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After my 30-year career in public education, I began my second life as a freelance journalist, beginning as an op-ed columnist for the former San Diego daily North County Times. During the 2008 Presidential campaign I edited the Huffington Post's daily column, Roadkill: OffTheBus's Ongoing RoundUp of the Awkward, the Ugly, and the Just Plain Weird. My articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, the San Diego Free Press, the San Diego Reader's BlogDiego, Carlsbadistan-Taming The Wilds of Carlsbad-by-The-Sea, and the OsideNews.com. Email me at richard_riehl@yahoo.com, follow me on Twitter, @RichardRiehl and friend me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/richard.riehl.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Preserving Citizen-led Advocacy The Right Way

After vowing never again to sign a petition, my wife and I are headed to Alga Norte Park this afternoon to sign one. It's our attempt to make up for foolishly falling for the pitch to support an initiative to "save the strawberry fields." The man with the clipboard at my door claimed he was a member of a group of concerned citizens, rallying to save them.

A day later I learned how I had been sweet-talked into abandoning my skepticism of California's bogus initiative campaigns. He was far from the public-spirited do-gooder he represented himself to be. The guy walking away with my signature was paid for its delivery to the developer who was rallying to bring a strip mall to the strawberry fields.

Caruso Affiliated's deceptive $2.5 million marketing campaign was rewarded with the unanimous support of Carlsbad's City Council, who decided spending less than 1 percent of its reserve budget on a special election was too great a cost to allow a vote of the people. They also refused a 30-day delay to consider additional feedback from their constituents.

The city's website describes the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan as a "citizen-led initiative," proposed by the city's former planning commissioner, the former chair of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, and the President of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation. The website lists them by name only, simply as "residents," rather than the politically well-connected individuals they are. Caruso Affiliated is listed as the "primary sponsor of the plan."

After the City Council's vote, out of both curiosity and sour grapes, I conducted an online search for "Preserving Carlsbad Open Space The Right Way." I discovered the initiative's campaign slogan is also the name of a "California Corporation, filed May 18." The registered agent for the company is Sean P. Welch, a San Rafael attorney, whose law firm, Nielsen Merksamer, advises clients on "all aspects of campaigning for initiatives and referenda ballot measures." Topping the firm's list of clients is Caruso Affiliated, LLC.

The good news for Nielsen Merksamer is that all initiative campaigns, win or lose, are good for their bottom-line. The bad news for us is that this "citizen-led" initiative was actually a corporate-led one that cut the people out of the picture.

Today my wife and I will sign a legitimate citizen-led referendum. It's being organized by Citizens For North County, a 501(c) 4 advocating on behalf of preserving North San Diego County’s natural habitat, quality of life, and character. Unlike Caruso Affiliated's corporate campaign, this one's truly an all-volunteer effort, with no paid signature gatherers, and absolutely no financial support from any large corporations.

Not surprisingly, Rick Caruso launched his fight against the referendum at a press conference yesterday, claiming it was being financed by a potential market competitor, the Westfield Mall (Seaside Courier, Aug. 31). In response, Westfield's Executive VP of Corporate Relations issued this statement, "Despite the use of the Westfield name in false statements by Caruso and others, Westfield is not providing any support, financial or otherwise, to the referendum drive."

Citizens for North County will need at least 10 percent of Carlsbad registered voters, about 6,500, to sign the referendum by September 24 to force the City Council either to rescind its approval of the project and call a special election, or certify the referendum and put it on the ballot for the next general election.

Don't listen to the guy who fooled you the first time around. Go instead to sign the referendum today, beginning at 3:30 to 7:30 pm at Alga Norte Park, the same time Wednesday at Poinsettia Community Park and Thursday at Calavera Hills Community Park.

Better yet, be a volunteer to preserve citizen-led advocacy the right way and earn your right to vote on the project.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Preserve Carlsbad Open Space the Right Way: Let Us Vote

When it comes to air pollution, the Carlsbad City Council's report on the Agua Hedionda Initiative, the "9212 Report," reads a little like "close enough for guv'ment work." When it comes to traffic congestion, it's a developer's faith-based initiative. But when it comes to the city's projected $2.6 million a year tax revenue windfall it's, "Whoopee, we're gonna be rich!"

