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I'm a retired university administrator and blogger for Carlsbad Patch, San Diego Reader and Carlsbadistan.com

Monday, January 14, 2013

Carlsbad's Proposed RV Parking Ordinance

At its January 29 meeting, the city council will vote on a new ordinance that would offer free parking permits for recreational vehicles for up to 144 days a year for a resident, 18 days for an out of town visitor. According to the draft proposal, the new law is intended to respond to "an increase in complaints regarding the parking and /or storage of Oversized Vehicles."

As one who's complained about how often they've put my safety at risk by blocking the view of oncoming traffic on side streets, my response to the proposed law is, don't do me any favors.

Eliminating permanent RV parking will definitely be a big improvement. But this proposal will wind up being costly to taxpayers and is weakened by attempting to accommodate motor home owners. It
may be better to start over again.

Here are its two major problems.

1. Parking permits will allow a resident to park an oversized vehicle for four periods of up to 72 hours per calendar month, making it possible for an RV to be parked in front of an owner's house every weekend year-round. Out of town guests of residents may be granted permits for up to six periods per year of up to 72 hours each, an additional 18 days, bringing the yearly total to 162 days of allowable curbside parking. City streets may become slightly safer for drivers and less trashy by getting rid of permanent parking, but the visual blight will remain.

2. Among the reasons listed for denying a parking permit for up to one year include a two-strikes provision that penalizes an applicant who has violated the parking time limits two or more times, as well as out-of-town visitors who are "not a guest of the applicant." There's no definition of who qualifies as a "guest."

The new law will either increase the burden on compliance code officers or will be left mostly unenforced, creating more of the complaints city leaders want to reduce. I'm guessing it will be the latter, since permits will be free and the cost of assuring compliance has not been addressed. Stepping up compliance enforcement without a parking permit fee is likely to mean the costs will be borne by city taxpayers.

Although the ordinance is well-intentioned, it's far too lenient to make much of a difference to those who share my complaints about RV parking. Seems to me the hulking eyesores will continue to be as obstructive and detrimental to the attractiveness of the city's neighborhoods as they are now.

Here's the link to the draft proposal to see for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/bd7ry6z

Better Than Red-light Cameras

I'm a fan of red-light cameras, despite cursing them for the $600 they cost me for a San Diego intersection photo op and online traffic school instruction.

My wife and I were on our way back from the airport when I came upon the turn off North Harbor Drive onto West Laurel Street. I call it the Intersection From Hell, where two streams of oncoming traffic, controlled by two stop lights, divide. Traffic was light that day, and we were engaged in a spirited conversation. While crossing through the IFH I asked my wife, "Did I just run a red light?" She said, "I think so."

I was certain she was wrong after several weeks of opening the mail with baited breath. Two months had passed before I received the photos of me at the wheel. They were taken from three different angles of our Honda caught in the middle of the intersection while a red light beamed in the background.

After briefly considering a court appearance, pleading old guy confusion in hopes of a reduced fine, I decided to use the painful episode as a learning experience. It not only taught me to be more alert behind the wheel, but to pay closer attention to speed limits and amber lights.

I'm not unhappy with the absence of red-light cameras in Carlsbad. Maybe there are fewer serious accidents caused by stoplight violators. But using technology to improve traffic safety makes a lot of sense. California drivers are famous for ignoring speed limits, refusing to use turn signals, and engaging in rolling stops. Traffic cops need all the help they can get to keep us safe on the road.

The most effective use of technology for traffic safety I've seen is the digital speed limit signs showing your current speed together with the posted speed limit. What makes them so effective when standard speed limit signs and your own speedometer give you the same information? Edward Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics, explains why. The blinking of their message catches your eye with its instant feedback and displays your speed to other drivers, producing peer pressure to drive within the limit.

Aviara Parkway has digital speed limit signs lining the road as it passes Aviara Elementary School. They light up when you approach the speed limit and begin blinking, SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN! when you exceed it. Unlike red-light cameras, you don't get your picture taken and slapped with a fine a few months later.

