About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Will 2018 Election Curb Carlsbad Cronyism?

There’s a sign that “times they are a-changin” in North County’s little Village by the Sea after Cori Schumacher was elected to the Carlsbad City Council in November. A leading activist in the successful campaign to stop a billionaire LA developer from despoiling the natural beauty of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Schumacher has already established a new model for a council member's responsibilities.

In the absence of a job description, Schumacher has written her own. Her newsletter to constituents within days of each meeting describes the issues that were up for a vote, gives background from her research on each, and explains her support or opposition. She hosts town hall meetings to invite feedback on the issues, as well as her decisions. You can subscribe here: https://www.facebook.com/CoriSchumacherforCarlsbadCityCouncil/

It’s not too early for voters to begin thinking about the three open positions for the 2018 election. In January Mayor Matt Hall and councilmember Michael Schumacher (no relation to Cori) filed forms with the city clerk, announcing their 2018 campaign fund. The mayor has $50,000 left over from his 2014 campaign. Schumacher has a balance of $13,000. Mark Packard has not yet filed, but has $8,000 left unspent.

Since we only get brief comments on their positions on the issues at council meetings, it often appears they either didn’t do their homework, are going along to get along, or are simply reflecting the wishes of their most generous campaign supporters.

Take Mayor Hall, for example. He assured Carlsbad residents that he had carefully considered Rick Caruso’s plan for developing the Agua Hedionda Lagoon property before giving it his full support, accusing opponents of being outside agitators. After voters stopped the project he admitted he had not read the plan carefully enough.

And here’s what we learned from a newspaper article a year earlier, (“Carlsbad begins analysis of strawberry fields,” Phil Diehl, San Diego Union Tribune, May 31, 2015). “Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said last week he hadn’t seen enough information yet to take a position for or against the project, but he likes the way the developer has worked to gain residents’ support.”

Developer Rick Caruso’s representative, Janette Littler, boasted, “We also continue to meet with Carlsbad residents to listen to their wishes and input several times a week through community meetings, bus tours to The Grove, at-home coffee discussions, and various other ways.”

It came as no surprise to Mayor Hall that Caruso’s representative was so good at her job. Hall had paid her, the President and CEO of Callidus Consulting Group of San Diego, a total of $13,000 in consulting fees, $4,000 of which was a “Victory Bonus,” for his successful 2014 election campaign. 

So much for the mayor’s claim of an unbiased consideration of a plan being put forward by his campaign consultant's employer.

A review of the mayor’s 2014 election campaign contributions raises more questions about the transparency of his decision making.

Hall received a total of $78,000 in contributions, including a non-monetary donation of $20,000 from Russell Grosse, a real estate developer who funded a “Celebrate Carlsbad Party and Fundraiser” for the candidate.

Six members of the Feuerstein family, their occupations each listed as “Principal: Mesa Centers,” in Newport Beach, LaJolla, and San Diego, contributed $200 each to Hall’s campaign. That’s not a lot of money, but curiosity about the mayor's connection with this organization, located in three cities outside of Carlsbad, prompted an Internet search.

My first hits on “Mesa Centers” led me to private schools and a senior center. Were the Feuerstein’s a family of school principals? Looking further I discovered the “Mira Mesa Shopping Centers.” Was the mayor working with another out-of-town developer on a bid to add another Carlsbad shopping center?

Then I found the “Mira Mesa Shopping Center LLC,” a real estate and development firm in Newport Beach that listed four Feuerstein’s as “members.”

Finally, I came across a July 2, 1993 LA Times story with the headline, “Developer Fined for Illegal Campaign Funding,” by Eric Bailey.

The development company was owned by one of Hall’s campaign donors, Arnold D. Feuerstein. The California Fair Political Practices Commission fined him $10,000 for laundering campaign contributions to a variety of candidates in city, county and statewide races. Feuerstein denied the charges, claiming, “some temporary help misapplied a reimbursement.”

Maybe the Feuerstein’s are simply family friends of the mayor’s but the mysterious way they are listed in his campaign funding statement raises questions about the extent of their influence on this elected official.

Half of Mayor Hall’s total of $78,000 in monetary and in-kind support for his 2014 campaign came from just seven individuals.

Corporate executives of Grand Pacific Resorts: Tim Stripe, David Brown and Tim Schinkel kicked in a total of $3,400. James Ukegawa, owner of the Strawberry Fields, listed by Hall only as a “farmer,” was good for $5,000. Chuck Smith, founder and CEO of PayPros, and his wife Maryanne, each contributed $5,000. Russell Grosse, the Real Estate Developer who hosted the $20,000 fundraiser,” brought Hall’s total financial support from the Deep Pocket Seven to $38,400.

In her most recent newsletter, Cori Schumacher raised the question of cronyism in city Council appointments to commissions. This followed concerns expressed by her constituents about Mayor Hall’s appointment of Lisa Rodman, an outspoken supporter of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon property development plan (featured in TV commercials for the mall project), and a High-Noon Rotarian, to the Carlsbad Planning Commission.

