« May 2012 | Main | July 2012 »

June 30, 2012

Two Latino Organizations Endorse Marriage Rights Equality

The League of United Latin American Citizens ("the largest and oldest Hispanic Organization in the United States") passed a resolution today at its 83rd annual convention (at Disney World) supporting equal rights for marriage.

Because all Americans are afforded equal protection under the law, states are prohibited from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. LGBT individuals in committed relationships are currently denied the benefits, rights, and protections as provided by marital law because of laws that deny marriage equality, including the Defense of Marriage Act. Couples who are allowed to marry are afforded 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections on the basis of marital law including access to social security survivor benefits, tax benefits, family and medical leave for domestic partners, continued health coverage, hospital visitation rights and immigration protections.

Earlier this month board members of the National Council of La Raza ("the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States") unanimously passed a resolution in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. The resolution will be formally announced at their July convention in Las Vegas (at Mandalay Bay).

Filed under Gay Issues | permalink | June 30, 2012 at 06:48 PM | Comments (0)

Homicide on Calle Azteca

CITY OF DESERT HOT SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT PRESS RELEASE

INCIDENT: PC 187 - Murder
DATE OF INCIDENT: June 29, 2012
TIME: 2050 Hours (8:50 pm)
LOCATION: 68061 Calle Azteca DHS
ARRESTEE: La Von Albert Meyers, White male, 36 years old, 6'-00" 320 lbs, Blond, Blue, Resident of Desert Hot Springs, CA

DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT:
On Friday June 29, 2012, Officers from the Desert Hot Springs Police Department responded to the above location regarding a shooting that had occurred. Officers located a White male adult with gunshot wounds and he was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. The victim's name will be released pending notification of family. The suspect, La Von Meyers, turned himself in without incident. This incident is not gang related. Meyers was booked on the above charge and will be lodged at the Larry Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.


La Von Meyers
La Von Meyers.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | June 30, 2012 at 03:43 PM | Comments (9)

June 29, 2012

Defending the Constitution

The Onion didn't even have to get creative for this one, they just pulled statements from a few current news stories.

Mortensen said his admiration for the loose assemblage of vague half-notions he calls the Constitution has only grown over time. He believes that each detail he has pulled from thin air—from prohibitions on sodomy and flag-burning, to mandatory crackdowns on immigrants, to the right of citizens not to have their hard-earned income confiscated in the form of taxes—has contributed to making it the best framework for governance "since the Ten Commandments."

"And let's not forget that when the Constitution was ratified it brought freedom to every single American," Mortensen said.

Filed under Libertarianism | permalink | June 29, 2012 at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

The Size Of The City Of Los Angeles

The Size Of Los Angeles
I like how Manhattan nicely fits in that leg extending south.

The size of the city impressed itself upon me in 1997, when I did California AIDS Ride 4. I had come out from Boston with my friend Michael and our plan was, after finishing the AIDS Ride in West Hollywood, to spend a night and then bicycle out to Palm Springs. A look at the map, however, told me that would be a two-day ride and the first day would be nothing but solid urbanity. Not fun. So we decided to take the Metro out to San Bernardino and bike from there. Way better.

Filed under California,Cities/Urbanism,Cycling | permalink | June 29, 2012 at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

Dewey Defeats...etc.

Via TPM.

Filed under Politics,Television | permalink | June 29, 2012 at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

Le Minitel est mort

Remember this?

The French were decades ahead of us in getting rid of paper phonebooks. But again the French were unable to dominate the world - possibly due to an inability to learn touchtyping.

This weekend will be the last for Minitel.

For many French, the Minitel is a reminder of a time when their country was at the cutting edge of modernity.

Under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, the France of the 1980s led the world with its bold modern architecture - like the glass pyramid outside Paris' Louvre museum - its groundbreaking TGV high-speed train, and supersonic Concorde passenger plane.

I'm not sure how the Concorde got on that list, since it was developed in the 1960s and went into service in the 1970s.

From a peak of 25 million terminals, Telecom now estimates there are 670,000 in use "mostly used by farmers to exchange information on cattle and by doctors to transmit patient details to the national health service." Hmm. Cattle, specifically. Sheepherders, goatkeepers and chicken farmers having already moved on to the full internet, I suppose.

According to Wikipedia, Minitel charged the user €1 per minute of connection time! Maybe cattle farmers have a bigger profit margin than other farmers, and can live like doctors, paying €60/hour for texting.

John Dvorak at PC Magazine delivers an obituary.

We were one of the first out-of-the country users. It was character-based, funky, and cute.

In 1982, the PC revolution was underway and the small Minitel terminal, although advanced as a network terminal, was already somewhat rinky-dink compared with the Victor 9000, the Apple II, or any IBM PC and the compatibles. Modem technology allowed all the computers to hook into various BBS systems around the United States and abroad. Thus, the Minitel in the states was more of a curiosity than anything else.

He says that now. I wish I could find what he originally wrote in 1982. Knowing John Dvorak, it was either

  • "Breakthrough, brilliant techonology. The wave of the future. The United States should adopt it wholesale, universally right now." Or,
  • "A French fad like smelly cheese, and just about as durable. Expect it to disappear as quickly as last year's bad grapes."

It was rare that you could actually make a Minitel connection without receiving a message from a hooker asking you if you wanted to have a good time.

Apparently, some of the functionality could be disabled or filtered to prevent this as it became one of the earliest instances of obnoxious spam. In fact, it may have triggered the modern era of spam, although many cite instances within the various online discussion groups of spam taking over and ruining their usefulness.

Americans who had foreign accounts or who used Minitel in France found the endless solicitations hilarious and quaint.