Red-light camera objectors claim they make too many mistakes, that they create more rear-end collisions, and that they're just a scam to enable cities to collaborate with private companies to pick our pockets.

There's plenty of evidence red-light cameras are more helpful than harmful, but maybe expanding the use of digital speed limit signs and other technology that changes bad driving behavior, rather than simply punishing it, will be both more effective and more acceptable to those who fear Big Brother.

Sandy Hook Could Happen Here


It could happen here. In fact, it did happen here two years ago, on October 8, 2010, when a mentally ill gunman jumped a fence, entered the Kelly Elementary schoolyard and began firing at kids ranging from 7 to 11 years old. Two seven-year-old girls were struck in their arms. It was a miracle nobody died. Had the shooter been carrying the same semi-automatic rifle used by the Sandy Hook Elementary School killer the result would have been a tragedy of the same magnitude.

Wednesday, after several days of grieving for the families who lost loved ones in that small town in Connecticut, we were greeted by a press release from the Carlsbad School District reporting that a high school student had "threatened to cause harm" to other students on December 21. The threat had been made "prior to" the Sandy Hook tragedy. The student has been identified, and school officials say there is "no reason to believe the student has the means to act on this threat" and that they're keeping in "close contact with the family and school authorities to determine the appropriate next steps in keeping the campus safe."

Following the April 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting that took 32 lives, ABC News reported 323 students had died during the previous 15 years in documented school shootings.

The mass murder of 20 children in Connecticut keeps pace with that annual death rate. Will our response be different because of the age of the victims? Early signals from President Obama and Congress gives me hope, but the pushback against gun control from the National Rifle Association is not encouraging.

We've already heard claims that gun-free zones, like schools, are "magnets for mass murder," since shooters know teachers are unarmed. By that line of reasoning, the way to keep school children safe is for teachers to be trained marksman. And who better to train and credential them than the NRA?
But when it comes to gun control, let's face facts. The current population of the United States is about 314 million. Estimates of privately owned guns range from 190 to 300 million. A 2011 Gallup Poll estimates 47 percent of households own at least one gun.

The question isn't a matter of number of guns, it's their availability to the wrong people. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says gun shows and online shopping results in only about 40 percent of gun purchases made after background checks.

Legislation banning assault weapons, expanding background checks and investing in mental health treatment can all help to reduce the number of tragedies like Columbine and Sandy Hook. But we can all play a part in cultural change. The graphic depiction of violence in video games, on TV and in popular movies thrives only because of its profitability. Censorship in a free society is not the answer.

But there's something hypocritical about weeping over violent acts while buying tickets to see them depicted on a screen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Charter School Flunks Twice in One Year

A San Bernardino County charter school failed for the second time this year to win approval to open a campus in North County. Carlsbad school district trustees voted unanimously last week to reject the Oxford Preparatory Academy’s charter proposal. In January the Oceanside school board took the same action on OPA’s bid for a school there.

Charter school supporters often claim school district opposition is driven more by union and administrative protectionism than what’s best for students. On December 6 the newly politicized version of the North County Times, for example, reported the charter school proposal had been turned down mostly because it contained overly-optimistic enrollment and budget projections and a lack of interest shown by local teachers.

But closer look at the facts shows how rejecting the school’s proposal was clearly in the best interests of Carlsbad students. It was not a matter of school district protectionism. In fact, a review of OPA’s curriculum and the students it already serves at its Chino and Capistrano campuses reveals how the school fails to live up to the legislative intent of California’s 1992 Charter School Act. Carlsbad and Oceanside school officials were right to give it a failing grade.

I’m no expert in school budgeting, but there’s little doubt OPA’s projection of an enrollment of 864 students on opening day next fall was wildly optimistic. Responses to a parent survey found just 53 of 685 surveyed saying “Yes” to their intent to enroll their child in the charter school.

But even more important than pie in the sky enrollment projections was the district’s finding that the school’s proposal meets only half of the 16 elements required of charter schools by California’s Education Code.

