Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Coastal greetings and wishes for a Happy New Year

Greetings from California's Central Coast. My wife and I are in Santa Cruz today to attend what in my opinion is the best New Year's Eve party on the West Coast. It's a dinner and dance that's held each year in the Coconut Grove ballroom, which overlooks the ocean at the Boardwalk.

We've been coming to this each year since 2010, and the event always features a great live band and, of course, the countdown to midnight. Attendees tend to be older professionals like ourselves, and although people definitely get happy, there aren't any crazy drunks like we experienced on a New Year's Eve in Red Bluff a few years back. As non-drinkers, we don't mind a party atmosphere, but we're not into serving as pinballs for sloppy drunks, either.

We had plenty of reasons to be thankful in 2013, including two great jobs with great bosses. I'm particularly thankful to you, the readers, for pushing this blog's traffic way above what it's been in previous years. This summer's redesign of CapitalPress.com brought scores of curious new readers, and it appears some of those readers have happened upon the Jefferson Journal. Meanwhile, the decisions by several California newspapers to put most of their content behind a paywall has sent readers scrambling for other places to get their news. In any case, December marked the Jefferson Journal's second-biggest month in terms of web traffic (with March being the biggest), by far surpassing the old Redding.com days, and I'm glad you've stopped by.

However, as I said yesterday, the Capital Press prefers to look forward. So may you have a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

What's in store for farmers and ranchers in 2014?

While some newspapers are devoting staff time to compiling silly "Top Stories of 2013" lists, the Capital Press chooses to look forward. In that spirit, our centerpiece story this week will offer a comprehensive, big-picture look at what's in store for farmers and ranchers in 2014.

My contribution is to look at fuel costs, and to summarize, American Farm Bureau Federation economist Matt Erickson agrees with the U.S. Energy Information Administration's prediction that gas and diesel prices should ease a bit in the coming year because of increasing domestic crude oil production and improved efficiency of cars.

The photo is from Redding's TA truck stop, which I visited Friday morning.

Our other reporters have been delving into farm income, credit, feed prices, the world of fertilizers and seeds, and taxes and regulation.

Look for our story on Page One of the upcoming issue, or check CapitalPress.com after New Year's.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Siskiyou activist: Montague water settlement 'stinks'

This week's legal settlement over the Dwinnell Dam in Siskiyou County isn't sitting well with tea party stalwart Liz Bowen, who writes several blogs on behalf of Scott Valley Protect Our Water and the State of Jefferson movement.

She writes:
Shasta River is teaming with chinook salmon, steelhead, trout and other fish. It is a healthy river. These fish do quite well with the agricultural irrigation systems. There is enough water for these fish. Making coho try to live in a river that isn’t “naturally” a positive habitat is cruel and inhumane. This has been scientifically proven. Klamath River Keepers and Karuk Tribal leaders are using the court system to demean and destroy the City of Montague, Lake Shastina home owners and Shasta Valley farmers and ranchers. Bottom line: The cost of continuing this lawsuit was just too much. I am disgusted and disheartened at our corrupt court system that allows Greenies and political interests to beat law abiding citizens and used environmental lies as the basis for the lawsuit to begin with. Mark my words, this is not the end of the persecution from Klamath RiverKeepers and Karuk Tribal leaders.
But wait, there's more:
I could rant all night on this subject. But will make this statement loud and clear:

I allege this is extortion.

I allege our court system is upside down and facilitates this extortion.

This case was built on myth and lies.

Shasta Valley land and home owners should not have to pay for the Greenies and Karuk’s attorney fees — they are the ones that brought the lawsuit!

Friday, December 27, 2013

PG&E to donate Tehama land to Forest Service

As part of its nearly 10-year-old bankruptcy settlement, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. wants to donate its 151-acre Deer Creek property in Tehama County to the U.S. Forest Service, the Stewardship Council announced late this afternoon.

The utility has submitted a request to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval of the gift.

The plan and the letter can be viewed here.

For A&E, it's duck and cover: Phil back on

It was only a matter of time. A&E has backpedaled on the "Duck Dynasty" controversy, announcing late today that Phil Robertson is again part of the show.

Breitbart News' Christian Toto rightly credits the New Media with a stunning victory.
Phil Robertson can go back to work thanks, in part, to New Media outlets which rallied to the reality star's side.

A&E announced it will resume filming Duck Dynasty, along with family patriarch Phil Robertson, in the spring. [...]

The network quickly suspended Robertson while media outlets misrepresented his comments in standard, pile-on fashion. That wasn't a match for the show's rabid fan base, which signed online petitions en masse to get Robertson back on the air, showed their love for him via Facebook, and plotted an appreciation day for their hirsute hero.

Breitbart News ran more than 35 stories related to the suspension since the news hit Dec. 19.
Forget whether you agree with Robertson's views about homosexuality or not; that was never my point. As this episode reaches its inevitable end, it'd be hard to find a more stark reminder that the rules in the media world are changing, much to the chagrin of the old media monopoly.

2013 to be California's driest year on record

As we finish out the final days of 2013, the calendar year is likely to go down as the driest year in California history.

From AccuWeather:
Almost all of the Golden State is under either a severe or extreme drought with no end in sight heading into 2014.

This prolonged drought has contributed to the heightened risk of wildfires over the past several months and is raising major concerns in the agriculture industry.

Looking at the forecast through the remainder of 2013 and into the beginning of 2014, it appears as though very little rain -- if any at all -- will fall across the state.

"With the huge agricultural community already burdened by high prices of water and big restrictions on the amount of water allocated, this bleak outlook could be quite significant," said Ken Clark, AccuWeather.com Western U.S. Expert.

"This much lack of rain over such a long period of time could prove to be catastrophic for farmers."

Looking at the six most populated cities in California, San Diego is the only city that has received more than 50 precent of its normal yearly rainfall. That being said, San Diego is still well below their normal yearly rainfall total.

Although there are still a few days for these numbers to change, it is unlikely that they will do so with no rain in the forecast for any of these cities through the rest of 2013.

California is currently in the middle of their 'rainy season,' which is considered to last from October to March.

This time frame is known as the 'rainy season' due to the fact that during these months, there is typically a greater chance for rain than the other months of the year.

With only three months left in the current rainy season, many Californians are hoping that things will pick up to help battle the extreme drought.
All may not be lost -- yet. As former Redding "Weather Geek" Scott Mobley told blogger Marc Beauchamp recently:
"Calendar years contain parts of two water years, and it's conceivable you could get an exceptionally dry winter and spring followed by a dry fall, as we are getting this calendar year, creating the impression of extreme drought when the prior fall was unusually wet (as fall 2012 was) and the coming winter and spring could still bring abundant rain and snow (fingers crossed!), generating two below-par, but not catastrophically dry water years. [...]

"Yes, it's true the bulk of the rainfall season is still ahead. But we've lost December -- the ridging over the eastern Pacific shunting the jet stream through western Canada shows no signs of breaking down before year's end, and could well persist into January for all we know. Once you lose fall you pretty much lose any chance for a drought-busting, above-average rainfall year. The best we can hope for now is a decently wet winter and spring that could still generate near-average precip this water year and make up a good part of the deficit. And, California weather being what it is, it's still possible to get truly epic rainfall January through March with storms continuing into spring that could even deliver above-average precip for the water year. But it's not likely."
In calendar year 2013, Redding has recorded 12.8 inches of rain -- a mere fraction of the 33.54 inches we usually get in a year, according to the National Weather Service. Since July 1, we've gotten 3.5 inches; our normal accumulation by this time of year is 12.68 inches.

