The empire strikes out

May 9, 2012

May the force be with you: George Lucas, thwarted by his neighbors in his effort to construct a state-of-the-art film studio in the picturesque hills of Marin County, says he's going to push ahead with low-income housing development in the same area. Presumably, his neighbors will like that even less -- which may be the whole point.


From the Chronicle's Peter Fimrite: "The Marin Community Foundation announced Tuesday that it is working with Lucasfilm to "explore options" for building affordable housing in the location where the movie mogul wanted to build a film studio until residents in an adjacent subdivision protested."


"We don't know yet what might be able to be developed there, but the notion of being able to explore his property and see if some beautifully designed family or senior housing can be developed there is too wonderful to pass up," said Thomas Peters, president and CEO of the foundation. "One of the incredible offers that Mr. Lucas made is that he would make available the extensive technical studies that have been done on that land, including water, topography, creek access and other engineering data that would give us a head start and help us determine whether senior or affordable housing can be built there."

"Lucas, whose "Star Wars" films ushered in the digital arts age, withdrew his plans last month to build a large mission-style movie-making studio on Grady Ranch, blaming the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association for being Nimbys and torpedoing it."


Gov. Brown's move to shift nearly 1 million children from subsidized private insurance into the state Medi-Cal program is running into a wall of opposition from children’s advocates, health care providers and faith-based groups.


From Dan Weintraub at HealthyCal: "Brown included the proposal to eliminate the state’s Healthy Families program in his January budget and is expected to stick with it when he releases his revised budget next week."


"But the coalition of 40 groups opposing his plan is backing an alternative that seems likely to win more support among the Democrats who control the Legislature and will be writing the final version of next year’s spending plan. The coalition includes Children Now, the Children’s Defense Fund, the California Medical Association, PICO and many other groups."


"The option backed by the coalition would preserve Healthy Families but move about 200,000 children between the ages of 6 and 18 into Medi-Cal next year."


The state's annual contribution to CalPERS is recommended for an increase of more than $200 million, a boost that reflects in part the huge pension fund's investment lackluster performance.


From CalPensions' Ed Mendel: "Actuaries recommend a $213 million increase in annual state pension payments to CalPERS in July, bringing the total to $3.7 billion."


"But $149 million would be added to the increase if the impact of a lower earnings forecast, dropped by the board in March from 7.75 percent to 7.5 percent a year, is not phased in over 20 years."


"Either way, the annual state payment to CalPERS next fiscal year would still be less than the $3.9 billion payment expected two years ago when major investment losses began to push up rates from $3.3 billion."


"The state CalPERS payment was cut by about $400 million when unions agreed to new contracts that increase worker pension contributions, up from 5 percent of pay to 8 percent pay for most workers. The current state contribution is 18 percent of pay."


Beleaguered UC students,  already protesting years of tuition increases, face yet another round of hikes as university officials plan on going for another increase.


From the Chronicle's Nanette Asimov: "The University of California will need to charge students at least 6 percent more for tuition next fall - an extra $732 - to stave off more layoffs and program closures, say UC leaders who will ask the regents next week to consider raising the price in July."


"At minimum we'll need 6 percent," said UC's budget czar, Patrick Lenz, noting that an increase of that size would take care of most of the $139 million shortfall expected for next year.

The problem, Lenz said, is that all of those numbers could get worse."


"Gov. Jerry Brown recently suggested that the state's $9.2 billion deficit may have grown by $1 billion, largely because the state received less in corporate taxes than anticipated."


California's growth rate is slowing, and earlier projections that the state would reach 40 million by now are being pushed back six years.


From Matt O'Brien at the Contra Costa Times:"Forty million people will live in California by the end of 2018 and 50 million by 2048, the state Department of Finance said in estimates released Tuesday."


"California had about 37.7 million people last year, the department said."


"A downward trend in fertility and less migration from other countries and states has changed the way experts have forecast California's future since their last major projection in 2007. The nine-county Bay Area, now home to about 7.25 million people, is projected to top 8 million in 2030, a decade later than some had predicted before the recession."


The smoke wars continue, this time with the backers of a proposed $1 per-pack boost in tobacco taxes unveiling their first TV spot.


From Steve Harmon at the Mercury News: "The Yes on Proposition 29 campaign unveiled its first TV ad Tuesday, a 15-second spot titled "Smokescreen," accusing tobacco giants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds of running a deceptive campaign to defeat a $1 per pack increase in tobacco taxes."


"Tobacco companies will continue to deceive and lie to the public about what this measure will do," said Jim Knox, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, one of the backers of Proposition 29. "That's why our ad focuses on who the opponents are, to make it clear that all the money to defeat 29 is coming from tobacco companies."


"Also on Tuesday, an unofficial adviser to the campaign called on Gov. Jerry Brown to return $26,000 he received last week from Philip Morris for his 2014 re-election campaign. In addition, the Yes on 29 campaign sent a letter to Brown asking him to remove an anti-29 doctor from a science-advisory board of physicians overseeing the effects of toxins on infants."


The money crunch is forcing communities to figure out what to keep and what to eliminate, and the choice isn't ever easy.


From J.D. Velasco in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune: "With federal funding for community programs and services being slashed by Congress, cities across the region are facing tough decisions about which local programs to keep and which ones to let go."


"San Gabriel Valley cities are scrambling to deal with cuts of 25 to 35 percent to their Community Development Block Grant funds - which help pay for everything from parks to graffiti abatement to food banks to housing programs for the needy."


"I don't think people realize how much the program has been cut," said Bill Huang, Pasadena housing director."


Two Democratic senators, Joe Simitian and Noreen Evans, have put together a plan to save California's state parks.


From the Bee's Torey Van Oot: "The proposal, which will be heard by a Senate budget subcommittee Wednesday afternoon, includes shifting as much as $40 million from existing state accounts for road maintenance, septic system repairs and trails and off-highway vehicle funds to cover parks' costs. That money would be used for purposes consistent with the original intent of those funds, Evans and Simitian said."


"Other recommendations include facilitating operating agreements with nonprofits, improving entry fee collection efforts and exploring other funding sources, such as license plates and concessions agreements. Some parks would still likely have to close, but supporters said they hoped those would be able to reopen in the future thanks to the plan."


And from our "Who Says the Roundup Isn't Useful?" file comes a how-to report on figuring out the numbers on your credit cards.


Take a look and you too will crack the credit card code....



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