Here are some of the major deficiencies:
  1. School policies will “promote a disparate impact on the parents of minority students, low income students, students with disabilities, and English learners.”
  2. The students attracted to the school will not reflect the racial and ethnic balance of the Carlsbad School District. In the Capistrano school district, for example, 62 percent of students are white. But OPA’s Capistrano campus enrollment is 72 percent white. In Carlsbad it’s 58 percent.
  3. Enrollment data from existing campuses do not reflect the student population of the chartering districts. The Chino Unified School District’s enrollment includes 14 percent who are English Learners. It’s just 4 percent on the Chino OPA campus. It’s 9 percent in Carlsbad.
  4. The school does not plan to participate in the National School Lunch Program or to provide for daily breakfasts or lunches.
  5. The school’s plan is for a 170 day school year compared to Carlsbad’s a 177 day school year.
  6. The OPA Governing Board is in Chino, 80 miles away. It meets only quarterly and does not require a single board member to be a Carlsbad resident.
The legislative intent of California’s Charter School Act of 1992 calls for charter schools to “Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.”

I am a supporter of charter schools that meet this intent. An excellent example is Vista’s North County Trade Tech High, which enrolls students who’ve had problems succeeding in a traditional public school because of unusually high absenteeism. In June the school graduated its first class of 20 students. Thirteen will enroll in local colleges, five have been hired as apprentices in local building and trade companies, and two have joined the military. It’s a school that changes lives.

I’m also a supporter of private education, proud of the excellent instruction I received from Dominican Sisters in grade school and Benedictine monks at a small liberal arts college.

But Oxford Preparatory Academy appears to be a place for the white and well-to-do to give their children a college prep private school education at taxpayer expense.

Good for the Carlsbad and Oceanside school officials for recognizing that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Confessions of a Newspaper Junkie



My name is Richard and I'm a recovering newspaper junkie. After trying the more fat, less filling version of U-T San Diego's North County Times Lite, I canceled our subscription last month.

They didn't make it easy for me, continuing to deliver the ad-bloated pages of self promotion posing as a newspaper at our front door for two more weeks in hopes I'd fall off the wagon.

I now get my regional news fix from sources free of U-T San Diego's political agenda: San Diego NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, Voice of San Diego and San Diego Reader; and neighborhood news from The Coast News, Carlsbadistan.com and Carlsbad Patch.

I've kept my withdrawal symptoms under control by succumbing to the sensual pleasure of what the New York Times calls "the tuck," "the delivery," and "the crinkle," with a subscription to the Sunday edition.

You'd think I'd finally be free of U-T San Diego. But you'd be wrong. Two Sunday mornings ago we found two packages wrapped in plastic at our front door: the Sunday Times and a "U-T SD Extra," a free copy of the Health section of U-T San Diego, wrapped around a packet of ads thicker than the old North County Times Sunday Edition.

Disgusted by the litter, I checked the Carlsbad City Municipal Code and discovered Section 040 of Chapter 8.32 PEDDLERS, SOLICITORS, VENDORS AND CANVASSERS: Entering private property for the purpose of sale without permission.

"No person shall go onto private property within the city for the purpose of selling, offering for sale or soliciting orders for the sale of any merchandise, product, service or thing whatsoever when the occupant of such property has given notice or warned such persons to keep away. A sign posted by the occupant of the property, with the words "no solicitors" or "no peddlers" or other similar words, at or near the front door or primary entrance to a residential structure on private property, shall constitute sufficient notice or warning pursuant to this section."

The promotional garbage left on our front porch contained a solicitation for subscribing to the daily edition. We don't have a "no solicitors" sign posted near our front door, but our condominium association has one at its entrance. So I sent an email to the U-T advertising director, Kimi Macias, citing the city code and informing her we don't want any more complimentary issues. I got no reply. The following Sunday another SD Extra lay on the sidewalk before our front door.

I'll try a "no peddlers" sign next Sunday, but I'm not hopeful it will work. There's a smell of desperation emerging from the U-T's corporate offices about their circulation numbers, after they dropped sharply last year. We've heard nothing but happy talk from the co-owners that the purchase of the North County Times and a new "multiplatform strategy" will turn that around.