As the Capital Press has reported, Gov. Jerry Brown has set up a task force of top state officials to try to help farmers and others make the best of the situation, and Department of Water Resources experts will give a presentation on the drought to the state Board of Food and Agriculture on Jan. 7 in Sacramento.

For our coverage of the meeting and the issue, keep an eye on CapitalPress.com.

Shasta rancher takes first prize in photo contest

Cottonwood-area rancher Crystal Amen took first prize in a division of the California Farm Bureau Federation's annual photo contest with a shot at the Shasta Livestock Auction Yard.

Looking to take photos for the walls of a friend's coffee shop, Amen "caught the cattle as they were coming down the back pens, and I caught it just right," she told AgAlert.

The photo, seen above, was good enough for first place in the "All in a Day's Work at the Farm" category. Amen and her husband, Chad, own a small cow-calf operation and she works at a strawberry nursery.

Among other north state winners:

*Sixth-generation Butte County rice grower Tracy Schohr, a former California Rangeland Conservation Coalition director, won the grand prize for her photo of the rice harvest.

*Glenn County farmer Marianne Couto took second place in the "Kids and Critters on the Farm" division with a photograph of her sons playing outside at the family's farm.

*Chico area nut grower Angelina Cinquini earned second place in the "All in a Day's Work" competition by photographing her 91-year-old grandmother sorting sticks and rocks from a load of almonds.

This is the 32nd year the statewide Farm Bureau has conducted its photo contest. The grand prize winner earned $500. First-place winners in the individual categories each received $250, with second-place winners each getting $100.

To see all the winners and their photos, click here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Officials say suit threatened district, cost millions

Montague water officials assert their district had to settle an environmental group's lawsuit over Dwinnell Dam or risk closing its doors, and that the lawsuit ended up costing the community more than $2 million.

From the Montague Water Conservation District, issued late Monday:
MWCD is pleased to announce that on December 20, 2013 it settled a lawsuit brought by the Klamath Riverkeeper and Karuk Tribe in 2012 regarding coho salmon in the Shasta River. The Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe sued the Montague Water Conservation District (MWCD) in 2012 alleging violations of the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) for take of threatened Coho salmon within the Shasta River watershed, a major tributary to the Klamath River. MWCD denies that it violated the ESA. In fact, MWCD maintains its past and future operations provide substantial benefits to the fisheries in the watershed.

MWCD owns and operates several irrigation diversions within the Shasta River watershed including its storage facility, Lake Shastina. MWCD is the largest irrigation district in the Shasta Valley providing water to over 220 agricultural operations producing pasture and hay as well as municipal water to the City of Montague.

Conflict between the water needs of agricultural production and those advocating for increased instream cold water habitats has been an issue in the Shasta Valley for many years, largely centering around the extensive cumulative irrigation diversions that may impact cold water habitats for Coho salmon.

MWCD is pleased that the terms of the settlement agreement are consistent with the long established conservation objectives that the district has long been promoting and implementing. In 2006 MWCD and other proactive agricultural operators in the Scott and Shasta Rivers attempted to acquire ESA coverage for incidental take of Coho salmon through standard agricultural operational activities in exchange for collectively protecting, expanding and enhancing Coho salmon habitat. This was a community and agency supported effort intended to protect fishery resources while also preventing legal challenges against proactive family farms. However, this effort was thwarted by environmental groups, including Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe, that successfully sued in 2011to prevent the implementation of the fully developed program. MWCD found it extremely disheartening to then be sued by the very entities that eliminated a locally developed program for not having the take coverage that program would have provided.

Terms of the recent settlement include interim objectives of increased water releases from Lake Shastina to the Shasta River and additional by-pass flows on Parks Creek, a major tributary to the Shasta River. MWCD also agreed to install a fish screen on Parks Creek and improve operational infrastructure for release flows from Lake Shastina. MWCD will also develop operational plans and has agreed to pay legal fees for Klamath Riverkeeper and Karuk Tribe totaling $550,000 over six years. Finally, MWCD agreed to continue its efforts to obtain incidental take coverage of Coho salmon.

All told the lawsuit likely cost the community over two million dollars between the three parties. MWCD's annual gross income is between $400,000 - $500,000 annually while Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe’s combined annual gross income exceeds $30 million. The financial reality was that MWCD had to settle the lawsuit or permanently close its doors for the simple fact it could not afford to continue and defend itself in this complex, aggressive lawsuit. MWCD credits the Karuk Tribal Council who eventually empathized with the irrigation district and the citizens of the City of Montague, many whom belong to the Karuk Tribe, and sought ways to find a resolution.

MWCD appreciates the support provided by the community, especially the City of Montague. If it were not for the aid of the community, MWCD would certainly be closed. Still, MWCD has had to lay off all but one of its staff and faces many serious financial challenges as it meets the financial obligations of the settlement terms. While MWCD is financially strained as a result of the legal challenge, it will steadfastly meet the objectives of the agreement, meet the needs of its users, and provide water for the City of Montague. Montague Water Conservation District will not fail.

Finally, MWCD does not promote or hold anger towards the Karuk Tribe. The Karuk Tribe and its members are a critical and vital component of our community and it is the involvement of Tribal Council and their sense of community ultimately made settlement possible. However, it was apparent through this process that the recent financial growth and diversification of the Karuk Tribe has led to actions extending beyond the steady management of the Council.

Signed by the Directors of the Montague Water Conservation District.

'Reverse shopping' shows economy still in the tank

As The Kinks taught us years ago, when you're broke you'd rather have money than toys. So as the economy continues to sputter, many Americans are cashing in their Christmas haul.

From London's Daily Telegraph:
Retailers have had a rough ride this Christmas, in America as much as in the UK. The US economy was growing at an annual rate of 4.1pc in the third quarter – its fastest in two years – but that growth has been driven by businesses stockpiling goods on their shelves rather than final sales. [...]

Many people are scouring for bargains simply because their financial belts are still pulled painfully tight. Many people will not be shopping at all: they will actually be doing the reverse.

In a stark reminder of how tough things still are for low-income families in America, McDonalds has advised workers to dig themselves "out of holiday debt" by cashing in their Christmas haul.

"You may want to consider returning some of your unopened purchases that may not seem as appealing as they did," said a website set up for employees.

"Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash."

Those fast-food workers may well need to do just that. According to McDonalds' own recommended pay for staff, a full-time employee earns just $1,105 (£677) a month. Is this "reverse shopping" really one of the mechanisms low-income America uses to combat debt? Soberingly, it seems so.

America's GDP may be on track, but below the headline figure the picture remains patchy, with millions of families still struggling to make ends meet, if they can find employment at all.