Filed under Technology | permalink | June 29, 2012 at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

X, If Necessary

Baseball TCU vs UCLA (5078)

Filed under Photography | permalink | June 29, 2012 at 04:19 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2012

Tornado Tracks

A map showing tornado tracks over the past 56 years. I have heard many residents of the Coachella Valley (who obviously did not grow up in the two-thirds of the nation that is plagued) by tornadoes assert that a tornado hit Palm Springs or Cathedral City or Palm Desert or whatever town they live in. We can have high winds. We can have microbursts. But look at that map and zero on down to the Coachella Valley. I think that should end this nonsense about "tornadoes" here.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Science | permalink | June 28, 2012 at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

Starry Night

| permalink | June 28, 2012 at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

Texas Republicans Again

The 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party.

We believe in:
1. Strict adherence to the original intent of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. and Texas Constitutions.

Slavery, three-fifths people, and all.

6. Self-sufficient families, founded on the traditional marriage of a natural man and a natural woman.
9. A free enterprise society unencumbered by government interference or subsidies.

Unless we're talking about who you love and sleep with. That's a matter of public policy.

We decry the appointment of unelected bureaucrats, and we urge Congress to use their constitutional authority to defund and abolish these positions and return authority to duly elected officials, accountable to the electorate.

I don't see any way to misinterpet this. The Texas Republicans want to elect every single employee of the executive branch of government. Will that include the military as well? Massive, massive ballots. And what shall the term of office be? What better way to choose a nuclear scientist than pure democracy of the rubes?

Eliminate aid and cease commerce with any nation threatening us or aiding terrorists or hostile nations.

And the price of Texas oil goes astronomical!

Reparations - We oppose any form of reparation.

For anything. Ever. No exceptions. Or are they that scared to refer to their slavery past?

Water Districts –We strongly applaud the decision made by the Texas Supreme Court regarding regulation, regulatory taking, metering, and restricting production of individuals' underground water. We advocate fair market value compensation for the taking of an individual's private water supply. We urge the restriction of Water Districts to their original purpose of supplying clean drinking water and/or the purpose of reporting regarding underground water. We ask the legislature to allow citizens who are impacted by said water, irrigation, fresh water supply districts the ability to vote on the selection of the board or committee members of these districts and allow the voters the ability of recall of these elected officials of an irrigation district, fresh water supply district, municipal utility district, or any other special purpose district.

Clearly, this relates to some Texas-specific issues about which I know nothing, but it sounds like there have been some water shenanigans.

Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) - We oppose this act through which the federal government would coerce religious business owners and employees to violate their own beliefs and principles by affirming what they consider to be sinful and sexually immoral behavior.
Qualified Juror Service - Jury service should be limited to registered voters.

Apparently in Texas it is so easy to fill juries they have to work to reduce the potential pool. Want out of the jury pool? Just unregister yourself as a voter - not that I know how to do that.

We urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights.

Because we know for sure that the Bill of Rights never needs defending. One begins to wonder if these Texas Republicans are all a lot of 8th grade dropouts, or is it simple insanity?

Family and Defense of Marriage ― We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between a natural man and a natural woman, which is the foundational unit of a healthy society, and we oppose the assault on marriage by judicial activists. We call on the President and Congress to take immediate action to defend the sanctity of marriage. We are resolute that Congress exercise authority under the United States Constitution, and pass legislation withholding jurisdiction from the Federal Courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage. We further call on Congress to pass and the state legislatures to ratify a marriage amendment declaring that marriage in the United States shall consist of and be recognized only as the union of a natural man and a natural woman. Neither the United States nor any state shall recognize or grant to any unmarried person the legal rights or status of a spouse. We oppose the recognition of and granting of benefits to people who represent themselves as domestic partners without being legally married. We advocate the repeal of laws that place an unfair tax burden on families. We call upon Congress to completely remove the marriage penalty in the tax code, whereby a married couple receives a smaller standard deduction than their unmarried counterparts living together. The primary family unit consists of those related by blood, heterosexual marriage, or adoption. The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct, and property.
Enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act ― We support the enforcement of the State and Federal Defense of Marriage Act by state and federal officials respectively, and oppose creation, recognition and benefits for partnerships outside of marriage that are being provided by some political subdivisions.

Marriage and Divorce - We believe in the sanctity of marriage and that the integrity of this institution should be protected at all levels of government. We urge the Legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws. We support Covenant Marriage.

Family Values ― We support the affirmation of traditional Judeo-Christian family values and oppose the continued assault on those values.

Supporting Motherhood ― We strongly support women who choose to devote their lives to their families and raising their children. We recognize their sacrifice and deplore the liberal assault on the family.

Except for lesbian moms, of course.

Homosexuality ― We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable "alternative" lifestyle, in public policy, nor should "family" be redefined to include homosexual "couples." We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.

Log Cabin Republicans take heed.

Gestational Contracts - We believe rental of a woman's womb makes child bearing a mere commodity to the highest bidder and petition the Legislature to rescind House Bill 724 of the 78th Legislature. We support the adoption of human embryos and the banning of human embryo trafficking.

Wait, didn't I read something earlier about "A free enterprise society unencumbered by government interference."

Social Security ― We support an immediate and orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax. We insist that Social Security benefits be non–taxable. To protect the Social Security System, its funds should not be co–mingled or spent with general revenues or invested in private or public corporate stock.

Wow, the repeal of Social Security. I wonder if this has been in their platform since 1938, or if there were a few years when they found Social Security to be acceptable.

Medical Records and Informed Consent ― We oppose any state or federal medical record computer database or registry (with exception to diseases that are a public health threat, i.e., HIV and/or Tuberculosis), which stores personal identifiable records on citizens without their written consent.

The Texas Republicans have a very short list of diseases that are a public health threat: HIV and tuberculosis. Unless, maybe, they meant to say "e.g." instead of "i.e." but they are all Texas educated and in support of American English as an official language, so I'm sure they wrote what they meant. As for all those other diseases that you thought might be a danger to public health - well, I guess they've been turned over to the jurisdiction of the Christian Scientists. (And where was that missing opening parenthesis supposed to be?)