At an Oceanside Rotary Club meeting last month, as reported in the club's November 16 Shorelines Newsletter, CEO John Lynch claimed the U-T is 10th in the country in circulation and that "their combined multimedia opportunities had the capacity to reach 96 percent of the households of the San Diego region each month."

He didn't bother with any evidence to prove his claims. In the interests of "keeping them honest," I checked the latest September 30 national rankings of newspapers by the Alliance for Audited Media. The Union Tribune does not make it into the top 25 of dailies in circulation, ranking 23rd in Sunday circulations. Over the last year the Sunday edition lost 17,000 readers.

As for the Union Tribune's "capacity to reach" 96 percent of households in the region, let's do the math. According to SANDAG there are 1.1 million occupied households in our region. The newspaper's average daily circulation is 300,000, on Sundays, 352,000. Lynch's undefined claim of "capacity to reach" could be made by just about every media outlet, assuming 96 percent of households have radios or TVs.

As long as we're making unsupported claims, here's my own conclusion from an out my car window conversation with a North County Times street corner hawker who told me, "Everybody hates the new NCT!" He'd sold only 5 newspapers in three hours at the intersection.

As consolation for our continuing receipt of free copies of Sunday U-T SD Extra's, our toy poodle Olivia is gonna love her new pooper scooper.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pay Now or Pay Later for Schools

After comparing their school test scores with statewide results you’d probably agree Carlsbad’s 5th graders, like their Lake Wobegone classmates, are all above average

When No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002 it was supposed to produce 100 percent grade level proficiency in English and math for all students by 2014. But to this date only 59 percent of California 5th graders have reached proficiency in English, only 63 percent in math. By comparison, 79 percent of Carlsbad’s 5th graders are proficient in English and 80 percent in math.

But the greater concern about these scores is the lingering achievement gap separating students by family income. Californian’s should care because 59 percent of the state’s 5th graders come from low income families. Only 47 percent of them are proficient in English, 55 percent in math. That doesn’t bode well for the state’s future workforce, which will need higher level skills than today’s workers.



Only 23 percent of Carlsbad 5th graders are economically disadvantaged. Although more are grade level proficient at 59 percent in English, 58 percent in math, the test score gap separating them from their more well-to-do classmates is greater than it is statewide. And the city’s abundance of high tech companies will demand an even better trained workforce.

The demand for school reform has amounted mostly to bad-mouthing teacher unions, abandoning our historic commitment to public education, and the rise of charter schools that, with a few notable exceptions, show no better learning results but are preferred by parents searching for socially compatible safe havens for their children.

I spoke last week with Valin Brown, CEO and President of the Board of The Carlsbad Educational Foundation. CEF helps raise private support to contribute about $500k each year for programs that help promote educational excellence for the 11,000 students in the Carlsbad School District. The foundation has a special interest in music education, “hands-on” science education, and educational innovation that takes learning out of the classroom and into the community.

While CEF gets about $350k of its in revenue annually from private donors and corporate grants, its primary source of revenue comes from tuition and fees generated by its Kids Care and Summer Academy programs. Both show potential for enhancing school reform and closing the family-income achievement gap. Unfortunately, neither has the funding to expand its reach to more families who might benefit from them.

Kids Care is a high-quality, licensed child care and educational enrichment program, providing safe, convenient, before and after school care for kindergarten through 5th grade students. It’s available in all 9 elementary schools. Tuition ranges from $120 to $495 per month, which puts it beyond the reach of many low income families.

Brown told me some financial aid is available and that 120 of the 700 currently enrolled students are funded entirely by California’s After School Enrichment and Safety (ASES) grant program. Research has shown before and after school programs can have a substantially positive effect on classroom success. Teachers often speak of their frustration trying to overcome in their limited classroom time the obstacles students face daily outside the classroom.

There are about 2,000 students in Carlsbad schools classified as economically disadvantaged. More access to CEF’s Kids Care could make a big difference in their learning.

