Politics & Government

Dan Walters: Poor acts contribute to malaise

California has, as noted in this space previously, a severe civic malady – a sharp decline in voting.

Politicians have been scrambling to find fixes, such as automatically registering voters as they contact the Department of Motor Vehicles.

However, Public Policy Institute of California polling has found, in essence, that the reason so many Californians don’t register and vote is that they feel alienated from politics.

What is it about California and its politics that is so off-putting? Could it be the seemingly endless revelations of self-serving acts by those in public positions?

Some recent examples:

▪ San Diego Unified, the state’s second largest school district, is being roiled by revelations that a high school’s counselor and principal were fired after the school board president complained to the superintendent about her son’s poor college readiness evaluation.

Of course, the evaluation was later upgraded.

▪ Voice of San Diego, an online news outfit which uncovered the San Diego Unified situation, also revealed that the Imperial Irrigation District gave a wealthy farming family more than 500 acres of public land after it complained about the impacts of a high-profile solar energy project and filed a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit.

The family dropped its opposition after being given the land.

▪ The Sacramento Bee reported that the University of California, Davis, hired a $260,000-a-year consultant to improve its public image, which had been damaged by its handling of a student protest. Two years later, the position was suddenly eliminated, but with UC student tuition soaring, it was only one of many examples of the UC system’s administrative extravagance.

▪ United Way of Los Angeles reported that Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, devoted only 18 percent of the extra money it received from the state to help poor and English-learner students access programs specifically for those students. Most of the extra money went to hiring more staff in other programs.

The district also granted teachers a 10 percent raise over two years.

▪ The San Jose Mercury News and its sister papers revealed that Bay Area school districts and local governments have been giving top administrators ultra low-interest mortgage loans to buy expensive homes in addition to their hefty salaries.

▪ Dan Borenstein, a columnist for the newspaper group, has made a virtual career out of exposing public pension abuses.

The latest involves the 50-year-old chief of a tiny fire district who traded his $194,000 salary for a $241,000 pension after making a deal with district directors to spike his pension calculation, as confirmed by a pension board investigation.

▪ Fresno Unified, the state’s fourth-largest school district, is under federal investigation because of a no-bid school construction contract to a firm with close ties to the district’s superintendent – a contract that a state appellate court later declared to be illegal.

And these are just a few current examples.