Business people gathered recently in a cinderblock-lined room on the upper floor of Baker Commodities, a cold storage and rendering company, getting ready for a new battle brewing in Vernon.
Many of the businesses had met in this same room many months ago to discuss strategies to fight AB 46, legislation that would have dissolved the city.
On March 8, the businesses met again to discuss recent proposals by the city that could affect the cost of doing business in Vernon.
“This time it’s a local ground war, and we’re fighting city hall,” said Juliet Goff, newly-installed as chairman of the Vernon business chamber.
The generals in the “ground war,” a panel of business people active in the chamber and on various city commissions, briefed a room of nearly fifty businesses on several critical areas that require involvement from the business community in coming months.
The city has proposed yet another increase in electricity rates, a commission is working on housing reforms that could have far reaching impacts on the city’s voter base, and there are two important city council elections coming up, they said.
But the issue that weighed on most of their minds that day was the city’s plan for a new tax on 900 businesses not already paying a tax, and to increase taxes on 450 warehousing businesses.
“There’s a lot at risk here, and it’s all about jobs once again,” Goff said.
The proposed parcel tax, meant to remedy a projected $16 million deficit in next year’s city budget, could result in the average business paying $18,000 a year for the next ten years. For some, the costs could be hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of their parcel.
The city is aiming to put the parcel tax plan on a July ballot, in time to factor the revenues into the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
“That’s why it is critical right now to find out what other options beside the … parcel tax there are,” because the city only provided a single option, said Tim Hatfield, a manager at a cold storage company who sits on the city’s business development committee.
It was a point several business representatives grilled city staff on at Wednesday’s meeting for the business development committee, or as one committee member called it, the “anti-business development committee” now that they have been charged with making recommendations on a parcel tax, rather than being allowed to work on initiatives to help businesses expand.
In response to the business community’s request for alternatives, city staff made the argument that cost cutting measures have already been made – $11 million in cuts were made and 47 people laid off in the last few years.
Further cuts would result in consequences such as slower public safety response times, deferred maintenance of city infrastructure that could result in higher costs in the future, and an overall decrease in the quality of the city’s customer service.
“Can the city cut more employees? Yes it can, but the time to get a permit will take much longer, because there will be fewer people doing that work,” said city spokesperson Fred MacFarlane. “The cuts as they relate to specific public safety departments might have an impact on the response time of both police and fire, and it really comes down to the choice. Can you live with what the cuts would mean in the real world? And if you’re talking about the police department … right now the police can respond in three minutes. Is ten minutes acceptable?”
MacFarlane said the city can also take a look at contracting to the county, responding to suggestions from the business community that Vernon might want to follow the examples of other cities, such as Santa Ana, which have begun contracting their fire services to outside agencies.
During the March 8 business chamber meeting, panelists encouraged businesses to become more involved by attending upcoming meetings on the parcel tax, including two public workshops on the tax plan, one today, March 15, at 3pm, and another on April 11, at 9am
Members of the panel who have followed the city’s activities closely in recent months said the city has given them fuzzy numbers, especially on the parcel tax proposal.
“The presentation on the parcel tax was incomplete. Their budget numbers don’t add up,” Goff said, adding the chamber intends to conduct its own analysis of the city budget and has begun making requests for financial material from the city.
Former chamber chairman Greg Longstreet thinks the city might be getting bad advice. “There’s been a lot of different factions giving advice to the city on what to do and where to get funding from,” and now the city’s light and power department has come back with another rate hike proposal, he said.
After defeating AB 46, the city found itself “in some financial straits, they’re short on money and are quickly realizing the situation they are in … and they’re looking to us,” the businesses, to pick up the cost through utility rate hikes and the parcel tax, he said.
While he thinks Vernon could still boast “strong benefits” for businesses, he sees continued rate hikes and taxes as slowly eroding those benefits. “There are cheaper places to do business than Vernon, if all these things [rate increases and taxes] occur,” Longstreet said.
In addition to sending a letter to the city and showing up to committee and council meetings, the chamber is also working to build up their influence through upcoming elections.
Goff announced at the meeting that the business chamber is seeking donations not only to its Save Vernon Jobs fund, set up during their campaign against AB 46 and to get the word out about the parcel tax, but also to a new political action committee set up to support candidates in two upcoming city council elections.
“There’s a two-two split on the council” on several major issues, Goff said, including on the appointment of a city attorney and a new city administrator, in which case the “third vote is going to be a swing vote and shape the future of the city.”
The chamber’s PAC, The Committee to Elect Leaders for Reform, announced that it is endorsing Michael Ybarra who is challenging incumbent Daniel Newmire on April 10.
Ybarra is one of the few residents who also owns property, and has come out against the parcel tax, said PAC chairman Lisette Gaviña.
“[Ybarra] has 30 years of experience in management … his family has lived in the city of Vernon since 1860 … he clearly stated to us he has no allegiances, no ties to any of the people we know that may be sources of corruption and source of factions coming through and hurting businesses,” she said.
Ybarra was chosen after the chamber invited the two candidates to a one-on-one interview. Newmire canceled his meeting with the chamber at the last minute.
The chamber’s PAC is also gearing up for another election on June 5, in which two candidates, Reno Bellamy, who sits on the housing commission, and Luz Martinez, an employee in the city’s fire department will be running to take over the seat left vacant when Mayor Hilario Gonzales resigned last December.