Schumacher points to the city municipal code requiring planning commission members to be appointed by a majority of the city Council, unlike appointments to other commissions, which only require a mayoral appointment to be made with the concurrence of the Council. She goes on to say, “Carlsbad's High-Noon Rotary is largely acknowledged as the central, local institution for Carlsbad's power elite, Carlsbad's "in-crowd."

Schumacher points out there were 10 applicants for the Planning Commission appointment, but none, other than Rodman, the mayor’s choice, were seriously considered. “I have requested Council examine our lack of a nomination process in an upcoming agenda. This should be done before we fill the next position on the Historic Preservation Commission.” 

Cori Schumacher is working hard to eliminate cronyism by bringing more transparency to Carlsbad’s elected leadership. But for that to happen voters will need to make the right decisions in the 2018 election.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Carlsbad Leaders Use Alternative Facts to Bring Big Brother to the City

Fifty-one stationary cameras, in 14 locations, together with six mobile devices added to the ones already installed on two police cars, will soon capture the license plate numbers of all cars passing through the Carlsbad. They’ll be submitted to a national database that tracks stolen vehicles and those involved in crimes.

At its March 14 meeting, on a 4 to 1 vote, the Carlsbad city Council approved the $802,000 plan to conduct surveillance of residents and non-residents alike.

The justification for placing everyone under suspicion until they're cleared in cyberspace was driven by a misleading police report on the city’s crime rate. Only newly-elected Council member Cori Schumacher challenged the numbers and the threat to privacy rights.

Schumacher asked Capt. Mickey Williams to describe the scope of images the cameras will capture. He said the focus would be on license plate numbers, but would also include the make and model of the car. When pressed, he conceded drivers’ faces might be caught as well.

Williams said a two-year crime rate increase, together with a Police Department study that found three fourths of those arrested were non-Carlsbad residents were the primary reasons to spend nearly $1 million on the license plate reader technology.

Only after being questioned by Schumacher did Williams provide the numbers to back up hisclaim of a rise in crime. He compared the number of crimes reported in calendar years 2015 and 2016. In calendar year 2015 he pointed to an overall increase of 19 percent in total crimes. In 2016 there was a four percent increase.

But a more accurate picture can be found by tracking the number of crimes over the last 24 months, from March 2015 through February 2017. During that period the number of crimes declined by six percent.

Pressed once again by Schumacher, Williams agreed the number of crimes reported in calendar year 2014 was among the lowest on record. That statistical outlier exaggerates the growth in crime in a single year. My numbers come from the same source Williams cited, ARJIS, the Automated Regional Justice Information System.

The mayor, who has already filed with the city his Matt Hall for Mayor 2018 Committee, carrying forward the $50,000 campaign war chest remaining from his 2014 election, coached Williams to agree with him that the alleged rise in crime was caused by California’s early release felons residing in and around Carlsbad.

Mayor Hall: “Any information on early release individuals in or about this area?”

Williams: “I can’t give you a number, but anecdotally officers say there’s been an increase in the city. But the actual number is relatively low.”

Hall: “You also said that most criminals are from outside the city. How many early release prisoners are in San Diego County?”

Williams: “I can’t say. The number is constantly changing.”

Hall: “But it is significant?”

Williams “Yes, and there are theories it’s affected the crime rate.”

Hall: “There is a direct correlation.”

Williams: “Yes.”

Hall’s questions, and Williams’s answers, suggest neither has read the latest study of California’s prison release program, “Mass reduction of California prison population didn’t cause rise in crime, two studies find,” (Washington Post, Tom Jackman, May 18, 2016) “Criminology professors Jody Sundt, Emily J. Salisbury and Mark G. Harmon, found that an astounding 17 percent reduction in the size of the California prison population, had no effect on aggregate rates of violent or property crime.”

The mayor also fails to distinguish between correlation and causation. There’s a direct correlation, for example, between the beating of drums and the reappearance of the sun after a total eclipse.
Hall has no evidence to support his claim that ex-cons living in or around the city have caused a rise in crime. He’s just beating his drum of preconceived notions.

To his credit, Council member Mark Packard asked Williams, “Do you have data on how these cameras have solved crimes?”

Williams replied, “We don’t have that data, what we do know from our discussions with agencies that have these is that they’re able to intercept criminals before crimes have occurred.”

Packard: “Do we have data on what percent that happens? In meetings with the community they’d want to know what percent improvement there might be?”

Williams: “No, we don’t have that information.”

Packard got no answers to his questions, but voted for the costly program anyway, explaining that a one-time investment would be cheaper than employing more permanent police officers. “My concern,” he added, “is that five new officers would cost a million dollars a year!”

Council member Keith Blackburn asked Williams if citizens could request information from the license plate readers. Williams replied that the Freedom of Information Act does not allow that now, since the data is considered, “law enforcement investigative files,” but that the California Supreme Court is currently considering a case to address that question.

Blackburn, a retired police officer, was the most enthusiastic supporter of the plan. Putting aside privacy issues and cost, he called it, “a great deal if it solves one crime.”

