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.

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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Trump White House: Pulpit for a Bully?

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kṻbler-Ross described five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the wee hours of the morning on November 9, I entered Stage One. When I went to bed the night before, I remained hopeful, but harbored a gnawing dread that Trump could actually win. That week's Saturday Night Live skit of an election night party with true believer Democrats, captured how I felt.

Shortly after midnight I woke up to check the latest news on my iPad. I couldn't believe what I saw. There had to be a terrible mistake. By sunrise my brief encounter with denial had turned to anger. If I were 30 years younger I would have joined protesters in the streets.

But a couple of arthritic hips, together with vivid memories of how I survived the elections of Nixon, Reagan and Bush (both father and son), suggested I stay home. Trump lost the popular vote by more than a million votes, but so had four other presidents before him. On December 19, Electoral College voters will do what they've always done, elect our President.

So I'm following the losing candidate's and President Obama's leads. After a campaign subjecting her to infantile name-calling, Hillary Clinton's concession speech was gracious. "Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead," she told supporters.

President Obama, whose very legacy was on the line in the election, echoed Clinton's words. "It is no secret that the President-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country."

That said, there are plenty of reasons to fear what lies ahead. Words matter, just as black and blue lives do. Those who've taken to the streets haven't forgotten how Trump began his campaign with these words about undocumented immigrants: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

Throughout his campaign Trump resorted to name-calling and ridicule of everyone criticizing him, justifying his attacks by explaining when he's hit he hits back harder. Now he says he wants to be President of all the people, refusing to apologize for anything he's said, claiming they were just part of a hard fought campaign.

Teddy Roosevelt called the White House his "bully pulpit." The question many are now asking is will President Donald Trump's White House become the pulpit of a bully?

Trump's bullying became personal for me when, at one of his campaign events, he mocked New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who'd been critical of the candidate.

"Now, the poor guy, you ought to see this guy..." Trump jerked his arms in front of his body, flailing them in imitation of Kovaleski’s disability, arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of his joints. Trump later claimed he didn't even know the reporter and was not mocking his disability.

But the truth can be found in an August 2, 2016 Washington Post article, Donald Trump’s revisionist history of mocking a disabled reporter, by fact checker Glenn Kessler, who gave Trump four Pinocchio's for his refusal to apologize for his viciously unfair attack.

Ten years ago the love of my life was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition causing the narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of the spinal cord and nerves. In addition to creating chronic back pain, it affects her ability to walk.

When she walks across the room at home she has to hold her arms out for balance. When we go for walks in the park, she either has to hold tightly to my arm, or use a cane. In public she fears curbs, stairs, crowds and children, all of which threaten her balance.

She vows to keep walking as long as she is able, recognizing she may one day need a wheelchair to go anywhere.

Like many others with similar, less visible, disabilities, Karen's is not as likely to be mocked as is Serge Kovaleski's. But it often elicits embarrassment, and even rudeness, in public places, despite provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Take the time we booked a Daytripper bus tour, only to encounter a vehicle that did not lower its steps to ground level, or promise that we could sit together, even if I could lift her up the steps, an impossible embarrassment in itself.

We got our money back, of course, with an explanation that disabled customers could request a van, IF one were available. That proviso can be found only in the fine print of the tour company's promotional brochure.

What does Karen's spinal stenosis have to do with Making America Great Again? Trump's tough campaign rhetoric suggests the rise of an American version of social Darwinism, survival of the fittest.

That's not good news for those with disabilities.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Who Owns Cody Campbell?

Hint: They're Not Vista Voters

Of the $16,874 from a total of 41 donors to Cody Campbell's campaign for reelection to Vista's City Council, only $2,640 came from city residents. He could thank the six of them by having them over for dinner.

To thank the others he will have to drive up the coast to Irvine and Newport Beach, after stopping in Oceanside to thank Mayor James Wood for his $300 donation and visiting other generous residents of Vista's neighboring cities.

But take a closer look at the out-of-towners to get a clue to their affection for the politician.

Vista limits individual campaign donations to no more than $440. But that didn't stop four businesses with shared urban development interests and the same mailing address (6885 Alton Pkwy. Suite 100 Irvine, California), from giving Campbell $1,760 on the same day last month, September 28.

Progressive Realty Partners is a property management group; Trico Capital Investments specializes in multi- family, mixed-use and retail properties; VASF 1 CA SPV, LLC is a Self-Storage business, and Hard Hat Inc. is a design/build firm.

At the City Council's March 8 meeting, Campbell proposed an amendment to the city's General Plan to change zoning on a 1.9 acre parcel of vacant land to allow Trico Capital Investments to build a two-story, commercial building with office/retail and storage space.  Hard Hat Inc. partnered with Trico in the plan. Seven months later the two companies joined to give Campbell $880 for his campaign.

Silvergate Development, the San Diego firm responsible for developing Vista's new City Hall, gave Campbell's campaign $440 the following day, on September 29. The development firm has a plan to demolish the Breeze Hill Shopping Center to build apartments, as well as another to build apartments at Creekside, next to Frazier Farms.

Silvergate has appealed to the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission's recent vote to require an Environmental Impact Report for the Breeze Hill apartment project. Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby appealed an earlier Planning Commission's vote to approve the Creekside development. Both appeals are scheduled to be heard by the city Council at its November 15 meeting.

Pathfinder Management Co., partners with Silvergate on the Creekside apartment project, gave Campbell $440 on September 29.

The four partners of Integral Communities, a Real Estate firm in Newport Beach, kicked in a total of $1,760 to Campbell's campaign. They want a 17.7-acre site in South Vista to be rezoned to allow for a mixed-use project. A vote wasn't taken on it at the Council's January 12 meeting, but, as the Coast News reported, "a majority of Council members say they were open to the idea of rezoning the land at 2100 W. San Marcos Boulevard to allow for a mixed-use development. Vista Palomar, proposed by Integral Communities, would include 196 two- and three-bedroom condos and a 100-room four-story hotel. Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby said she wanted to examine the differences between mixed-use and residential zoning before moving forward on the idea, but her colleagues expressed support for a housing development. Councilman Cody Campbell said he considered the proposal smart growth." (Hoa Quach, The Coast News, Jan. 12) http://www.thecoastnews.com/2016/01/15/new-condos-could-come-to-vista/

Ten corporate donors from Irvine, Newport Beach, La Jolla and San Diego gave Campbell's campaign a total of $4,400; twenty-five other non-residents of the city gave him $9,834; Six Vista voters gave him $2,640. Any question about how Campbell will vote at the November 15 City Council meeting, when the Council votes on whether to approve the Creekside and Breeze Hill development plans?

On November 8 Vistans will decide whether they want him there.