City staff took 2 1/2 months to write the August 7 report. The Council and general public will have had 17 days to read and think about what's in its 254 pages, and the 542 additional pages of supporting documents, before next Tuesday, August 25, when the Council will decide whether to approve the plan with no further review, put it on the ballot for voters to decide, or take more time to think it over.

The city and Caruso Affiliated call the developer's $2.5 million marketing plan a "citizen-led initiative." As one who is embarrassed to admit to being duped into signing the petition, I am hoping the Council will do the right thing and put the plan up for a vote. Yes, I should have read the fine print and asked questions. Upon reading the 9212 Report it became clear to me that many more questions need to be asked about the project's environmental impact. That would happen in due course for any other such project. But Caruso Affiliated discovered the fast track loophole that allows developers to bypass the California Environmental Quality Act review and the city's own planning commission, composed of Carlsbadians who have no direct financial interest in its approval.

The issue of air quality is personal. I'm married to someone who packs an inhaler. In Chapter 4 of the Environmental Assessment documents supporting the 9212 Report's findings, the question is asked, "Would the Specific Plan conflict with or obstruct implementation of the applicable air quality plan?" Buried in the answer is the acknowledgment there would be a conflict with 2009 standards because they assumed less development on the Specific Plan Site than proposed." A helpful suggestion followed, the need for, "...further analysis of cumulative air quality impacts and documentation of construction emission and Carbon Monoxide hot spots assumptions."

Yet, the 9212 Report fashions a "close enough for guv'ment work" conclusion. "The Environmental Assessment regarding air quality is consistent with most other large projects that have been approved by the city over the years."

As for traffic congestion, the report turns to a faith-based approach. "The Agua Hedionda Initiative does not fully comply with the city's General Management Plan's standards for traffic and circulation. Specifically, eight intersections impacted by the Initiative are expected to fall short of the city's General Management Plan standards by the year 2035." But, the report concludes, "…traffic will be better at all intersections impacted than when compared to the 'no project' alternative…" Why would that be? Because Caruso Affiliated promises to pay for Environmental Protection Features to fix the problems, the city evidently relying on the sterling record of trustworthy developers.

As for the, "We're gonna be rich" justification for taking a risk to the environment based on a developer's plans, I guess that depends on how you measure wealth.

If Caruso Affiliated's development plan is as strongly supported as claimed by the "citizen led" paid signature gatherers' success, I'd advise city council members to adopt a "trust but verify" approach by allowing voters to decide.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Trump Immigration Plan, Like His Candidacy, Mostly Smoke and Mirrors

After weeks of generalizations about his positions on the issues, Donald Trump released his first policy paper last weekend, Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again. Its three core principles are building a wall that can't be scaled or tunneled under, enforcing current law, and "improving jobs, wages and security for all Americans." It's clear that applies only to citizens. He lists a series of solutions to problems he believes he can solve, citing sources to support them. But following the links provided to those sources reveals the distortions and exaggerations that serve as the smoke and mirrors of his proposal. Here are a few of the more dishonest examples.

Trump claims Mexico's leaders have intentionally exported crime and poverty to this country by publishing pamphlets on how to cross the border illegally. He cites a New York Times article of January 6, 2005 . But he omitted the part of the article quoting Mexican officials in their description of the publication, not as an encouragement to sneak across the border, but to reduce the loss of life of those who try to do so. More than 300 migrants died last year while crossing rivers and deserts.

Trump refers to recent crimes to support his claim illegal immigrants are responsible for a spike in violent crime. He cites a 2011 GAO report that "there were a shocking 3 million arrests attached to the incarcerated alien population, including tens of thousands of violent beatings rapes and murders." He provides a link, not to the GAO report itself, but to a July 2015 Breitbart News story giving it an ultra conservative spin. According to the actual report, only 3% of the 3 million were arrested for violent crimes (1% for homicides). According to a July 2015 report by the federal Bureau Of Prisons, 3% of all federal prisoners were convicted of violent crimes. Only 23% of federal prisoners are non-US citizens.

Trump complains about the "billions" Mexico makes on remittances sent from illegal immigrants in the United States back to Mexico. But follow the link to read the entire news article and you'll find the "median amount per remittance in the first six months of 2014 was $294.49, compared with $295.39 in January-June 2013, the Bank of Mexico said Friday. Remittances, mostly from expatriates living in the United States, are Mexico's second-largest source of foreign exchange after oil exports and help cover living expenses for millions of households."

