cut short for some of them. And interrupted for others. We hope the survivors can find it in themselves to overcome the ordeal.

Examples of smalltown heroism and caring.

It's just cops and firemen and rescue workers doing their jobs. Only many of them are volunteers. And you rarely think of something this horrific when you set out to serve the community.

But there you are, at the terrible scene, and you have to deal with it.

We heard from several officials about the good work done by those around the community of Orland.

And we heard of the kindness and caring from Orland folks who were willing to do whatever they could to help ease the situation.

We'd just like for all of us to keep all of them in our thoughts a while.


April 15

Marin Independent Journal: Marin grand jury finds disconnect in school discipline

The Marin County civil grand jury says Marin school administrators and trustees have some homework to do.

In a not-so-glowing report, the grand jury found that Marin public schools don't all follow uniform or up-to-date guidelines when it comes to dishing out discipline, in particular suspensions.

In fact, Marin schools suspend a lot of kids when state law calls for districts to do much more to keep those kids in school, learning.

One local educator told the grand jury, "Some parents and faculty don't want fluffy diversion stuff."

That attitude may not be pervasive across Marin schools, but the number of suspensions from local high schools exceeds the state average for cases that don't involve violence or breaking the law. Such suspensions account for about one-third of Marin's total.

The grand jury asks a good question: What good does suspending kids do for the education of those youngsters? How are those kids learning by not being in class?

"Most school suspensions inflict more harm than good," the grand jury writes in the opening sentence of its report.

The issue is even more troubling when statewide statistics show that most kids who are suspended frequently have struggles at home — poverty, abuse or neglect, possibly all three.

In addition, the state Education Code was changed last year to require that student suspensions for nonviolent offenses should be imposed "only after other means of correction fail."

The grand jury, which conducted 30 private interviews over five months, found that most local administrators or trustees had no clue about this change in the state code, yet they were making decisions about whether to kick pupils out of school.

As the ones with the responsibility and power to make such decisions, they should be up to date with changes in state policy.

Maybe the state standard is too "fluffy" for some local educators, but you would expect local school leaders to be following the rules and making sure that their rules are in keeping with state law.

The grand jury called this issue "a significant lapse in administrative oversight. This seems to be a case where a mandate slipped between governance cracks."

That's one of the reasons districts pay a lot for lawyers.

This disconnect should prompt questions from local school trustees.

Turnover of administrators, especially principals and vice principals, was cited by the grand jury as one of the reasons frequently given for why there may be a lack of clarity and uniformity about disciplinary policies from district to district, or even school to school.

That's not necessarily a good excuse, particularly when, as in some recent years, 500 to nearly 700 kids were kicked out of class.

The grand jury did its homework and found that local educators haven't done theirs.

Dealing with disciplinary issues is not an easy job, but when those handing out the discipline aren't sure about what's right or wrong, that's a problem that should be rectified — promptly.


April 15

The Desert Sun: Desert Recreation District's party was over the top.

Public agencies should appreciate their employees. But The Desert Sun believes the Desert Recreation District's $29,300 party was over the top.

The district's employee appreciation party in January included a mechanical bull; a four-piece band; tri-tip, barbecued chicken and corn on the cob; and an open beer and wine bar. Held along the San Andreas Fault, it also included Jeep rides provided by Desert Adventures, host of the party, and $3,800 worth of raffle prizes.

We don't begrudge employees having a good time, but in a district that has reduced its full-time work force from 52 to 33 employees, has frozen wages since 2009 and is considering asking voters to approve a tax increase, it seems like an excessive use of taxpayer money. Most disturbing was the reaction of board members. Three board members — Francisco Duran, Laura McGalliard and Sylvia Paz — said they were unaware of the costs of event details until after the party. Director Joanne Gilbert didn't return multiple phone calls.

Board President Rudy Acosta conceded that the party was "a little extravagant."

"I don't know what these things cost," he said. "We don't micromanage."