About 15pc of Americans fall below the poverty line, defined as an income of $23,492 for a family of four. Nearly half of those are in "deep poverty", with a household income of less than half that figure.
Again, leave it to the British press to report what's really going on in America. You probably won't see this story in your local newspaper, or read anything about an impending fiscal and social collapse because of Obamacare. Editors have long since lost their laser-like focus on "this economy" that's "hurting real people." They're too busy wrapping up their "Best of 2013" puff pieces.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Karuks settle with district on Dwinnell Dam suit

The Karuk Tribe and environmental group Klamath Riverkeeper have reached a legal settlement with the Montague Water Conservation District on management of the Shasta River, a key tributary to the beleaguered Klamath River.

From the tribe:
Today the Karuk Tribe and Klamath Riverkeeper announced that they have reached a settlement with Montague Water Conservation District (MWCD) that will dismiss litigation the groups filed in August 2012. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, alleged that MWCD’s dams and diversions on the Shasta River lead to the illegal killing of endangered coho salmon populations in the Shasta River. According the complaint, MWCD is violating the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) by killing ESA listed coho salmon without a take permit.

The Agreement focuses on a new management strategy for Dwinnell Reservoir as opposed to cutting flows to irrigators so MWCD should not see a big difference in the volumes of water it diverts.

“We worked hard to find a solution that would start the fisheries restoration process but keep our neighbors in agriculture whole,” said Karuk Chairman Buster Attebery.

Historically, MWCD has diverted approximately 22,000 acre feet of water a year on average. The Agreement allows MWCD to divert 20,500 acre feet of water for irrigation although in dry years they may get less and in wet years they will get more. Water models predict that average diversion over time will be nearly the same as historic average diversions.

The Shasta River is considered by many fisheries biologists to be one of the most important spawning and rearing habitats in the entire Klamath Basin.

“Since Dwinnell Dam was built in 1926, nearly the entire river has been diverted leaving salmon high and dry. This has been a key factor in the decline of ESA listed coho salmon,” explains Karuk DNR Director Leaf Hillman.

The settlement will result in 2,250 to 11,000 acre feet of water being released from Dwinnell Dam for fisheries benefits each year with the exact volume for any given year dependent on how wet the preceding winter was. Currently, fish only receive a few hundred acre feet of water a year in the Shasta River from Dwinnell if any at all.

Friday, December 20, 2013

'Dynasty' flap exposes media bereft of ideas, morals

When cable TV first became popular a few decades ago, networks were unique and different. Lifetime was about exercise and healthy living. Discovery focused on science and nature. TLC was The Learning Channel, with educational programming. A&E was Arts and Entertainment, focusing on the arts. And the History Channel was, well, a history channel. But now all these networks are virtually interchangeable, all peddling the same trashy so-called "reality" shows that reinforce elites' stereotypes of middle America without really reflecting middle America at all.

"Duck Dynasty" is one such show -- or at least it was supposed to be. It was intended as a means to mock Southerners, hunters, patriotic people and Christians as rednecks and rubes, but when the Robertson family actually struck a chord with middle America and built one of the most-watched shows in cable TV history, the elites began to hate and resent the show. They were looking for their opportunity to kill it, and the present controversy might be their opportunity.

The fallout from Phil Robertson's suspension from A&E has been eye-opening. Advertisers and most of the country are siding with Robertson, even if they don't agree with what he said, while much of the media is defending A&E. However, the fact that major media personalities have little regard for basic American concepts like freedom of expression isn't news. In my view, this flap exposes a much deeper problem within our culture, with which many Americans may be just now coming to terms.

The fact is that we have a handful of media mega-corporations that regard us as a captive audience, and they'll show us the images they want us to see and bombard us with the worldview they want us to adopt. If somebody goes off-message, as the Robertsons have with "Duck Dynasty", they get smacked down. Hard.

John Nolte of Breitbart News sums the problem up perfectly, calling bundled cable "the root of too many political and cultural evils to count." He writes:
If you are wondering why low-rated cable television shows and networks not only stay alive but also manage to be profitable, it is due to the bundled cable racket that forces over a hundred million Americans to pay for dozens of channels they don't like and/or watch. For example, if you want Fox News but have to get CNN and MSNBC in the package, chances are very good that CNN and MSNBC are getting a chunk of your cable bill.

Yep, that is right. This racket has been so perfected that not only is failure rewarded, the networks can pretty much broadcast whatever they like because ratings don't matter all that much. And when you have 100 channels owned by a half-dozen or so multi-nationals, they are also pretty much boycott proof.

It is a simple and sad fact that America is already not-watching CNN, MSNBC, Jon Stewart, and others, but they still have an impact because Big Entertainment makes billions from bundled cable and can therefore afford to keep them on the air. The left-wing monopoly on our culture is subsidized not by popular acclaim but by bundled cable.
However, Nolte also shows us the solution in a piece about where the Robertsons will end up after A&E. The "Duck Dynasty" boys, he says, hold all the cards.
To begin with, like James Bond, Harry Potter and Jack Ryan, "Duck Dynasty" is its own brand and franchise; a bona fide cultural phenomenon that doesn’t need A&E to survive. Moreover, Phil Robertson and his clan do not even need Hollywood to survive. Left-wing Hollywood no longer owns and can bottleneck distribution of content.

There is online streaming, the Internet, and a number of upstart cable networks that are not beholden to the New McCarthyism.
For proof of this, check out all the choices on Roku. It's kind of like cable used to be; name a concept or a niche, and there's an app for it. Want movies, music videos, religious programs or sports? It's all covered. And you'll find even more choices if you hook up a computer to your TV, which is easy to do nowadays. There are even a few channels for ag.

Believe me, the mega-corporations know about the alternative viewing options online and are fighting them tooth and nail. This week, a company I've been a customer of since 2001, Sky Angel, quietly told us it was ceasing operations after protracted legal battles with content providers over its offering an IPTV service with only family-friendly networks.

Sky Angel gave up the fight, but we as a society shouldn't. Now more than ever, it's time to break the monopoly of a media system that doesn't reflect the people it is supposed to serve but tries to impose its worldview on the rest of us.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

State agency's drought team to seek solutions

California's Department of Water Resources is setting up a drought management team to help farmers and others make it through what is expected to be a dry 2014.

From an agency press release:
DWR Director Mark Cowin said the department is focusing its personnel and programs “to offset potentially devastating impacts to citizen health, well-being and our economy." [...]

Among DWR’s principal concerns is the plight of farmers who must operate with markedly less water than needed for crops. Especially vulnerable to dry conditions will be farmers –and the farm communities that depend on agricultural jobs -- on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. DWR will also be watching for drinking water impacts in small rural communities whose fractured rock groundwater sources will be stressed by a third dry year.
Officials from the DWR will make a presentation on the drought at the California Board of Food and Agriculture's meeting Jan. 7 in Sacramento.

The move comes as Gov. Jerry Brown has set up a task force to deal with drought issues, on which Cowin is expected to sit.

I have calls out to state agencies to gauge just how much help ag could receive as a result of these efforts, since farmers -- particularly those south of the Delta -- can expect little or no state or federal water next year unless we have a wet January and February. And a wet start to 2014 doesn't appear likely.

Outlook is bright for cow-calf producers in 2014

2014 may be a good year for cattle producers, as a tightening supply of cows and a strong global demand for beef figure to keep cattle prices up through the year.