Trump plans to end birthright citizenship, calling it the biggest magnet for illegal immigration and pointing to a poll that shows, by a two to one margin, voters want to change the 14th amendment to the Constitution. He doesn't add that the same poll, taken in 2011 says 61% of liberals support the 14th amendment and 57% of all voters remain at least somewhat concerned that efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants will end up violating the civil rights of some U.S. citizens.

Citing another Breitbart story, Trump declares decades of disastrous trade deals and immigration policies have "destroyed our middle class." The story was based on the findings of one economics professor. But, as reported by CBS MoneyWatch, America’s incredible shrinking middle class, there's no mention of illegal immigrants causing the problem.

After reading about how a President Trump would make America great again by attacking immigrants I got a little sick to my stomach. His rants about how immigration is killing this country caused me to Google "The Know-Nothing Party," the informal name of the American Republican Party of the mid-1880's that was formed in response to the flood of immigrants fleeing Ireland's Great Famine. There was a concerted effort at the time to require immigrants to live in the U.S. for 25 years before becoming citizens.

All four of my grandparents were German immigrants from Russia in the early 1900s, essentially draft dodgers when the Russian Empire stopped exempting German ex-patriots from military service. I don't know when, or even if, they became naturalized citizens. So I may be the proud son of what some might call an anchor baby.

Trump brags about how he was a "very good student" at the Wharton School of business. As a former high school English teacher, I'd give his paper a failing grade in citing sources, together with a note suggesting he not share it with his Wharton classmates.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The "Palomar Hilton" Medical Center: A Room with a View and Dream Team Nurses

As my wife was wheeled into her hospital room at midnight last Monday, a paramedic politely questioned her, testing to see if the UTI diagnosed earlier in the Encinitas emergency room had affected her mental state.

"What's your name?"
"Karen Riehl."
"Do you know where you are?"
"I'm in a wonderful hotel!" She made a grand gesture around the room.

It was her sense of humor, of course. The ambulance crew discovered it during their drive from Encinitas to Escondido's Palomar Medical Center. But when I joined her later, I discovered it was no joke. The place truly resembled a well-appointed hotel room with a hospital bed. When Karen learned she would be admitted to a hospital overnight, we pictured a small, double room with minimal necessities, beds separated by a translucent curtain, sleepless nights, and the usual assembly-line patient care.

What we found instead was a spacious single room with a large window framing a splendid view of the rolling hills of Escondido. The remote device used to call the nurse and to operate the TV also controlled the window shade. Below the window was a sofa that folded into a bed, my sleeping quarters. The room's thermostat hung on the wall next to the sofa. Karen had it set to 74°.

 A smaller window, near the door, allowed a nurse to keep watch on a patient without entering the room. A 45-inch flat screen TV hung on the wall opposite the bed. Below it, a narrow counter, large enough for personal effects, towels, coffee cups, etc. ran most of the length of the room.

A Patient Resource Guide stood on one end of the counter, just like a fine hotel's Guest Services guide. It had answers to every patient's questions: a description of each feature of the room, how to adjust the bed, what to do with your personal belongings, encouragement to speak up for your needs, a list of your privacy rights, how to pay your hospital bill, and what happens on your going home day.

A menu for room service was placed next to the resource guide. The meals were delicious. In her three days Karen enjoyed grilled salmon, pizza, granola, hot dogs, fruit, and chocolate ice cream.

A whiteboard on the wall in the corner of the room facing the bed contained vital patient information, beginning with the individual's preferred name. The room number was listed, as well as its telephone number, today's date, and the name and call numbers for all caregivers. The board was updated daily.

But what impressed us most about Karen's stay was the incredible teamwork among the staff. Each time there was a change in nurses the one leaving joined the one coming on to introduce the new one to Karen and assure that she did not have to retell her story about symptoms and personal needs with each change of nurse. Each nurse was exceptionally kind and knowledgeable. Nurse Kurt had a fine straight-faced sense of humor, warning us that he was known as the hospital's hyperactive nurse, once harboring aspirations to be a standup comic before picturing himself standing in front of an audience with nothing to say. He handed Karen off to Nurse Ferdie, who took the time to explain, in layman's terms, what the various medications and treatments did to help Karen recover from the bacterial infection she battled. Nurse Haley had a sparkling sense of humor and an intuitive understanding of Karen's frustrations with being tethered to an IV machine for hours each day. 