General Manager Kevin Kalman said he didn't realize the district was paying for alcohol, although he signed the five-page contract that detailed the expenses.

The Desert Recreation District was created in 1950. It serves the largest area of any recreation district in the state, more than 1,800 square miles from Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage to the Salton Sea. Property owners pay at least a $9.90 annual assessment — although many pay more — to support a $10 million yearly budget.

In January, the board met with consultants to consider a benefit assessment measure, a special tax or a park impact fee. The Fairfield-based SCI Consulting Group is conducting a feasibility study and the board will discuss the results in the fall, Kalman said.

Desert Adventures, a Palm Desert company that has been providing tours of the desert for 27 years, recently realized it didn't have the authority to cross a quarter-mile easement owned by the Bureau of Reclamation to access the open desert. The recreation district does have an agreement and is amending its paperwork to include the company. Such agreements are commonplace.

A district committee negotiated a $22,000 contract with Desert Adventures co-owner Kimberly Nilsson that included a "special arrangement." The party cost about half the price that an event like this would normally cost, she said.

"We did this at cost as a thank you," Nilsson said. Kalman added that there was nothing improper about the discount.

After The Desert Sun's investigation was published, the board approved another $509 for party expenses. Only director Paz — who was on maternity leave and didn't attend the party — publicly addressed the issue at that meeting, suggesting that employees might feel more appreciated with a pay raise instead of a party.

We agree with Kalman that it appears there was nothing improper about the party, except the big price tag. It was much more than most cities spend on employee appreciation events. When party time rolls around next year, we hope and expect Desert Recreation District leaders will micromanage. This board should have at least been aware enough to anticipate the public reaction. Our elected officials should monitor every expense. If they expect taxpayers to approve new taxes, it's the least they can do.


April 14

Redlands Daily Facts: Redlands fee waivers should not be automatic

The Redlands City Council voted to waive $70,666.80 in fees for Hangar 24 Charities' 2014 Airfest.

Hangar 24 Charities expects to raise $525,000 from the two-day event, according to information the group submitted included in a city staff report.

Waiving fees, in its barest form, is the difference between whether the people we elected decide how some money will be spent, presumably for the good of the whole community; or a nonprofit will decide, for the good of its cause.

In Hangar 24 Charities' case, the cause is Southern California citrus agriculture.

In most cases, waived fee money goes back into the Redlands community in some form.

Service club events fund community projects and scholarships to Redlands teens.

The Kiwanis Club, for example, gets $14,000 waived for the Run Through Redlands, and in the same month weeds the medians or paints the fire station on the Community Day of Service, obviating some city expenses.

Some beneficiaries of waivers, such as the Fourth-of-July Committee (about $14,000 waived yearly) and the University of Redlands, give back literally. They write periodic checks to the city.

Kiwanis was among the first to donate thousands to the city's 125th anniversary celebration, which launched with no budget.

The city grants all fee waiver requests, even those from out-of-towners who may hold an event at Sylvan Park.

Over the past four years the city has waived approximately $359,000, an average of $90,000 a year.

For one event to have $70,000 waived is a big increase.

The bicycle classic had been one of the biggest waivers at about $40,000.

Last year's air show waiver was about $19,000, (the one-day event generated $223,000 in revenue.)

Fee waivers are not built into the budget. The expenses get worked out through the budget's general flexibility.

The most concrete benefit to the city's supporting these events through waivers is maintaining the character of our community.

The Christmas parade, the Fourth-of-July celebration and the programs at the Redlands Bowl (the summer music program waivers equal about $41,000 a year) are the reason some residents live in or love Redlands. Pull up a blanket, neighbor, and share my fried chicken.

For $90,000 a year, that may be a great investment.

Whether the shows would go on if the organization had to cover city fees, no one can or will say.

The air show of 2011 didn't. But the numbers in the city staff report suggest Airfest 2014 could.

Does it matter? Shouldn't the city support on principle the things that make Redlands Redlands?

It all comes down to priorities, and whose will be funded.