But it appears Anaheim, California may have gotten a better deal. At its March 22, 2016 meeting the city Council authorized a purchase order to Vigilant Solutions, the same company that will store Carlsbad’s LPR records, in the amount of $69,994.80. That’s $7,000 per camera, compared to Carlsbad’s $14,000 apiece for 57 units.

The Council’s rubber stamp approval of the million-dollar plan, the final action item of a five-hour meeting, with only one newly-elected Council member raising questions about a cost benefit analysis and potential for success, with only a small number of residents who survived the length of the meeting to raise privacy issues, smacks of the same way of doing business when billionaire developer Rick Caruso came to town a couple of years ago with his plan to save the Strawberry Fields by destroying the tranquil beauty of the city’s Aqua Hedionda Lagoon.

It also suggests how important next year's city Council election will be.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trump's Plan to Make American Education Great Again: Abandon Public Schools

President-elect Trump described his choice for Secretary of Education in a November 23rd tweet as a "passionate education advocate," who will "break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families." Tweeting her reply, Betsy DeVos vowed to work with Trump "on his vision to make American education great again."

Will tweets follow, identifying those years of greatness, together with the plan to return to them? Don't hold your breath.

Over the last half century eight presidents (four Democrats, four Republicans) recognized the shortcomings of American education.

In 1962 President Kennedy's Special Message to Congress on Education, declared, "Our educational system has failed to keep pace with the problems and needs of our complex technological society. Too many are illiterate or untrained, and thus either unemployed or under-employed."

In 1965 President Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a cornerstone of his "War on Poverty," recognized poverty as a prime reason many students fail. The law provided federal funding to schools to help children from low income households close their achievement gap in reading, writing, and mathematics.

In 1979 President Carter, declaring education "our most important investment," signed into law the establishment of a cabinet level U.S. Department of Education.

In 1983 President Reagan's National Commission on Excellence in Education produced a report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, a comprehensive collection of data revealing, "Thirteen percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy among minority youth may run as high as 40 percent."

In 1990 President George H.W. Bush promised, "By the year 2000, US students must be the first in the world in math and science achievement. Every American adult must be a skilled, literate worker and citizen. The nation will not accept anything less than excellence in education."

In 1994 President Clinton signed the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, holding schools accountable for results, adding Innovative Education Strategies, such as charter schools, and reauthorizing Johnson's 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In 2002 President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, holding schools accountable for student proficiency at grade level by the 2013-14 school year.

After NCLB failed to reach that goal, President Obama signed its replacement on December 10, 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The half-century parade of legislation to improve schools shows that American education has never enjoyed a golden age of greatness DeVos promises to restore. But there's plenty of evidence of progress, thanks to our last eight presidents.

--Kennedy made better schools vital to our national interests.
--Johnson recognized how poverty crushed student achievement.
--Carter raised education issues to cabinet-level importance.
--Reagan spurred reform with hard evidence of failing schools.
--Bush Sr. set a goal for America to be first in the world in math and science.
--Clinton introduced accountability for results and innovative programs.
--Bush set specific reading/math goals for all students.
--Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative rewarded innovation and accountability.

Trump has now nominated a billionaire philanthropist to be his Secretary of Education. Betsy DeVos has no experience at all in traditional public education, neither in her own schooling, nor in school advocacy and support. She graduated from Holland Christian High School and Calvin College in Michigan. She sent her children to private Christian schools.

A national leader in parental choice, DeVos has advocated for public funding of vouchers for private, faith-based schools, and home schooling. She opposes Common Core, the achievement standards describing what students should know and be able to do from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Devos is Chairman of the Board of the American Federation for Children, whose mission statement reads: We believe public education must be defined as providing families with the public funding they need to choose the education they determine is best for their children. The Foundation supports policies that empower families to choose a public, charter, private, virtual or home school."

Unlike any of the ten previous leaders of the U.S. Office of Education, DeVos has shown more interest in public financing of private schools than improving public schools for all.

DeVos will oversee a government agency whose mission goes beyond the issue of school choice. 

According to the DOE website, its mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. The department is dedicated to making policy on college student loans and grants, collecting data and disseminating research on America's schools, focusing national attention on school issues, prohibiting discrimination, and ensuring equal access to education.

Among the department's 2014-2018 priority goals are these:
--Increase enrollment in high-quality state pre-school programs

--Improve learning by ensuring that more students have effective teachers and leaders

--Support comprehensive early learning assessment systems

With his choice of Betsy DeVos, it's clear President-elect Trump believes the quality of schools can be easily ranked, parents should have the freedom to choose schools for their children based on that ranking, taxpayer funding will be available regardless of whether it’s a public or private school, and competition for students will result in better schools for all.

It's a free enterprise model, creating winners and losers for schools as well as students.

Studies have shown student test scores, commonly used to rate schools, correlate closely with family income. The quality of a school can be predicted by its address. Without alleviating the burden of poverty and crime facing students before and after school because of where they live, school choice vouchers represent the abandonment of America's commitment to a good school in every neighborhood.

If Betsy DeVos is confirmed by the Senate it may come as no surprise to find President Trump signing the Every Parent Satisfied School Choice Act.

Kids who've chosen the wrong parents need not apply.