Immunizations ― All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

That only makes sense, because there are only two diseases that are a threat to public health and there are no vaccines for those yet. These other things are matters for, as I said, the Christian Scientists - or maybe some fall under the purview of plastic surgeons. But in no way is pertussis, for example. to be considered a communicable disease. Not in Texas. Not amongst Republicans. Of verified citizenship.

We support having 80% of school district payroll expenses of professional staff of a school district be full-time classroom teachers.

Weird rule. The 80% can be achieved by either adjusting pay or adjusting staffing or both; neither of which is guaranteed to produce a better education or lower expenses.

We oppose any official entity from detaining, questioning and/or disciplining our children without the consent of a child's parent.

Are these people Republicans or anarchists? A police officer would have to get parental consent before detaining or questioning a child?! Cop sees a kid throw a rock through a window. Kid runs away. Cop's power is limited simply to yelling after him "What's your parents' phone number!"

We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until marriage.

Note that this does not say "publicly funded sex education" or "sex education in our public schools." No, they don't want anyone, not even parents, telling their kids anything about the birds and bees until...when? Marriage? This is despite the fact that earlier they said they support parents complete and total rights to raise and educate their children.

We oppose the mandated use of Smart Meters as well as the use of collected data to reduce freedoms of U.S. citizens.

And we oppose the regulation of the tin industry in such a way as to make practical tin foil hats unaffordable for most citizens.

We support a free and open internet -- free from intrusion, censorship, or control by government or private entities. Due to the inherent benefit of anonymity, the anonymity of users is not to be compromised for any reason, unless consented by the user; or by court order. We also oppose any mandates by the government to collect and retain records of our internet activity.

This stands in marked contrast to their earlier plank: "We encourage the enforcement of laws regarding all forms of pornography, because pornography is detrimental to the fabric of society." Texas Republicans remain blissfully unaware that the internet is the Pornography Machine, which also brings you other stuff.

On economic issues: "We support the principles regarding the public economy as stated in the Republican Party Platform of 1932." Then they quote their opposition to aspects of the New Deal. Honest. I don't make this stuff up. Next they'll be wanting to move LBJ's grave to Massachusetts.

Keystone XL Pipeline – We support the immediate approval and construction of the Keystone XL and other pipelines that will reduce our reliance on imported oil and natural gas from unstable or unfriendly countries. Deep Water Drilling – We support immediate resumption of deep water drilling and production in the Gulf of Mexico. Land Drilling – We support land drilling and production operations including hydraulic fracturing. Ethanol – We support the repeal of legislation mandating ethanol as fuel additives and/or primary fuel. Natural Gas - Alternative Fuel - We urge the use of natural gas as an alternative transportation fuel and as complimentary fuel to gasoline and diesel.
• We support the manufacture of vehicles that utilize natural gas as an alternative fuel and/or a complimentary fuel
• We support and encourage the conversion of existing private fleets to natural gas as a dual use fuel
• We support the use of natural gas in electric power generation and other industrial uses
Exotic Livestock – We encourage the freedom of farmers, ranchers and producers to be able to raise and promote all livestock, wildlife and other protected species for conservation, consumption and economic development.

Come to the big feed this weekend: pupfish soup and deep-fried fringe-toed lizards. Dodo egg salad one dollar extra.

Believe it or not, this is an improved platform. According to Box Turtle Bulletin the 2008 and 2010 platforms of the Texas Republican Party included these provisions:

Texas Sodomy Statutes – We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy…

Marriage Licenses – We support legislation that would make it a felony to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple and for any civil official to perform a marriage ceremony for such.

The 2010 platform also opposed the rights of gay parents to have custody or visitation of their own children. No exceptions were stated, except by court order.

Filed under Gay Issues,Politics | permalink | June 28, 2012 at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

"Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes"

That provision of the Constitution saved the Social Security Act, and it has saved the Affordable Care Act. Here's the Supreme Court decision.

[T]he shared responsibility payment may for constitutional purposes be considered a tax, not a penalty: First, for most Americans the amount due will be far less than the price of insurance, and, by statute, it can never be more. It may often be a reasonable financial decision to make the payment rather than purchase insurance, unlike the "prohibitory" financial punishment in Drexel Furniture. ... Second, the individual mandate contains no scienter requirement. Third, the payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation—except that the Service is not allowed to use those means most suggestive of a punitive sanction, such as criminal prosecution. ... The reasons the Court in Drexel Furniture held that what was called a "tax" there was a penalty support the conclusion that what is called a "penalty" here may be viewed as a tax.

...

Indeed, it is estimated that four million people each year will choose to pay the IRS rather than buy insurance. ... We would expect Congress to be troubled by that prospect if such conduct were unlawful. That Congress apparently regards such extensive failure to comply with the mandate as tolerable suggests that Congress did not think it was creating four million outlaws. It suggests instead that the shared responsibility payment merely imposes a tax citizens may lawfully choose to pay in lieu of buying health insurance.

Chief Justice Roberts goes to great lengths to explain that it is the Supreme Court's responsibility to try NOT to find a statute unconstitutional, and that no matter if a thing is called a fee or a penalty or a tax, the court is obligated to try to interpret it in a way that makes it constitutional. So, not an activist court today.

UPDATE: Fox and CNN engaged in a bit of Dewey Defeats Truman. An artist's interpretation:
Obama

| permalink | June 28, 2012 at 08:23 AM | Comments (12)

June 27, 2012

Los Angeles World Naked Bike Ride - my photos

I have all my photos from the Los Angeles World Naked Bike Ride uploaded now, and they are here. They're on Flickr, and if you've used Flickr before you know the hoops you need to jump through to see photos that include nudity. There are a couple (literally two - but maybe more) that include no nudity.