As the Capital Press' Carol Ryan Dumas reports:
U.S. feeder cattle and calf cash prices are record-high in the high $160s and mid $180s per hundredweight, respectively, and should be supported through 2014. Lower feed grain costs will support both herd expansion and the feeder prices from feedlot owners, [analyst Casey Bieroth] said.

Producers in the Northwest, where prices are lower than the U.S. average, should expect feeder cattle prices from $150 to $155 for most of 2014. Fed cattle prices should range from the mid $120s to mid $130s per hundredweight, he said.

Tight supplies are going to favor higher prices until the U.S. cattle herd expands, but there will be regional challenges for Idaho and surrounding states. The region is still suffering from drought and tight forage availability and is burdened by environmental issues, such as sage grouse recovery, he said.
The cattle outlook is the topic of our latest podcast on our flagship blog, Blogriculture, which you can listen to here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Governor establishes state drought task force

Gov. Jerry Brown has sent a letter to top state officials asking them to set up a task force to address California's worsening drought. The move could precede a formal statewide drought declaration.

In the letter to CDFA secretary Karen Ross, State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, Department of Water Resources chairman Mark Cowin and Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci, Brown said:
In the last year, California has experienced some of the driest periods on record, leading the State to announce extremely low initial water allocations. The federal government likely will soon follow suit.

In light of these conditions, I am directing that you immediately convene an Interagency Drought Task Force to meet weekly and review expected allocations, our state of preparedness and whether conditions warrant declaration of a statewide drought.

We must do everything we can to address the impacts of water shortages and move water from where it is available to where it is needed. These actions include establishing a clearinghouse of water shortage-related information; assessing the regions most affected by dry conditions and the local community socio- and economic impacts within those regions; and, determining potential water transfers, infrastructure improvements, water tracking, and other actions that could alleviate the impacts of water shortages. These measures will work in concert with my directive earlier this year to expedite voluntary transfers of water and water rights to alleviate critical impacts to San Joaquin Valley agriculture and Department of Water Resources' designation of a drought coordinator.

The Task Force should coordinate with federal and local agencies to ensure that together we can respond to next year's water shortages, and protect our people and natural resources.
Watch for our coverage of this issue at CapitalPress.com.

North state ministry leader blasts Obamacare

A prominent north state clergyman is speaking out against Obamacare, arguing that it robs Americans of the freedom that God intended for us.

Rev. James Wilson, an Episcopal priest who founded the ministry PrayNorthState, writes:
A close associate of mine got a 5% cost of living raise effective January 1. The trouble is it will not be enough to cover the hike in her medical premium – not near enough. The same story is repeating in multiple versions all over the country as the Obamacare disaster infects greater and greater multitudes. We have heard about the now six million Americans cancelled by their insurance companies because their policies no longer meet government standards – and the standard official line that these cancellations are good for their victims because they are forced to buy new policies that include pregnancy care for men and gender adjustment treatment for the 99.5% of Americans who do not want it. But this is only in the individually mandated market, where government is counting on massive purchases of unwanted insurance to pay for the treatments of those who need them.

Anticipating the delayed coming of the business mandates companies have cut back large swaths of their workers to part-time status so their employers will not be forced to buy all or part of their insurance. That means employees have less income to buy much more expensive insurance when government blithely tells them to just go to the exchanges – the ones that do not operate in the first place due to technical incompetence. And when government legislates that fewer hours will now constitute full-time, the employers simply cut hours further to get under the lowered bar.

What if we if insisted on authentic healthcare reform?
Read his entire column here.

His observations come as impacts from the new health care law are being felt all throughout the Redding area, as family doctors are closing their practices, some medical groups have stopped accepting Medi-Cal, at least one government agency has cut many of its workers back to part-time and county officials are pondering the potential threat to the viability of volunteer fire departments.

Strawberry production assured of another record

Strawberry producers in California are assured of their seventh record-breaking season in the past eight years, as this year's production has already surpassed last year's total.

Strawberry farmers in California had produced more than 193 million trays as of last Friday, topping their entire 2012 production of 191 million trays, according to Carolyn O'Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission.

Strawberries were grown on 40,192 acres this year, up from 37,732 last year.

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is Congress trying to stop televangelists?

An organization that lobbies for religious broadcasters argues a bill in Congress seeking to do away with the more than 20-year-old "must-carry" regulation for cable companies is a threat to the viability of religious TV stations.

Call me skeptical.

First of all, religious TV absolutely owns online. There are literally hundreds of Christian, Jewish and even Muslim and other religious streaming apps available on Roku, from the sermon webcasts of the little church on the corner to mega-networks such as TBN. Many of them broadcast in HD quality that's comparable to cable and satellite. Secondly, people are moving away from cable and toward online viewing, promising these outlets a growing potential audience.

Third, DirecTV offers nearly 20 national religious channels, and Dish has quite a few as well. They don't have to, but there's an audience for these channels. And finally, a lot of local faith-based channels are too small or weak to qualify for must-carry anyway. The network that must-carry helped the most was PBS, which gained several channels on the cable system where I lived when must-carry took effect. One of them was this obscure little channel out of San Francisco that showed some hippie sitting under a tree with a guitar singing "America Bastard" - on my dime.

I think religious broadcasters ought to be a little careful. If they're going to start relying on the subsidy that is must-carry, they won't very well be able to turn around and complain when the same government starts regulating their speech about political and social issues.

Monday, December 16, 2013

LaMalfa explains vote for controversial budget deal

As conservatives continue to rail at House Republicans for "caving" with the Ryan-Murray budget deal, the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa defended it as fiscally sound in an online message to constituents.

LaMalfa stated:
Last week, I voted in favor of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the first bicameral and bipartisan budget agreed upon since 1986. Let me be clear, the deal is not perfect. It does not solve our nation’s spending problem or fix the long-term problems that plague our economy. However, it is a positive step in the right direction to put us on the path to permanent reforms that will help us get our country back on a fiscally sustainable track. While I would support a proposal that further reduces spending to "sequester" levels, there are not the votes to pass that plan. This budget recognizes the realities of divided government while staying true to conservative principles. We’ve protected the military from cuts, passed federal pension reform and included new protections against waste, fraud and abuse. The bill, H.J. Res. 59, was negotiated by the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees and passed the House on a bipartisan 332-94 vote. [...]

Continuing the cycle of enacting temporary stop gap funding bills only kicks the can down the road. Now is the time for Congress and the President to agree on a long term plan to reduce the deficit and balance the budget.

The two-year agreement settles federal funding for the coming fiscal year at $1.012 trillion, a reduction of $115 billion from the $1.127 trillion the government was spending when I took office. According to spending figures included in the 2013 Congressional Research Service report,“The Budget Control Act of 2011: The Effects on Spending and the Budget Deficit," the agreement spends less than Democrats’ request and previous Republican budgets as illustrated in the chart below.

Key provisions of the bill include eliminating wasteful entitlements, ending favoritism in corporate welfare, and creating real reforms that start to address the real problems our country faces. The agreement does not raise taxes, makes responsible spending cuts, maintains a strong military, and ensures the government continues to provide essential services. By implementing permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs, it would reduce the federal deficit by approximately $23 billion over the next two years.