The other CEF program that could be expanded to help this student population is the Carlsbad Summer Academy, which enables students in grades 9 through 12 to accelerate their high school progress, allowing them to complete graduation requirements early and prepare for college entrance tests. Brown explained its Summer Academy does not do “catch up” classes because remediation has always been the responsibility of public schools.

Unfortunately, budget cuts hurt low income students most. But I don’t blame CEF for its reluctance to move into remediation and let taxpayers off the hook.

So, where does that leave school reform in a city where all the kids are “above average?” Until we begin to care as much for the ones being left behind as we do for those at the head of the class, I don’t see much hope. Whether its willingness to pay higher taxes or to give to private foundations, that’s where you’ll find our priorities, as well as the future of our economy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Is the Tea Party Finally Over?

You could hear a collective sigh of relief in school district offices throughout California after voters approved Prop 30 on Tuesday. Not that happy days are here again for school funding. The Carlsbad school district has already cut costs by $6.1 million this year. Teachers, managers and other school workers pitched in with $2 million of that amount in pay cuts.

If Prop 30 had failed to pass, another $4.8 million would have been slashed from city schools, amounting to a hit of nearly $11 million in a single year.

But the best news from Tuesday’s election results is that the air is beginning to leak from the anti-tax Tea Party balloon. Maybe it’s the irony voters are beginning to see in the public’s eagerness to contribute millions to political campaigns to support candidates who pledge not to raise their taxes by a dime and who hate government so much they’ll say or do anything to win a seat in it.


Here are the losers who were on Carlsbad ballots, endorsed by either the Tri-City Tea Party, representing Oceanside, Vista and Carlsbad or the San Diego Tea Party. They were all endorsed as well by the new publisher of U-T San Diego’s North County Times, “Big Daddy Doug” Manchester (I refuse to use his preferred nickname, “Papa,” in deference to the memory of Ernest Hemingway, who earned the title).

Mitt Romney
Elizabeth Emken (U.S. Senate)
Brian Bilbray (52nd Congressional District)
Carl Demaio, (SD Mayor)
Jerry Kern, (Oceanside Mayor)
Nick Popaditch (53rd Congressional District)
Steve Danon (3rd District County Supervisor)
Jim Miller (Superior Court Judge, Office 25)
Chip Dykes (Oceanside City Council)
Sherry Hodges (76th Assembly District)

Hodges was proud to be the “inaugural signer” of a pledge never to vote for tax increases designed by Gary Gonsalves, a local Grover Norquist wannabe and co-founder of Stop Taxing Us. The pledge was circulated to all local candidates, who were asked to sign, or refuse to sign it, on camera. Hodges was joined by eight true believers for a YouTube video of the event.

Two of her primary opponents, Farrah Douglas and Rocky Chavez, both Republicans, were not so eager. Douglas signed on camera. But her captive look, sitting at a table with Gonsalves standing behind her, flanked by his two grim lieutenants, is reminiscent of a hostage taking. Chavez agreed to sign the pledge, but declined to be videotaped doing it.

I asked Douglas and Chavez why they had pledged allegiance to Gonsalves and not to the best interests of their constituents. They explained the Tea Party had the power to destroy their campaigns. But I got the feeling neither of them would ask permission from anybody before voting on any bill.

Douglas paid the price for not showing enough love for her Tea Party bullies when Hodges prevailed at the polls after launching a last ditch personal attack on her fellow Republican.

In the general election, following a strong endorsement from Douglas, Chavez survived yet another Hodges character assassination attack, defeating her by 58 to 42 percent. That’s called a landslide in politics.

The forest of “No on AA, CC, EE” signs littering roadsides over the last month enabled the anti-tax crowd to defeat bond issues for San Dieguito High School, Del Mar School District, and Mira Costa College. But they were all approved by the majority of voters, with Del Mar’s getting 53 percent, San Dieguito 54, and Mira Costa 54. Unfortunately, they needed 55 percent to pass.

Prop 30 got only 45 percent approval in San Diego County, but it passed with 54 percent statewide. Had it required a super majority Carlsbad students would have been the losers.
Although the Tea Party may not be over yet, Tuesday’s election results show its days may be numbered.