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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.

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.