World Naked Bike Ride - Los Angeles (1769A)World Naked Bike Ride - Los Angeles (2690)

In that set you'll find photos shot with three different cameras. First are shots with my Canon D10, a pocket camera, and those begin here with a few shots of us at the starting point, and then several shots along the way. Then you come to shots with the GoPro Hero camera. I set it to automatically shoot a photo every few seconds. Initially it was shooting one every two seconds, but before long I saw that I was up to nearly 500 shots and we were still just hanging out at the starting point, so that was clearly way too many. I adjusted the interval to one every five seconds and mounted the camera on my helmet facing backwards, so that you could see the riders' bright and shiny faces. I had no control over what was being photographed and never even saw what I had shot until I went through and edited them. There were some surprises. It's an 11 megapixel still camera, but that doesn't mean the quality is anywhere near that of an 11 mp DSLR. It's very wide angle, so the sun was often hitting the lens, creating some haze. You'll see too that sometimes a gap opened up behind me, so that the riders got further and further away from me. I did a lot of cropping, but data is data, and it's limited and sometimes noisy. I found the streetscape scenes that resulted from the GoPro Hero almost as interesting as the bike riders themselves. We went through a lot of neighborhoods at various economic levels.

The GoPro Hero shots begin here. Every other World Naked Bike Ride seems to start in a nice park, but in L.A. we were in the dusty backyard (with code violations galore) of a residential house that had been converted to commercial use. The actual ride begins about here as we head out onto Alvarado. The ride was done on an extra-legal basis, and by that I mean outside the law. The organizers had spoken with the LAPD and they had unofficially said that as long as everyone stayed together on the route and there was no lewd behavior and no excessive complaints, then we would have no trouble from them. But we know the LAPD is always friendly and benevolent like that. Simple public nudity such as this is illegal in Los Angeles, unlike San Francisco.

Here is where we enter the 2nd Street Tunnel.

Here we turn on the new green bike lane on Spring Street.

This photo is where we start down Skid Row.

Here we have reached City Hall but you have to advance through several photos before I get far enough away to get the whole building in a shot. It was along about here that some of the ride leaders began to encourage us to continue rolling through red lights. There were a couple hundred of us (less than half of us naked, I'd say). Early in the ride we would sometimes sit through a green light cycle to allow riders to regroup, but downtown we began to encounter more lights and more congestion. It was critical to keep all the riders together, thus the red light running.

The post office at Union Station. It was about here that one young skateboarder who was rolling with us dropped his glass pipe, which shattered on the pavement. His friend on a bicycle exclaimed, "Dude, how we gonna get high now?!" Then they both dropped to their knees and began cleaning up the glass shards. There had been a surprising quantity of liquid and herbal courage consumed at the starting point. How exciting this will be, I thought, to be racing naked through the streets of Los Angeles, encountering hostile drivers and sidewalk prudes, all with a bunch of other mostly inexperienced bikers, a goodly number of which are a bit zonky in the head. Even so, I saw only a couple of single-cyclist falls. No injuries to speak of.

Chinatown.

And then we began traveling in areas I couldn't identify. But eventually we ended up in this residential area; a route choice I considered ill advised. This is where you're going to get complaints, I suspect. And then when we rolled past two playgrounds full of kids, I was pretty sure phones were being picked up.

Here's the official map. If we followed that exactly I couldn't say.

But we kept riding, turning here and there, and then we were passing Silver Lake reservoir, followed by a nice downhill on Silver Lake, eventually arriving at Sunset Boulevard.

And then we were home again.

The THIRD camera belonged to Andy who was riding somewhere further back in the pack than I. He had brought his camera, but forgot his SD card, so I loaned him one. In return for the favor, he has allowed me to share the photos from that SD card here. His photos begin here. Or, if you prefer, here are his photos alone. You can see more of his photos here.

We did piss off some people. Here's a news story of an encounter between naked citrus pickers and a lady defending her crop and the American way.

I had a great time. There was no trouble with the police. I think we saw four or five police cars crossing our path. All seemed friendly and relaxed - but you know, it's the LAPD. I'm pretty sure they have ice cream treats in the trunks of their cars to reward the good citizens. I hope to do it again next year.

Filed under Cities/Urbanism,Naturism-Nudism,Photography | permalink | June 27, 2012 at 07:25 PM | Comments (1)

MSWD Citizens Committee - April 11

The audio recording of this meeting of the Mission Springs Water District citizens committee ("MSWD 2.0") is available here. The meeting was convened, as usual, by President Nancy Wright who introduced Jim Jones and Malcolm McLean. Jim Jones, a Palm Springs resident, is one of the backers of the initiative referendum and Malcolm McLean ran for a position on the district's board of directors in the most recent election. As far as most of us are aware, this is the first district meeting of any kind that Mr. McLean has attended. Education has to begin sometime.

General Manager Wallum introduced some of the subjects that would be discussed that night. Apparently Mr. Jones and Mr. McLean had sent an email to the members of the committee the day before. Here is the text of that email:

Subject: Information for tomorrows meeting.

Independent Financial Task Force studying MSWD financial situation.

Hello Committee members and interested members of the public.

Please open attachments to see graphs.

We would like to draw your attention to the following points.

All information was taken as accurately as possible from MSWD Web Site.

  1. In 8 years 2002 to 2010 cost per employee increased from $57,778 to $110,416 or 91%
  2. Employee costs as a percentage of revenue increased from 35% to 56% for an increase of 60%

If MSWD continues along the present course, employee costs will soon exceed revenue. If committee members are not going to talk about an item that eats up 56% of income and board members are going to continue to say that personnel costs have no bearing on rate increases. Then how is this problem going to be fixed? We are listening.

Dr. Malcolm McLean PhD., Steve Sobbotta MA, James D Jones.

independentfinacialtaskforce@gmail.com

The email included two attachments, one a PDF and the other a jpeg image. I converted the PDF to jpeg, because it just makes sense to do so.

Table reflecting accelerated employee compensation and benefit costs
This table uses data from two years, 2002 and 2010.
The source of info is the MSWD website.

