- $5 billion separates parties in elusive 2011 budget deal (Washington Post)
Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill say they are about $5 billion apart in their haggling to reach a deal to fund the federal government for the rest of the year. That amounts to one-half of 1 percent of the trillion dollars in spending Congress doles out each year. Five one-thousandths. Yet weeks of negotiations have not led them to an agreement. A flurry of activity Thursday, including two Oval Office sit-downs with President Obama, did not close the gap, or even cool the rhetoric. Each side continued to accuse the other of playing politics, and of trying to force a government impasse.
- Lax oversight of school construction raises doubts about earthquake safety (California Watch)
State regulators have routinely failed to enforce California’s landmark earthquake safety law for public schools, allowing children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction. Top management with the Division of the State Architect – the chief regulator of school construction – for years did nothing about nearly 1,100 building projects that its own supervisors had red-flagged. Safety defects were logged and then filed away without follow-up from the state.
- Caltrain finds funds to save schedule, delays vote (SF Chronicle)
Buoyed by its ability to raise enough money to avoid gutting Caltrain, the commuter railroad's Board of Directors voted Thursday to put off a vote on budget-balancing service cuts for two weeks and try to find another $3.5 million to keep running its current 86-train schedule.
- Massive Cuts Loom for UC if Tax Measures Fail (Bay Citizen)
With Gov. Jerry Brown warning of dire consequences should lawmakers bypass tax extensions, officials at the University of California say they are beginning to consider plans for deeper cutbacks. In January, Brown proposed a spending plan that asked the UC to absorb budget cuts of $500 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But if no new revenue appears and a special election does not go forward in June, lawmakers may have to slice a total of $1 billion from the UC’s budget for next year, according to figures from the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst's Office. The university's general fund budget for this year is $2.9 billion.
...Rather than facing a $380 million deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1, the budget hole is projected to be $306 million, according to a joint report released Thursday by the city controller, mayor's office, and Board of Supervisors' budget analyst. No one is celebrating at City Hall, though. Even with about $71 million in savings already found, plus planned cuts to departmental budgets and additional 10 percent "contingency" cuts that some officials say will noticeably reduce city services, San Francisco is still looking at a $65 million hole.
...The Oakland school district is bracing for a 16 percent cut in state general purpose funding for 2011-12. That amounts to $844 per student, or $30.5 million, rather than $349 per student, or $12.6 million, as previously thought. Not a small difference. But the district's staff's "best thinking" for making ends meet under that scenario does not call for additional cuts at schools, school closures or furloughs. What it does entail is a whole lot of one-time funds taken from the state loan, adult education programs and additional reserves. And, as a result, a much larger structural deficit -- $22 million, rather than $7 million -- which would likely mean more cuts in the future. On layoffs...the data from the school-based budgeting process just came in, and a total of 137 teaching positions have been eliminated.
San Francisco's generous public employee benefits would become notably less so under a draft plan Mayor Ed Lee rolled out Thursday in an attempt to rein in the city's spiraling retirement costs. City workers' pension contributions would rise and fall with the economic climate, the retirement age would be raised for new hires, and workers would pay a portion of their salaries for health care under a tentative plan city officials presented to unions Thursday.
There was new fallout Thursday regarding the severity of the punishment for a Muni driver who was recently caught on camera sending text messages while operating a bus full of passengers on busy Divisadero Street... The cell-phone video shot by a passenger on February 27th while aboard a 24 Divisadero Muni bus showed the driver sending and receiving text messages while operating the vehicle. Her actions were in violation of federal law and grounds for immediate termination by the county's municipal transportation agency. Muni officials moved to fire that driver Thursday after seeing the surprising video on KTVU Wednesday night.
PG&E is hinting it will pull out of a $3 million settlement with the state Public Utilities Commission over allegations of flawed record keeping if commissioners are allowed to ask about its past practices at a public hearing on Monday. The veiled threat, lodged this month in a regulatory filing with the commission, marks the latest turn in the running dispute over PG&E's records regarding its gas transmission system, which came under fire following the Sept. 9 gas pipeline blast in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
Four years after a teenager claimed she was gang-raped by a group of De Anza College baseball players, a grim-faced civil jury refused Thursday to hold the men liable or award her a penny in damages. The unequivocal decision -- after a nine-week trial and 3 ½ days of deliberations -- was hailed by the young men and their supporters as a complete vindication but condemned by women's advocates as discriminatory. As the clerk read the long verdict form, one of the defendants broke into a huge grin and another's eyes filled with tears, while the now-21-year-old plaintiff began sobbing uncontrollably.
Contrary to expectations, Phillip Garrido pleaded not guilty Thursday in the kidnapping, sexual bondage and 18-year captivity of Jaycee Dugard, paving the way for a trial by the end of the summer. A last-minute motion challenging the method of selection of the grand jury that indicted him spurred the turn of events, said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson. He said he expected the motion will be denied and, unless Phillip Garrido pleads guilty, he will stand trial in August alongside his wife and co-defendant, Nancy Garrido.
A two-year effort by BART to transform a key transit hub by selling development rights has stalled as rival board members champion their favored developers. James Fang, a member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board, has been pushing BART staff and other board members to give the exclusive rights to develop land around the Millbrae BART station to a friend and political supporter, Lawrence Lui. Lui, who runs San Francisco’s Justin Development, is vying with two others for the Millbrae deal.
The U.S. Justice Department is pressing Google to let the government monitor its business operations to win approval of the company's $700 million purchase of travel-data provider ITA Software Inc., a person familiar with the matter said. The department's demand, which Google is resisting, would authorize the government to review company behavior that could hurt competition, the person said. For example, officials want assurances that Google isn't ranking its services higher than those of rivals in the listing of search results.
A Marin Superior Court judge has rejected a challenge by desalination opponents who contended a measure approved by voters last year bars the Marin Municipal Water District from pursuing a desal project. While the water district won this round over the plan to turn bay water into drinking water, one more legal battle looms. A trial is set to start later this month on opponents' challenge of an environmental impact report addressing the project.
...It stands to reason the Giants will enjoy a greater home-field advantage than ever, now that all 27,700 season-ticket packages have sold out and they'll play in front of tingling, teeming crowds every day...Just one week into the season, the Giants already were longing for that jolt of energy. They must play 22 of their first 31 games on the road, and their opening trip to Los Angeles and San Diego didn't go as crisply as they hoped.