This agreement brings transparency to the budget process and returns control of spending to Congress by ending the practice of passing Continuing Resolutions, which essentially rubber-stamp the President’s spending plans and empower bureaucracies. Passing a budget means that the House will hold open hearings and consider each program on its merits in a true appropriations process, rather than simply giving the President a lump sum to use as he sees fit. We’re moving away from the status quo and restoring Congress’ power to restrain spending through an open appropriations process.

By returning the budget process back to regular order, the agreement provides certainty to businesses and families across America.

Friday, December 13, 2013

One conservative is praising Time magazine

That would be author and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt (in my opinion the best in the business, with apologies to Rush and Sean). He likes the magazine's choice of Pope Francis as its Person of the Year.

He writes:
Pope Francis is an extraordinary man having a profound impact on the world, just as his two predecessors did. That Time would acknowledge him as the single most important news-maker in 2013 even after his traditionalist theology has become obvious is something of a marvel.

Delegates re-elect Wenger as CFBF president

Farm Bureau members attending a state convention in Monterey this week unanimously re-elected Paul Wenger to his third two-year term as the statewide organization's president.

Wenger, who took the California Farm Bureau Federation's reins in December 2009, told delegates Dec. 11 he intends to "double down" in his efforts to "support, protect and promote this great industry and all of you."

A walnut and almond grower from Modesto, Wenger has held a statewide office since 1997 and is the CFBF's 15th president. During his tenure, he has sought to boost political fundraising to increase agriculture's clout in Sacramento.

He is joined by First Vice President Kenny Watkins and Second Vice President Jamie Johanson, who were also re-elected to third terms.

Here is the CFBF's full press release. Here is AgAlert's coverage of his speech to the delegates.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

LaMalfa supports Ryan-Murray budget deal

Though it's been panned by conservative movement leaders such as Sarah Palin, the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa voted with the majority today in passing the budget deal crafted by House budget chairman Paul Ryan and Washington's Sen. Patty Murray.

From LaMalfa:
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) today voted in favor a measure setting federal funding for the coming fiscal year at $1.012 trillion, a reduction of $115 billion from the $1.127 trillion the government was spending when LaMalfa took office. The bill, H.J. Res. 59, was negotiated by the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees and passed the House on a bipartisan 332-94 vote.

“The measure we passed today represents a true compromise that both sides agree on and still reduces federal spending significantly,” said LaMalfa. “While I would support a budget that further reduces funding to sequester levels, such a plan does not have enough votes to pass. This budget recognizes the realities of divided government while staying true to conservative principles. We’ve protected the military from cuts, passed federal pension reform and included new protections against waste, fraud and abuse.”

“This agreement brings transparency to the budget process and returns control of spending to Congress by ending the practice of passing Continuing Resolutions, which essentially rubber-stamp the President’s spending plans and empower bureaucracies,” LaMalfa added. “Passing a budget means that the House will hold open hearings and consider each program on its merits in a true appropriations process, rather than imply giving the President a lump sum to use almost as he sees fit. We’re moving away from the status quo and restoring Congress’ power to restrain spending through an open appropriations process.”

Major components of the budget plan include the following:

· $28 billion in targeted deficit reduction cuts that replace the blanket;

· The plan reforms new federal employees’ share of pension contributions to save over $6 billion, without affecting current retirees.

· Medicare payments are streamlined to create $1.4 billion in savings;

· Over $240 million is saved by preventing inmates from receiving fraudulent tax returns and unemployment payments;

· Over $160 million in fraudulent unemployment payments are blocked through state-federal cooperation.

Shasta County waiting for word on volunteers

Shasta County is waiting for the federal government to address concerns of how volunteer firefighters will be counted under Obamacare before taking any official action, a top county analyst told me this afternoon.

The county has looked into the amount of work put in by the roughly 200 volunteers that work with the 18 or so fire companies that are under the county's umbrella, and none of them volunteer more than 30 hours a week even during peak fire season, principal administrative analyst Julie Hope said.

However, how federal agencies treat volunteers under the new health care law could be significant because many of the county's departments use them, Hope said.

"We're just waiting to see what they tell us is the law, then comply with the law," she said.

As I have reported, many fire chiefs fear that thousands of volunteer fire companies in rural areas could find themselves out of money and unable to operate unless Congress or the administration exempts them from Obamacare. A Pennsylvania congressman has introduced a bill that would do just that.

In the photos, from the top: Shasta Lake fire engineer Phillip Moyer works to lower the ceiling level around the station's firehouse pole; volunteer Grayson Hartman checks equipment in a rescue truck; and Shasta Lake fire chief Adrian Rogers (center) talks to emergency medical technicians from Mercy Medical Center in Redding.

For my story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Poll shows promise for State of Jefferson movement

Predictably, many media outlets are scornfully portraying yesterday's Field Poll on the question of creating a State of Jefferson as an embarrassing rebuke of the movement. Leaving aside the Field Poll's sometimes spotty credibility for a moment, if I were involved in the Jefferson push (which I'm not), I'd be extremely encouraged by the survey's results.

This movement is in its infancy. There have been resolutions in two counties and it's going to the ballot in a third. There has been absolutely zero campaigning. All most Californians know about this issue is what they've heard or read in the media. Yet when you ask them out of the blue whether it should be done, a full 25 percent say yes! Think about it; this is essentially the brainchild of a few activists in Siskiyou County who've spent no money or resources to speak of, and they already have the support of a quarter of the state.

Plus, when you look at the other side, you have to realize there are a lot of reasons for saying no without rejecting the merits of the idea. One real obstacle that the proponents face is that many people think this area is just too rural and too economically depressed to form the tax base necessary to keep a state government afloat. There are ways I think proponents could address this, which I'll lay out one of these days. But I'm sure more than a few respondents thought, "Look, I understand how they feel, but I just don't think they can succeed."

All in all, the poll results certainly aren't enough to make the proponents turn tail and run, nor should they be.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bill seeks to shield volunteer fire companies

As concern for volunteer fire departments continues to mount, a congressman has introduced a bill that would exempt them from having to count their volunteers as employees under the new health care law.

From Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.:
Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, today introduced the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act to specifically exempt volunteer firefighters and volunteers providing emergency medical services from the Employer Mandate Provision of Obamacare. Barletta has been concerned that since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) currently views volunteer firefighters as employees, fire companies and municipalities would be forced to provide health insurance or pay a fine, saddling them with unbearable financial burdens and threatening public safety. Barletta sent the IRS a letter in November requesting a clarification, but the correspondence has gone unanswered as of today. [...]

Under the Employer Mandate Provision, employers with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance or pay penalties. This could be problematic for fire companies, particularly in Pennsylvania where 97-percent of stations rely exclusively or mostly on volunteers. Fire companies could exceed the 50 employee threshold in several different ways: by themselves based on their size, by being part of a larger combined force under several different chiefs, or by being part of a municipality that has 50 or more public employees in total. [...]