Graph A
This graph (click either of these images to get a bigger, more readable version) is the same data as above, but done as a line graph.
Of course, you can take any two data points from any sort of data and draw a line between them, but that does not mean you are accurately predicting anything. Similar line drawing could be used have predicted that George Washington would quickly be taken as a prisoner and convicted and hung in London. One could draw a line from 1931 to 1935 and predicted that the U.S. would be a starving wasteland by 1941. Another two-data-point graph could have predicted Germany would colonize the entire world by 1952. The Russians liked two-data-point lines when it favored their view of the world. Their data would have shown the Soviets landing on the moon in 1965 or so, with colonies established there before 1970. Humans have a way of defying the predictions of two-data-point lines. In the specific case of these graphs, the data is already two years old. If Sobotta, McLean and Jones were genuinely interested in informing themselves about the district, the data could have been updated.

Mr. Wallum introduced Finance Director Matt McCue to address some of the issues in the email. Mr. McCue reminded everyone that governmental accounting is not the simplest thing in the world. He said isolated facts in a vacuum can be misinterpreted. "My door is always open," he said. He said the information in the email did come from the district's audited financial statements, but some of the math in the email was incorrect. In 2002 the overall average cost per employee was about $62,000. In 2010 that figure had risen to $108,000. Those are the "fully loaded" figures. Salary, benefits, taxes, insurance, mandated costs, everything. There are 44 employees currently. In 2010 there were 48. The rise from 2002 to 2010 averages 9% per year, he said. The figure I get when I take compounding into account is a real increase of something around 6.6% per year. This rate includes not just rises in wages and salaries, but increases in workers comp and health insurance costs, which are rising much faster than wages.

In 2002, Mr. McCue said, the MSWD was basically a training ground for the other water districts. We'd hire 'em and train 'em, they'd get their certifications, and then they would move on to DWA or CVWD for better pay and benefits. "We can't hire employees from McDonald's and KMart," he said. That's not our labor pool.

Another issue is increased overtime pay due to leak problems. Overtime paid in 2002 was 0.8% of base wages. In 2010 it was 2.2%. Total wages & salaries in 2011 were lower than 2010 and they will be lower in 2012 than in 2011. There is the possibility of a $500,000 reduction of wages & salaries paid in 2013.

Most of the issues brought up in the email have been and are being addressed, Mr. McCue said.

Mr. Wallum said he tries to reduce costs overall. The board has voted to have employees pay half of their PERS from now on. They will look at increasing the retirement age.

One of the committee members asked how significant workers comp costs are to the district. He said that in his business the expense is potentially going to double. Mr. Wallum answered "Oh, yes, easily." The district is looking at ways to get the work done that will keep workers comp costs from rising as quickly. The committee member said that by conducting focused training and having regular meetings with employees they may reduce their accident rate enough to get a rebate of 30% to 40%. The district, of course, gets a rebate every year.

Richard Cromwell said that Mr. Wallum didn't have to apologize for anything. He said he has attended nearly every meeting and he has seen the board take these issues in their teeth after the last election and work their way through every item. The past areas of concern are not there anymore. He said MSWD has made itself totally transparent, "and that's not doing on at DWA and it's not going on at CVWD."

Glenn Reiter

Finally, Mr. Reiter took the microphone and we moved into the substance of this night's meeting. He said the plan is to look 5 to 20 years into the future. One factor that has been overlooked nationwide in the public sector is what is called "depreciation," (that is, the aging infrastructure). But since governments don't pay taxes, the idea of "depreciation" is different. He said he doesn't know of any public agency that has fully funded the costs to replace their infrastructure.

He showed a graph that indicated the district is making money and is far from broke. But if everything continues exactly as it is today, inflation will cause it all to crash eventually.

The district currently owns $145 million in hard assets - pumps, pipes, wells, etc. Replacement cost would be $1.1 billion (with a "b") by 2079. Regulations have increased and that has increased costs. It used to cost $6/foot to lay pipe. Now it's $18/foot. Fortunately, he said, MSWD has extremely low debt.

The Horton sewage treatment is close to max. If anything happens, it will be challenge to switch to a back up system while repairs are made. The district needs more wells and more storage, but those cannot be funded out of current cash flow.

The system has a lot of pipes that are going to leak. They need to be replaced.

The district needs more remote control of its system. Now, someone has to go visit every pump site every day because the water business is based on running perfectly 24/7. People do not tolerate any breakdown in that system.

The immediate goal should be to build up cash reserves to about $16.7 million. That would allow the district to survive a major earthquake, a severe economic downturn, big changes in energy costs. It's a reasonable starting place now, Mr. Reiter said.

The water business is unforgiving. He said that if you go to the city and the person who handles businesses licenses it out for the day, it's not the end of the world. You come back the next day, or on Monday. It's not the same at the water district. It cannot be out of service for one minute.

He said the district is blessed with (1) a big supply of water that is (2) of outstanding quality. Other districts are not so fortunate. Our water may become more valuable than oil.

Mr. Reiter said too much staff time is spent trying to satisfy the extraordinarily small number of customers who have a problem. The problem resolution process needs to be expedited and simplified.

Turning on or off water at a property costs the district $36, but it charges only $18. When it's on overtime it costs $142, but the district charges only $50. Bad checks are charged $20. Mr. Reiter is recommending a charge of $50. Meter re-reads are free, but they are almost never wrong. Backflow devices are required for some properties. They have to be inspected every year. That's the responsibility of the property owner, but the district does the checks. The district's fee does not cover the full cost. Mr. Reiter is suggesting either the district increase the fee or drop the service altogether and let the property owner hire a plumber to do it.

Surveys

Then they broke up into groups and completed surveys. The surveys asked the committee members' opinions on these subjects:

  • Charging full cost for turn-on/turn-off service (regular time and overtime)
  • An energy charge for properties about 1,400 feet
  • Recovering full costs of bad checks
  • Charging for customer requested meter re-reads
  • Customers paying actual cost for backflow device checks
  • Cost recovery from undeveloped properties (which would be a tax)
  • Cost recovery from developed but unoccupied properties
  • "The community can be educated sufficiently to understand rate considerations."

Mr. Reiter said about 80% of the district's costs are fixed whether a drop of water is sold or not. There is also a mandate to reduce water usage.