Do you mind an uneven sidewalk, if the trade-off is a Hometown USA Independence Day in the park? That's an over-simplification but you get the idea. For many, it's an easy trade.

And depending on your perspective, it's either not much money or it's a lot.

Ninety thousand a year would not fund an additional police officer or make a difference to our damaged roads, but it could keep the Community Center or the library open extra hours. It would keep the Animal Shelter from asking for dog food donations.

There is also the argument that these events boost the local economy.

There are not data that measure this, but hotel operators say they go from 70 percent to 90 percent occupancy during the Bicycle Classic, and with 12,000 to 15,000 people in downtown Redlands for the Believe Walk, surely some will eat and shop while they're there.

It's likely these events generate discovery of our unique shops and restaurants. Out-of-towners popping over for the Shakespeare Festival ($28,000 a year waived, but not this year) may get introduced to the grown-up grilled cheese at Brewcakes and never look back. In fact we just published that Redlands is developing a reputation as a food and beverage destination across the state.

For those wavering on waivers, a middle ground may be most attractive.

The fees are a combination of hard and soft — the soft funding paperwork processing and permits; the hard creating police, fire and trash bills for the city. (Sometimes the city has to pay to rent a trailer or other equipment, for example.)

One idea is that only soft fees be waived (for fiscal year 2012-13 that totaled $24,000 versus $91,000 in hard fees). Another is that soft fees minus public safety expenses be waived.

Another is that out-of-town groups have to pay the fees, but Redlands groups don't.

There's a lot to waver on, but one thing seems obvious. There should be some basis of discrimination.

At the least, when a group can easily pay its fees, it should.


The Press Enterprise: Moreno Valley College VP should go

April 15

The best thing would be for Gregory Sandoval to resign his position as Moreno Valley College's vice president of student services. As the Press-Enterprise reported, he pleaded guilty April 4 to one felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime and one misdemeanor count of failing to report gifts received as required by state law.

The case involved his time as a member of the Board of Trustees in the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista from 1994 to 2010. He took gifts that involved "votes that awarded those contractors multimillion-dollar projects," the newspaper reported.

After his guilty plea, Mr. Sandoval was suspended with pay by the Riverside Community College District, which oversees Moreno Valley College. But he continues to collect his salary of $151,811 a year.

"He should resign, if he had any decency left in his soul," Nicholas Bavaro told us. Mr. Bavaro, who heads Bavaro Employee Benefits in Modesto, was formerly a member of the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which sets the pay and benefits of the governor, legislators and other state officials.

Based on his experience on the commission, Mr. Bavaro lamented, "This kind of corruption is unfortunately a commonplace in the public sector. We've seen three state senators go down in flames. Now we see it in your area." He was referring to the recent federal indictments against three Democratic state senators, Leland Yee of San Francisco, Rod Wright of Los Angeles and Ron Calderon of Montebello.

Mr. Wright was convicted of felony perjury and voter fraud. The other two senators' cases are pending. All three have been suspended by the Senate, yet technically remain in office drawing paychecks.

As of Tuesday, Mr. Sandoval's situation remained under administrative review by the Riverside Community College District Board of Trustees, said Robert Schmidt, the district's senior public affairs officer. Until then, he said, Mr. Sandoval continues on "paid administrative leave." Mr. Schmidt did not have a timeline for when the board will make a decision.

If this were the private sector, Mr. Sandoval already would have been fired, Mr. Bavaro said. He added that such offenses are even more serious in the public sector because "precious tax dollars" are involved. "Sometimes these people don't get it. They think their position comes along with an ATM card," he said.

Mr. Sandoval's job also involved direct contact with students. If he remains in his job, he can't help but negatively affect Moreno Valley students because, "If you do these kinds of things, it's going to affect everything you do, because your character is involved. His character and his integrity are in question," Mr. Bavaro said.

The board should meet quickly and take action. This is not an accusation for wrongdoing for which he deserves his day in court. He already had his day in court and pleaded guilty to a felony.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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