The day of Karen's discharge five individuals with supervisory responsibilities for patient care joined Nurse Haley in Karen's room. They wanted face-to-face feedback on her stay. No hospital had ever given us that opportunity. As my wife's sleepover roommate, all I could add to my satisfaction with this hotel was being jolted awake one night by the silence. Had we been left behind in an evacuation? Nope. It was just a priority for this hospital to keep it quiet at night, recognizing the healing power of a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


My afternoon nap was disturbed last Thursday by the sound of a man's cheery voice from behind the screen at my open front door.

"Hello, hello!"

Awakening from a sound sleep, I shuffled to the door to find a man standing there, holding a clipboard. He didn't introduce himself, just explained, "We're gathering signatures to save the strawberry fields." I didn't recognize him, but his easy way led me to believe he was a fellow resident of our 40-unit condo community.

Despite full knowledge of our HOA ban on door-to-door solicitation and my own vow never to sign a petition without knowing the details of what it meant and who was pushing it, I allowed the phrase, "save our strawberry fields" to cloud my better judgment. When Karen called from another room to ask who was at the door I told her it was someone who wanted to save the strawberry fields. She gladly added her name to mine for the apparent do-gooder at the door.

The following day, as I awaited my prescription in the pharmacy, I picked up the June 12 edition of The Coast News. The headline, "Nordstrom Signs On to Strawberry Fields Shopping Center," of Ellen Wright's article told me we had happily signed up to clear the way for a two-story shopping mall next to I-5, hiding from public view the bucolic farming scene we've treasured through the years.

Reading further I discovered the developer, Caruso Affiliated, has launched a "citizen-led" initiative campaign to bypass the usual approval process. The city council will be able to approve the project outright, or put it on the ballot. If 15% of registered voters signatures are gathered (8,900 signatures of 59,000 voters) and the council chooses a ballot measure, a special election will be held.

I soon discovered another news article about the project. This one in the San Diego Reader, "More Shopping, Less Strawberry Picking in Carlsbad's Strawberry Fields?" By Ken Harrison on May 29. Harrison opines, "Some say the initiative tactic used by big developers is a ploy to sway a generally uninformed electorate, or, in some cases, hoodwink them with slick or misleading campaigns."

I also learned Caruso Affiliated's citizen-led initiative campaign is headed up by a former planning commissioner, a member of the Lagoon foundation, and a former Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce CEO, hardly a cross-section of community interests.

A few days later, Karen and I came upon another signature gatherer lurking outside the door of our local grocery store. His appearance was a far cry from the well-dressed neatly coiffed gentlemen at our front door. I asked him who he worked for. Visibly taken aback, he asked why I wanted to know. I told him we want to know who paid him to gather signatures. (I, too, was a far cry from the sleepy old man who shuffled to his front door last week.) He finally told us he had a card. I asked him if I could have it. He handed it to me. I discovered he worked for Voter Contact Services, Inc. in Oceanside offering services for Petition Drives, Door-To-Door, and GOTV, For Issues and Candidates. On the reverse side were instructions for turning in signatures for payment.

Here was the classic example of how citizen-led petition drives have been perverted by big money. I remember the days when signature gatherers had a personal interest in the issue and not in $1 to $3 to get my autograph.

Although I blame myself for giving away my name so readily, I also blame the lack of a local daily newspaper. If a developer calling himself "Papa" had not purchased the North County Times to kill it, Carlsbad residents would have been able to gain a far better understanding of the issues and be less vulnerable to developer spin. Full disclosure: for 9 years, as a freelancer, I wrote op-ed community opinion columns for the newspaper.

In case you haven't heard, a Sacramento County judge ruled an initiative campaign for a new law titled Sodomite Suppression Act was "patently unconstitutional," since it calls for the killing of gays. http://tinyurl.com/ntkw635. State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris had to ask for the ruling because she had no power to keep it off the ballot.

It makes you wonder how the author of that initiative would have spun the new law for his signature gathering campaign. Maybe something like, "Save Our Children, the Right Way."

Is it any wonder the Caruso Affiliated campaign for the strawberry fields shopping mall chose the title "Preserving Carlsbad Open Space" in bold type, followed by "The Right Way" in smaller, gray type.  That means one more shopping center, rather than a new venue for the arts and entertainment, a place that would attract visitors for what makes Carlsbad unique, rather than just another parking place to shop, dine and catch a movie. Like L.A.