He said that at $20/year for each undeveloped parcel or acre, the district would raise about $1 million. Currently, the maintenance of the water infrastructure for these undeveloped parcels (which raises their value) is paid for by the district's customers, not the owners of the undeveloped land.

Charging a fee for vacant developed property could raise about $400,000.

Mr. Reiter said a general rule for borrowing money is that for every $1 you borrow, you've got to have $1.20 in income.

The committee members supported charging for meter -re-reads, unless the initial read was incorrect. They were unclear on the backflow device charge. And they had complex responses to the rate change question, which were going to require staff to take time to read and analyze them.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | June 27, 2012 at 06:35 PM | Comments (4)

June 26, 2012

Some excerpts from City Manager Daniels' Memo

  • At the Community Health & Wellness Center:
    • Fire line to be completed this week.
    • Grading in progress for the north side driveway and south side parking lot median.
    • Asphalt paving to begin on north side by the end of the week.
    • Interior painting has begun.
    • Framing to expansion is ongoing.
    • Sheet metal installation to exterior fascia is ongoing.
  • Initiated development work on a database to facilitate the management and reporting of contract services.
  • Completed a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Economic Development Services.
  • Advertised for bids for sidewalks on Fourth Street and streets & sidewalk improvements on Sonora Drive.
  • Engineering met with the bond company and contractor to discuss the scope of work for remaining improvements within Hidden Springs subdivision.
  • Code Enforcement is investigating hotels/spas conducting business without Business Licenses or with improper licensing, as well as zoning issues (Tamar Drive, Club Circle Drive, 6th Street and 7th Street).

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | June 26, 2012 at 09:18 AM | Comments (3)

June 25, 2012

Another Possible First

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali was united in civil union (New Jersey still does not permit marriage) with Will Behrens in the chapel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. It was presided over by Kay Reeb, a Navy chaplain with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "Among those attending the event held at the base's chapel was former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first U.S. service member seriously injured in the Iraq War."

Air Force Capt. Ryan Quinn, who also attended the event, said he was "amazed by the beauty" of the ceremony.

"I really do think this is an important event. And I was happy to be here with them and their families," he said. "The amount of support I've seen for them from the people (at the base) and the military community makes me proud to serve in the Air Force."

Filed under Gay Issues | permalink | June 25, 2012 at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

MSWD Workshop - April 5

The audio recording of this workshop of the Board of Directors of the Mission Springs Water District is available here.

Public Comments

Richard Cromwell said he had been in Washington and delivered pamphlets and cards from MSWD in the Senate and House.

He also noted the proposal to raise sewer rates in Palm Springs and wondered how "the carpetbaggers" would respond to that.

SCAQMD Sentinel Power Plant Air Mitigation Fund

General Manager Wallum said MSWD would be submitting proposals on their own, with the City of DHS, and with Clean Cities - three approaches. Michael Thornton, contract engineer from TKE, gave this presentation. He began with the $53 million figure and the basic requirements for grants from this fund - facts that should be tiresomely familiar to all of us by now.

Proposed projects:

  • CNG vehicles, working with Clean Cities on this one.
  • Paving projects - the city had already approached the district on this. The district will assemble a list of paving projects.
  • Solar energy on existing and new carports at headquarters.
  • Solar and wind energy at the north end of the future regional wastewater treatment plant (south of Dillon, east of Indian). This could two 400-megawatt wind turbines, or 30 acres of solar. The power can be used immediately on a nearby well and booster pumps before the treatment plant is built.

Mr. Cromwell said that the fact that there is a CNG fueling station located on MSWD property gives us a leg up on the competition.

Potential Funding

Michael Thornton delivered this report, too.

  • U.S. Army Corp Section 219 program. Some design money, but have never received any construction money. This year the Los Angeles District got only a single project funded, and that was only about half a million dollars. The Corps advised MSWD to lobby our Congressional reps to increase funding and provide some guidance (don't call it an "earmark") in how to spend it. Therefore we lobbied, and the feedback we got was "If the Corps wants more money, why don't they ask for it?" The Corps said they would go back and re-examine their process. The Washington Corps people have said they will communicate better with the Los Angeles Corps people.
  • U.S. EPA and SRF (State Revolving Fund) program. It's administered entirely by the state, but the principal forgiveness funding comes from the federal government.
  • A proposed project to take treated wastewater from the future regional wastewater treatment plant and pump it to a recharge basin, proposed to be located at 15th Avenue and Atlantic. The district is requesting funds to study this from the bureau of Reclamation.
  • The Economic Development Agency might be able to provide funding to help with the new wastewater treatment facility or to help with construction of sewers in the Indian/I-10 area. We'd like to aim for $4 million for sewers.

Financial Master Plan

John Soulliere covered some of what would be presented to the citizens committee the next week. Glen Reiter went into more detail about how he would approach the citizens committee. They would discuss cost-cutting and possible new fees (like an elevation charge).

Mr. Reiter said some people have trouble grasping the term "depreciation" when used in district finance reports. It should be called "replacement costs," he said.

He said the district could use 3 more wells and 10 million more gallons of storage right now. The district needs better communication and electronics that will allow all of the systems in the district to be monitored from the main office, rather than having to send someone out to visit each site every day.

They planned to present a list of services to the citizens committee and ask which of those the district should charge a cost recovery fee for. An example is a high bill inquiry. A service technician will visit the property, test for leaks, and spend 40 to 60 minutes looking at the property to try to advise the customer how to reduce their bill. Currently, the district charges nothing for this service.

Much of the district's expenses are fixed, regardless of how much water is produced. Variables, like electricity and chemicals, rise and fall with water production. The district's service charge - a fixed income - barely covers 30%.

The 850 vacant homes are producing no income whatsoever. Nevertheless, the water lines still go to the properties and the district continues to maintain capacity for those properties. Should the district charge a fee to those empty homes that use no water? The district loses about $400,000/year in water & sewer due to unoccupied residences. A charge like this would have to be approved by two-thirds of the voters and would be collected via the tax bill. Director Furbee said it wouldn't pass, but he may have forgotten that vacant residences don't vote. The expense of maintaining the infrastructure for vacant residences is now paid 100% by those who live in occupied residences.