“It is critically important that fire and EMS agencies not be forced to offer health insurance to volunteer personnel,” said Philip C. Stittleburg, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “Agencies don’t have the resources to provide health benefits to their volunteers and individual volunteers have no expectation of receiving such benefits from the agencies they serve. On behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council I’d like to thank Congressman Barletta and all of the original co-sponsors for introducing this legislation to clarify that volunteers will not be treated as employees under the health care reform law.”

“The IAFC strongly supports Rep. Barletta’s bill to clarify the status of volunteer firefighters under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” said Chief William Metcalf, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “This is a bipartisan issue which could have serious impacts on staffing at fire departments across the United States. The IAFC looks forward to working with Congress and the Administration to help ensure fire departments of all types are able to continue saving lives and serving their communities.”
The full release is here. The photo is of Barletta touring a fire company in rural Pennsylvania, courtesy of his office.

With 10 employees and 17 volunteers, the Shasta Lake Fire Protection District is too small to fall under the provisions of the law. But that doesn't stop chief Adrian Rogers from worrying.

"It always worries me, especially if they don't see anybody as a volunteer," he told me today. "This is just one more thing. With all the other federal requirements, it's one more thing on the pile to get rid of volunteer firefighters in this nation. It's hard to get volunteers now as it is with all the training required."

I have calls in to officials from the Shasta County Fire Department, which could be "in big trouble" unless an exemption is crafted, Rogers and others say.

For my full story on this issue, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Obamacare could sink volunteer fire departments

Shasta County has more than two dozen fire departments, many if not most of which are volunteer. And according to one report, they could be among the thousands of volunteer fire agencies in rural areas across the country that could be forced to close because of Obamacare.

From London's Daily Mail, of all places:
Volunteer fire departments all across the U.S. could find themselves out of money and unable to operate unless Congress or the Obama Administration exempts them from the Affordable Care Act. [...]

The U.S. Department of Labor takes the term 'volunteer' literally, but the IRS says volunteer firefighters are technically employees if they're on the job more than 30 hours per week, making them subject to Obamacare's employee-mandate rules.

Since the Obamacare law doesn't specifically carve out an exemption for them, fire departments where 50 or more people work – either as volunteers or officially as employees – are expected to provide health insurance for every one of them.

In towns with more than one volunteer fire department, all the staffers will likely be lumped together for tax purposes, pushing many municipalities above the 50-worker threshold.

That could cost departments of life-savers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Those that dump their volunteers into the federal insurance exchanges would still have to pay an annual $2,000 fine for each 'employee' after the first 30.
It's just one more of the many impacts the new health care law could have on the economies of rural areas like Shasta County. As we reported this week, farmers -- specifically tree fruit growers -- are concerned that the regulatory burden from Obamacare could force them out of business.

So why is a newspaper in England left to report on the fate that potentially awaits rural volunteer fire companies in the United States, which one congressman calls "a public safety disaster"? Because many national and local news outlets in this country refuse to touch such stories for political reasons.

[The photo is of firefighters battling an August blaze near Banning, courtesy of the AP.]

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Deadline nears for comments on gray wolf delisting

Those who wish to submit comments on the federal government's proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf face a deadline of Dec. 17 -- one week from today.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed lifting most gray wolf protections in June, a move that would end four decades of recovery efforts. Federal protections have already been lifted in parts of the West and Midwest, including Idaho and the easternmost portions of Oregon and Washington.

Written comments have been taken as officials have held a series of public hearings on the proposal, including one in Sacramento on Nov. 22. At the hearings, officials said wolf recovery efforts have been a success and the agency no longer needs protection.

The California Cattlemen's Association and other farm groups have encouraged growers to submit comments individually to try to match vocal opposition from wolf advocacy groups, whose members held rallies, packed the hearings and gave impassioned pleas to keep the protections intact.

A delisting would "allow ranchers and state agencies to more effectively manage the impact wolves have on livestock depredation, stress and the overall health of our rural economies," the CCA told members in a recent newsletter.

To comment online, click here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

State, feds release updated Bay-Delta water plan

State and federal agencies today released long-awaited environmental documents for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, including the controversial tunnel bypasses proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

From the California Natural Resources Agency:
The state of California and its federal partners have announced the release of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for formal public review. This is a significant milestone in the effort to restore ecosystem health and secure reliable water supplies for California. The release is a key step toward completion of a final plan and corresponding environmental documents.

The plan seeks to protect delivery of the mountain snowmelt that supplies water to two-thirds of the state's population from San Jose to San Diego and thousands of Central Valley farms. It focuses on the estuary where the snowmelt flows, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and aims to both reverse the ecological decline of the region and modernize a water system that now depends on hundreds of miles of earthen levees vulnerable to earthquake, flood, and rising sea levels.

Release of the public review draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its corresponding Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) triggers a 120-day period for the gathering of public comments, from Dec. 13, 2013 through April 14, 2014. Citizens, organizations, and government agencies are urged to review and comment on the documents. From mid-January through mid-February, experts will be available at a dozen separate public meetings to facilitate review of the plan, and to hear public comments on the plan and accompanying environmental documents.

All substantive comments received during the public review period will be considered and discussed in a final EIR/EIS. Completion of the final documents would allow project proponents to begin seeking the many permits necessary to implement the comprehensive plan.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan aims to both stabilize water deliveries from the Delta and contribute to the recovery of 56 species of plants, fish and wildlife over the 50-year life of the plan. The Legislature delineated those co-equal goals in the 2009 Delta Reform Act.

The 9,000-page Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its corresponding 25,000-page EIR/EIS reflect significant revisions since the informal release of administrative review drafts last spring and summer. The public review draft documents reflect changes such as:

· Changes to the alignment of the proposed water conveyance tunnels that would significantly reduce disruption to north Delta communities and reduce by half the project’s permanent footprint.

· More detail about the plan’s critical adaptive management process, which would use research, monitoring, and adjustment of actions to ensure that environmental measures truly contribute to the recovery of covered species.

· Refinement and revision of how the plan would be governed.

· A description of the tools and sources of funding potentially available to support the adaptive management process if additional Delta flows and water supply are needed.

· Additional design criteria and operational constraints for the proposed north Delta intakes, including fish studies that would influence facility design.

· Addition of further measures to protect the greater sandhill crane, giant garter snake, and saltmarsh harvest mouse.

“This is a rational, balanced plan to help meet the needs of all Californians for generations to come,” said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird. “By meeting the state’s dual goals for BDCP of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability, we will stabilize and secure against catastrophe the water deliveries that sustain our homes, jobs, and farms, and do so in a way that not only protects but enhances the environment.”

The plan proposes to change the way the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP) divert water from the Delta. It proposes the construction of new intakes in the north Delta along the Sacramento River about 35 miles north of the existing pumping plants. Twin tunnels would carry the water underground to the existing pumping plants, which feed canals that stretch hundreds of miles to the south and west.

A northern diversion on the Sacramento River would minimize environmentally harmful reverse flows in the south Delta that are caused when the existing pumping plants draw water from nearby channels.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan has been developed through seven years of analysis and hundreds of public meetings. It is a habitat conservation plan under the federal Endangered Species Act and a natural community conservation plan under California law. It describes 22 separate conservation measures that would be undertaken by the California Department of Water Resources, operator of the SWP, in coordination with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the CVP. The plan would provide a stable regulatory environment for operation of the SWP, while working toward the recovery of imperiled fish species.