Director Comments

Director Martin said that the city should adopt a requirement that all tamarisk trees be removed from new developments.

Vice President Brown pointed out the irony that Caltrans is irrigating the tamarisks along I-10 between Bob Hope and Date Palm.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | June 25, 2012 at 06:59 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2012

Happy Birthday Jeff Beck

He's 68 today.

"Hammerhead" from his Emotion & Commotion album.

More Jeff Beck here.

Filed under Music | permalink | June 24, 2012 at 02:04 PM | Comments (1)

Spencer Tunick at Bayerische Staatsoper

Yesterday Spencer Tunick photographed another of his installations of nude people. This one was 1,700 nude people at Max-Joseph Platz in front of the Bavarian State Opera which will be performing Götterdämmerung on June 30.

Filed under Music,Naturism-Nudism,Photography | permalink | June 24, 2012 at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2012

DHS City Council - June 19

The audio recording of this meeting of the Desert Hot Springs City Council is available here.

Councilmember Adam Sanchez was absent from this meeting due to "a training program that he had to attend," Mayor Parks explained. Mr. Sanchez had emailed that information to her. The Mayor asked that his absence be excused.

Invocation

Mayor Pro Tem Pye, who has been doing the "Invocation/Moment of Silence" since the Ministerial Fellowship stopped doing it, took this opportunity on June 19 to read an excerpt from an essay on the subject of Juneteenth. It was June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, announced publicly that all slaves were free, 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It has been a Texas state holiday since 1980 and is now recognized in 41 states. In addition to the repudiation of slavery, the holiday recognizes the "need for a deep heart change to a consciousness where we cherish and not just tolerate one another."

Closed Session Report

The closed session agenda listed five items:

  1. Anticipated litigation
  2. Labor negotiator conference - Teamsters Local 911
  3. Existing litigation - Collard WC claim
  4. Existing litigation - Heath WC claim
  5. Existing litigation - McCrumb WC claim

Attorney Duran said only two items were actually considered (items 1 and 2). The other items were too early and would be discussed at the next closed session council meeting. Item 1, "a litigation threat the city was received from a lawyer representing a hotelier in town over a TOT dispute," no reportable action. That's got to be the DHS Spa/Miracle Springs Resort TOT dispute.

Senior Center Update

Erin Begley made this presentation. The Family Service Association took over management of the Senior Center in March 2011. Hours at the center are Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 2 PM. The monthly average of clients served is up to 1,538. Six months ago that number was 1,044. They've upgraded the interior, painting, changing the lighting. The newsletter continues to expand. An advisory council has been set up. Satisfaction surveys of Senior Center uses showed a 4.7 (out of 5) approval rating in February 2012 and 4.8 on a much more recent survey. She shared photos from several events at the Senior Center. The winner of a Senior Center talent contest was a singer/yodeler - and why she was not present at this city council meeting was left unexplained!

Ms. Begley then introduced Bob Harper, a Senior Center participant, who expressed his support for the Senior Center. He said it's like Christmas every day there, and the food is like what you would get in a nice restaurant.

Ms. Pye, Councilmember Betts and Mayor Parks expressed their support for the Senior Center.

Mandatory Commercial Recycling Plan

Public Works Department Associate Engineer Daniel Porras introduced this item. California AB 341 requires that a "business (includes public entities) that generates four cubic yards or more of commercial solid waste per week or is a multifamily residential dwelling of five units or more shall arrange for recycling services" effective July 1, 2012. Mr. Porras showed a photo of one of the standard blue dumpsters that businesses use. That dumpster is 3 cubic yards. If a businesses has one of those and its being emptied twice a week, then they are at or above the 4 cubic yard threshold and must arrange for recycling. (Here's a photo a 3 cubic yard dumpster.)

Chris Cunningham from Desert Valley Disposal spoke next. He said a business could get one of DVD's standard blue 96-gallon recycling bin. There are 3 cubic yard recycling containers available, as well as larger sizes. A business can get a container up to the same size as their trash bin, and the first pick up per week is free. Special pre-arranged pickups can be done.

City Manager Rick Daniels took this opportunity to say that Mr. Porras, after much hard work, had passed his exams and is now a registered professional engineer.

Public Comments

Dot Reed spoke about respect. She said she was taught to respect others, especially those in elected or appointed offices. She also talked about courtesy, saying it made a big difference. She also looks forward to more recycling.

Bruce Montgomery talked Helene Nelson's upcoming Homeless Walk. The fundraising dinner, originally scheduled for June 27 has been rescheduled for July 25. The goal is to raise funds for a homeless shelter in Washington and for Roy's Desert Resource Center. Her overall goal is $200,000. Ms. Pye asked when and where on July 25. Mr. Montgomery said he wasn't sure of those specifics. Mayor Parks said the luncheon would be at Roy's. Mr. Montgomery said he thought it was $25. Councilmember Matas said it was a luncheon.

Mr. Montgomery also clarified that Grace Church is "Grace Church," not Grace Chapel or Grace Baptist.

Russ Martin, speaking as a director of the Mission Springs Water District, read this opinion piece in The Desert Sun:

Substantial and wise investment in water safety

Good news for Desert Hot Springs residents: The water district has scored a $10.3 million grant package to replace some of the city's septic tanks.

About 1,525 parcels, most in Desert Hot Springs, will get sewer service as part of the Mission Springs Water District program.

That means safer water in the city. It also means better roads, as many will be torn up and repaved during the installation process.

The money — one half grant and one half loan — marks the single largest infusion of nonlocal funding for sewers in the district's history.

The water district has come under fire from citizens who are fighting a rate increase that went into effect last year.

Maybe it's time for those residents to take another look at what they're getting for their money from the district, as this sewer project seems like a very wise investment.