Water users served by the SWP and CVP – primarily in Southern California, the Santa Clara Valley, and the San Joaquin Valley – would pay most costs under the plan, including the entire $16 billion cost associated with new intakes and tunnels.

To read the public review draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan, get guidance on how to comment on the plan, and see the schedule of public meetings, please visit http://baydeltaconservationplan.com.
As I reported on Friday, opponents of the plan haven't waited for its release to criticize it. They're holding media events and protests today to draw further attention to their views.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Opponents blast Brown's tunnel plan on eve of EIR

Opponents of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build tunnels to send water past the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta didn't wait for the project's key environmental documents to emerge before criticizing them.

Water experts, an environmental activist and an attorney for the Californians for a Fair Water Policy said today the tunnels will end up costing Central Valley farmers more than they benefit and that the project isn't environmentally sound.

"It's evident to most people that the tunnels don't make any economic, financial or environmental sense," said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. "At this point the beneficiaries of the tunnels will be the water agencies' officials who are looking at their legacy and construction companies."

In a conference call with reporters, Michael said Central Valley farmers will be tasked with paying 60 percent of the debt service for the tunnels, which could be $2 billion per year, as well as other costs. He said the costs far outweigh the roughly $134 million in increased agricultural revenue the state believes will result from the project.

"So agriculture's share of the total cost is more than 10 times … the value it will receive from them," Michael said. "It's insanity for farmers to engage in this."

Bob Wright, senior counsel of Friends of the River, called the project "a fraud on the public and against the law." He said the tunnels would violate the Endangered Species Act by taking needed water away from fish and that agencies failed to prepare proper biological assessments on the tunnels' effects on fish species.

The criticisms come as the state is expected Monday to unveil long-awaited environmental impact documents on the nearly $25 billion project, which is a key component of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. A 120-day public comment period on the documents is scheduled to begin Dec. 13.

Nancy Vogel, spokeswoman for the California Department of Water Resources, said water districts that rely on the Delta spent $200 million on planning for the conservation plan because they believed it is in the best interests of their agricultural customers.

"Otherwise they would face greater losses of water supply in the future," she said.

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Governor approves Karuk casino in Yreka

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a gaming compact with the north state's Karuk Tribe, paving the way for a casino to be built in Yreka, it was announced today.

From the tribe:
Yesterday Governor Jerry Brown signed the Karuk Tribe’s Gaming Compact moving the Tribe’s effort to open a casino in Yreka one step closer to reality. “The timing couldn’t be better,” said Karuk Chairman Buster Attebery, “this area is in dire need of jobs and economic development.” The proposed casino is projected to create 350 jobs in Siskiyou County which still suffers from an unemployment rate of over 10%. The jobs would be open to both Tribal members and non-Indians.

The Tribe plans to develop the project in two phases. Phase 1 consists of a 36,000 square-foot gaming facility with approximately 500 gaming machines, 8 table games, a 100-seat restaurant, and on-site parking. Phase 2 will add an 80-room hotel, additional parking, 20,000 additional square feet of gaming space, 300 gaming machines, and 8 table games.

The Tribe’s goal is for the project to boost economic opportunities for everyone in the region. According to Attebery, “We are committed to hiring local vendors and businesses when possible. We see this project as a major economic driver for generations to come.”

The next steps in the process will include bringing the Compact before the California State Legislature to be ratified and also completing intergovernmental agreements with the City of Yreka, Siskiyou County and the California Department of Transportation. The Tribe hopes to clear these hurdles and break ground in the summer of 2014.
Here is the statement from Brown. The photo is from his appearance at the Colusa Farm Show in February.

WinterFest to spread the Christmas chill

Redding will kick off the Christmas season tonight with its WinterFest tree-lighting and entertainment extravaganza downtown -- and it just might snow.

From VisitRedding.com:
Redding has so many opportunities to celebrate the holiday season! Viva Downtown joins in the fun with Winterfest 2013. Bring the kids and your Christmas shopping list downtown to the Atrium in the Market Street Promenade starting at 4pm on December 6th. Kids can meet Santa, play games, do arts and crafts activities, listen to children’s choir performances, and more! You can browse among 20 vendors for unique items to make your holiday giving memorable.

Be sure to head outside at 7pm to enjoy the 94th annual historic tree lighting, with musical entertainment and caroling led by Mitch Thomas Neal. This is a fun Redding tradition and an exciting night for kids of all ages!
Better bundle up. From the National Weather Service:
Another cold weather system will bring widespread precipitation late Friday and Saturday with heavy accumulating snow in the mountains, significant snow in the foothills, and potentially some accumulating snow down to the valley floor above 500ft (including N. Sac Valley). A wet snow/rain mix is possible for the rest of the Valley Friday night into Saturday. **Avoid foothill and mountain travel Friday evening through early Saturday.** Record-breaking cold temperatures possible again over Saturday night and Sunday night.
The weather service says there's a 90 percent chance of snow in Redding in the evening, with overnight temperatures dipping down to 26.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Runner: Short sellers won't face state tax penalty

In an announcement that seemed straight out of 2009, the north state's representative on the California Board of Equalization said the state will follow the federal government's lead and not impose a tax penalty on those who have sold their homes via a short sale.

From the office of George Runner:
In a written response sent to Runner today, FTB Chief Counsel Jozel Brunett states, “Since California conforms to the relevant portions of the federal tax law governing the forgiveness of nonrecourse and recourse indebtedness, California would follow the federal treatment for the CCP section 580e transactions.”

“This is welcome news for Californians who have had to short sell their homes this year,” said Runner. “We learned last month they wouldn’t face a federal tax penalty. We now know they won’t face a state tax hit either.”

In a September letter to FTB’s Chief Counsel, Runner requested a legal opinion as to the potential tax consequences for a California resident who completes a short sale under existing California law.

Initially, FTB staff indicated they would need guidance from the IRS before providing an answer. That guidance arrived last month in an IRS letter to Senator Barbara Boxer regarding the expiration of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. The IRS opined that debt forgiveness involving non-recourse loans held by California homeowners will not be viewed as taxable income.

“We are pleased with the recent clarifications issued by the IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board, which protect distressed homeowners from debt relief income tax associated with a short sale in California,” said California Association of Realtors President Kevin Brown. “Distressed California homeowners can now avoid foreclosure or bankruptcy and can opt for a short sale instead, without incurring federal and state tax liability, even after the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 expires at the end of this year.”

A legislative effort to extend tax protection for California short sales derailed this year. However, the FTB’s announcement that it will conform with the IRS ensures continued protection for taxpayers without the need for legislation.
So much for the supposed real-estate comeback, which has been largely manufactured as home prices have been artificially inflated by firms that have kept scores of empty, foreclosed homes off the market for years.

With a real unemployment rate of nearly 14 percent and with the Obamacare recession only beginning, the fact is this economy still has real problems, and no amount of breathless cheerleading by the AP on some newspapers' front pages can obscure that.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Speakers tout storage at packed water meeting

North state farmers, water district officials and other residents packed the Shasta County supervisors' chambers this afternoon to beseech an Assembly committee to include plenty of money for water storage in an updated bond measure set to go before voters next year.