He then went on to read the district's press release about their balanced budget which I have posted here. He thanked all of his fellow board members and congratulated General Manager Arden Wallum for the work to put together a balanced budget.

Mike Platt said Little League All Star games would start on June 30. On July 15 there will be girls softball sectionals. Little League will have a fireworks booth at Rite Aid starting on June 28. The fall ball season will be announced soon.

Voting Delegate For 2012 League Of Cities Conference

Mayor Parks said she would like to be the voting member with Mr. Matas as first alternate and Ms. Pye as second alternate. All three are active in the league. Mr. Betts moved for approval. Approved 4-0.

Budget For FY 2012-13

Here's the proposed budget, by fund. Here's the summary of revenue and expenses for the General Fund.

After an introduction by City Manager Daniels, interim finance director Steve Elam took over. He pointed out the part of the resolution that said the use of reserves is temporary and will be replaced when the two large sales tax items come in - that's $2.75 million from CPV Sentinel and $473,000 from the Board of Equalization.

Mayor Parks asked the council not to rehash all prior discussions, but to bring up new items, undiscussed items, unanswered questions.

Ms. Pye said that the council will be getting monthly budget statements.

Mr. Betts said he was not happy with the budget process. He said we won't be in a great place a year from now. He thinks using reserves is risky. He wants the city to try to get better bids on contracts. He said the Police Officers Association has already made sacrifices and shouldn't be asked to make more, but the salaries of higher administrators should be looked at.

He also listed items where he thought the money should be shifted to better benefit the community, including $75,000 for CVEP, $20,000 for a facilitator for the goals setting workshop,

Mr. Matas said the council had been presented with a list of options that would have balanced the budget. One of them was personnel cuts that would have reduced the police, but that was rejected because quality of life would not be preserved if that was done. The funds to replace the reserves are real and will be received. We have the ability to preserve city services now and should do so. He congratulated city staff.

Ms. Pye said this is a balanced budget, not a deficit budget.

Mr. Betts said that when expenditures exceed revenue, then you are in deficit. He thinks that the city could have reduced expenditures and taken less from reserves.

Mr. Matas moved for approval of the budget as presented by staff. Approved 3-1 with Mr. Betts voting against.

Fraud Prevention & Detection Policy

In the most recent audit the auditors included a recommendation "to consider a more formal, proactive approach to preventing fraud." The staff report for this city council meeting says...

The above recommendation is being made by auditors to virtually all public and private organizations in the wake of the past corporate accounting scandals and the resulting Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It in no way reflects on past actions or circumstances within the City of Desert Hot Springs. The City’s management response to the Management Letter recommendation was that it concurred and would adopt a formal fraud and detection program through the assistance of the City Council Finance Committee during FY 2011-12.

Here is the proposed Fraud Prevention & Detection Policy. It includes whistleblower protections.

Mayor Parks emphasized that this was a best practices recommendation.

Mr. Betts said it was nice to see this being addressed. He is concerned about situations where employees are treated as vendors. An employee may buy a significant number of items and then are reimbursed by the city. He thinks all purchasing should go through a purchasing agent. Mr. Elam said that practice is not in accordance with the city's current purchasing policy.

Ms. Pye moved for approval. Approved 4-0.

New Market Tax Credit Deal

This is part of the complex financing of the Health & Wellness Center project. There were only a few people in the room who might be able to fully grasp new market tax credits: Attorney Duran, another attorney from Meyers Nave, and Michael Busch. They all spared us an attempt to get us to understand.

The important thing is it gets us $4.6 million for the center. Michael Busch made it clear that all the documents were drafted by Meyers Nave attorneys, but they have been reviewed by "many, many other attorneys" including attorneys for the healthcare district.

Mr. Betts said the council must rely on staff expertise on this issue.

Approved 4-0.

Consent Calendar

Approved 4-0 without discussion:

  • An additional $21,200 for video services. The current video contract was awarded in August 2010. The rate is hourly, but meetings average $1,200 each. The additional $21,200 covers broadcasts in the current fiscal year and extends the agreement to September 2012. In July an RFP will be issued and a new agreement will come to the council September 4.
  • A 36-month lease for the hardware store (RDA property) at $4,700/month. One-year notice required. (Mr. Betts recused himself from this one).
  • The Treasurer's Report

Reports

Mr. Betts said he attended the CVAG CVCC meeting. They acquired a couple pieces of property, including one on Dillon Road near DHS. He also filled in for the Mayor on the CVAG E&E committee which was uneventful. At SCAG they discussed future transportation improvement programs. They are looking at "green rail" that would move cargo from ports on automated electric movers. He suggested DHS as the site for the warehouses to handle all these goods.

Mr. Matas said he attended an RCTC meeting where a billion dollar budget was approved. Nothing major in the Coachella Valley. Someone on the Parks Committee is working on a fenced dog park.

Ms. Pye said the economic development committee would meet next Wednesday at 6 PM and then go dark for July and August.

Mayor Parks pointed out that every high school in the valley has received Desert Sun coverage of their proms and graduations, except DHS High School. She wants to know why, and she hopes everyone wants to know why. [Kate McGinty can be reached at Kate.McGinty@thedesertsun.com]

City Manager Daniels said an arrest warrant has been issued for the owner of Hyundae Hotel. The place has been redtagged. He attempted to open it to guests over Memorial Day weekend with a revoked certificate of occupancy. It has no permits and no licenses.

The fire at the Flamingo Hotel is being investigated. City crews have secured the building. The owner has been notified that he must repair or demolish the burned part.

Chief Williams said that through the end of May 2012 all Part 1 crimes are down 26% from calendar year 2011.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | June 22, 2012 at 09:04 PM | Comments (6)

Landing The Curiosity

How the Curiosity will be landed on Mars after its long trip from JPL in Pasadena.

Curosity was launched in November 2011. The Mars landing will happen in August 2012.

Filed under Science | permalink | June 22, 2012 at 06:39 PM | Comments (0)