Members of the lower legislative house's Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee -- including north state Republican Brian Dahle -- were gathering input on what should be in the bond measure as a bill is proceeding in Sacramento.

"Water shouldn't be a partisan issue. There are solutions," said Ed McLaughlin, an almond and walnut grower who serves on the Third District Agricultural Association board in Butte County. McLaughlin said dams provide a resource for agriculture as well as power and flood protection.

During the nearly three-hour meeting, Dahle, committee chairman Anthony Rendon and two other legislators heard a presentation from Fritz Durst, who chairs the Sites Reservoir Joint Powers Authority, on that proposed project west of Maxwell. Among other needs mentioned by speakers were measures to improve the health of the forests and meadows that provide the runoff that becomes California's water supply, and measures to remove mercury and other pollutants from water.

In the photos, from the top: Committee members occupy the dais where the Board of Supervisors usually sits; Rendon speaks as Dahle and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada listen; Dahle (right) reads a statement; a standing-room-only audience watches the proceedings; and Jeff Sutton, general manager of the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority, testifies.

For my complete coverage, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Lots of snow in Redding later this week?

Just in time for WinterFest! Here's the forecast from the National Weather Service:
Thursday night: Rain and snow likely after 4am. Patchy frost after 10pm. Otherwise, increasing clouds, with a low around 27. Calm wind. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Friday: Rain and snow likely before 10am, then snow. High near 32. Light and variable wind. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 2 inches possible.

Friday Night: Snow likely. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 28. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New snow accumulation of around an inch possible.

Activist: Klamath agreement a bad deal for tribes

While many -- including American Indians -- have criticized the Klamath Tribes for their perceived intransigence during their summer-long water standoff in the Upper Klamath Basin, at least one environmental activist thinks they didn't get enough from their negotiations.

Felice Pace, a veteran of the water wars in the Klamath Basin and Siskiyou County, criticizes the deal inked Monday by the tribes and Upper Basin irrigators. He writes:
Like any other deal allocating scarce natural resources, the newly announced Klamath Water Deal should be judged on the merits, that is, on what it actually says and does, not on press statements and spin. All Klamath Water Deals should be viewed within the context of the push by the federal government and western states since the late 1980s to "settle" outstanding tribal water rights. To date, over 30 such agreements have been ratified by Congress and dozens more - including the Klamath Water Deal - are in the works.

Examination of completed deals reveals that the federal government's agenda has been to keep water with white farmers and especially with irrigators who get irrigation water from the US Bureau of Reclamation. The same is true of the Klamath Water Deal.

As the legal trustee for federal tribes, the federal government is supposed to protect and advance the tribes' interests. However, examination of dozens of western water deals shows that the Feds have not acted in good faith as the tribes' trustee. Instead the feds have encouraged tribes to accept government funding in exchange for giving up - or agreeing not to exercise - tribal water rights.

Those water rights are the only hope for really restoring our rivers and - in the case of western salmon rivers - our salmon runs; that hope is evaporating as more tribes settle for government funding rather than sticking to the right to restoration flows. The idea that government funded restoration projects can substitute for restoration flows is a chimera; tribes, environmental and fishing groups that have bought into that myth are sadly misguided.

While some tribes have negotiated better deals than others, in general western tribes have or are in the process of given up water rights worth billions for the modern equivalent of a fistful of beads. Historians will look back at this western water settlement era as the second great rip off of US Indigenous Peoples - first they took the land and tried to "exterminate" the people; now they are taking the water.

Tribal governments, which are cash strapped and dependent on the feds for funding, can not be expected to resist pressures to settle even when that is NOT in the long term interest of the people those tribal governments represent.

In the Klamath River Basin the Klamath Tribes are willing to not exercise rights to restoration river flows in order to regain their land base which was illegally and immorally terminated by the Feds in the 1960s. The Klamath Tribes should not have to choose between land and water but that is the reality they face.
The photo is of the Klamath Basin Task Force.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dahle water forum could draw big crowd

If our web traffic is any indication, Assemblyman Brian Dahle could play to a packed house tomorrow when he holds his Redding forum on California water issues.

My brief announcing the meeting has registered 2,894 pageviews at CapitalPress.com, and my post here about the forum has generated more visits than any other post in the last month.

During the 1:30 p.m. meeting in the Shasta County Board of Supervisors chambers, Dahle will address regional water issues and what he calls a looming statewide water crisis. He will also discuss an Assembly water bond proposal.

Call (916) 319-2001 for information.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Klamath Tribes, irrigators reach water-sharing pact

The Klamath Tribes and irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin have reached a water-sharing agreement, it was announced this afternoon.

From a Klamath Tribes news release:
The AIP, built on the foundation laid by the Tribal member-approved Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), is the result of meetings initiated by Senator Ron Wyden among the Klamath Tribes, Upper Basin Irrigators and federal and state representatives. Negotiated over several months, the AIP provides a framework based on a common set of principles and concepts that the Parties will share with their respective constituents. It represents a critical step toward resolving Upper Klamath Basin water and fisheries disputes not previously addressed in the KBRA. In addition to resolving water and fisheries issues, the AIP is intended to result in a Final Agreement that will provide support for the economic development interests of the Klamath Tribes, provide a stable, sustainable basis for the continuation of agriculture in the Upper Klamath basin, and improve fisheries habitat and water quality by restoring and managing riparian corridors along streams that flow into Upper Klamath Lake.

“Negotiating and signing this agreement is a very important and positive step in the efforts of the Klamath Tribes and irrigation community to resolve years of ongoing conflicts and court battles over water management affecting the Tribes’ fisheries and other Treaty resources, and the economic stability of our community,” stated Don Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes. He added: “With the AIP in place, the Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team (KTNT) and other parties will intensify our efforts to continue the hard work of negotiating a Final Agreement that will meet Tribal needs, and the needs our neighbors.”

Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team members include Chairman Gentry, Vice-Chair Vivian Kimbol, Tribal Council members Anna Bennett and Kathy Hill, Tribal member Jeff Mitchell and Tribal biologist Larry Dunsmoor. The work of the KTNT is supported by Native American Rights Fund attorney David Gover. The KTNT and Tribal Council will provide information about the AIP, work toward a Final Agreement and the prospective legislative process at a series of Tribal member community meetings.

The first series of meetings is scheduled as follows:

December 17: Klamath Falls – Klamath Tribal Health (3949 S. Sixth St.), 6-8 p.m.
December 18: Chiloquin – Klamath Tribes Administration Auditorium (501 Chiloquin Blvd.), 6-8 p.m.
December 19: Eugene – U of O Many Nations Longhouse, 6-8 p.m.
December 20: Portland – Double Tree Inn (Lloyd Center), 6-8 p.m.

If and when a Final Agreement is reached, it will be subject to the approval of the Klamath Tribes General Council.
The photo is of Oregon Natural Resources Policy Director Richard Whitman (left) and Klamath Tribes chairman Don Gentry signing the agreement today at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. The photo is courtesy of the tribes.

I'm working to contact the parties and nail down the details of the agreement. Look for my story at CapitalPress.com soon.