The PAC’s goal is to raise $45,000 to pay for a consultant to help get chamber-endorsed candidates elected. The PAC received its first contribution of $1,000 at the meeting.
Vernon’s lopsided distribution of residents and businesses, in which less than a hundred registered voters decide matters that could affect the city’s nearly 2,000 businesses, prompted one member of the audience to cry out at the March 8 meeting that the parcel tax proposal amounts to “taxation without representation.”
Goff waved off the characterization, saying “we can’t get out of that problem … that would require a constitutional amendment in the state of California … so we have to work with the system that we have.”
Still, the businesses that attended the meeting wrestled with ways to have a voice in a city where they contribute much of the revenue, but cannot vote.
“I want to have a say in what kind of pain I’m going to experience … rather than it being decided for us, when it’s our money,” said Goff, who described the business community as the city’s “true constituents.”
Some proposed moving employees into city housing, under the city’s new lottery application process. Others said they should court residents, who were also invited to the March 8 meeting and are welcome to future ones, as well as to community events that several businesses plan to hold.
Longstreet said they need to ensure the city council and other city officials maintain a pro-business focus. “Politics will get involved with you if you don’t get involved with politics in today’s environment, so we have to make sure we get the right city council members in, the right city administrator, the right legal counsel,” he said.
Goff said the business community has already proven once before what they can do when they helped to defeat Assembly Speaker John Perez’s bill.
“We were told we were not going to beat the speaker of the Assembly, we were told that we couldn’t do it, and we did it. So we have a whole bunch of people here that don’t accept that it can’t be done.”
Serious crime in the City of Bell Gardens is down, according to the Bell Gardens Police Department, which said the crime rate in 2011 was 20 percent lower than in 2010.
Some of the numbers may be trending even lower for the first part of 2012, according to a recent memo to police personnel from Bell Gardens Police Chief Robert Barnes.
According to the department’s data for January and February of this year, Part One crimes are down 29 percent compared to the same period in 2011.
Part One crimes are considered the most serious and include crimes committed against people, such as murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. It also includes more serious property crimes like burglary, larceny-theft, arson and auto theft.
The biggest decline in 2011 was in the number of arson cases, which dropped from 7 in 2010 to 1 in 2011, a decrease of 86 percent.
But not all the crime data for the Southeast city in 2011 was as positive.
A rash of gang violence last fall is being blamed for a 75 percent increase in homicides, according to Bell Gardens Police Captain Jeff Travis, who said four of the seven homicides that occurred in 2011 have been solved, though one suspect is still at-large. There were four homicides in Bell Gardens in 2010.
The gang related murders appear to be retaliation killings, Bell Gardens City Manager Philip Wagner told EGP.
The number of homicides in the first two months of this year was unchanged from the number in 2011, with one during the period.
That homicide occurred on Feb. 17 when a man was shot to death on the 6000 block of Quinn Street.
“We are really just starting the 3rd month of 2012. The data compares 2010-2011, I don’t know if there is much sense comparing the first 2 months of this year to last year,” Travis told EGP when asked for the data supporting the police chief’s statement in the memo to staff in which he said crime is down this year.
Travis said the police department have employed a number of tactics to get last year’s violence under control, including a gang injunction.
Gang units and patrol officers are in the field interviewing and identifying gang members, and the department is making full use of the ShotSpotter Gunshot Location System (a gun shot detection system) acquired in 2010. The department is also working with neighboring agencies to solve crimes, Travis said.
According to Wagner, Bell Gardens police deserve a great deal of credit for “minimizing a prevalent problem in a city with a large gang population.”
“Homicides were up [in 2011] by three, but overall, Part One crimes were down 20 percent at the end of 2011 compared to 2010. Robberies were down 30 percent, vehicle burglary down 45 percent, motor vehicle theft down by 16 percent and arson down 86 percent,” but “residential burglaries did increase by 3 during this time period,” Wagner told EGP in an email.
He also said the number of felony and misdemeanor arrests in the city were up, including a 26 percent increase in the number of DUI arrests.
“That is another example of our police officers being very vigilant and protecting the community from being injured or possibly killed by a DUI driver,” Wagner said.
In his message to staff, Barnes said the department — though faced with many challenges — has done its job in creating a safe environment for the community in accordance with the department’s Mission Statement.
“Despite many challenging factors, most notably the shrinking economy and the Public Safety Realignment Legislation (the early release from prison of non-violent, non-serious, non sex offenders, and the mandate that future offenders serve sentences at the local level) that went into effect October 2011, our community is seeing positive changes,” Barnes wrote.
“While other cities in the southeast and greater Los Angeles area are seeing increases in various Part One crimes, we are experiencing a decrease in crime,” he said. “I believe this pattern is in direct correlation to the tireless hard work and dedication of every member of this department, with special praise going to our police officers and detectives who patrol our community on daily basis, and have the greatest opportunity to impact crime and quality of life issues.”
About 50 people have so far been paroled to Bell Gardens under the state’s early release of non-violent and non-sex offenders, according to Travis, who was unsure if any of those paroled have been connected to any of the most recent crimes in the city.
Larceny (any theft, grand theft or petty theft, including theft from unlocked vehicles) also dropped in 2011, with 86 fewer incidents, or a decrease of 22 percent, during the same time period.
While he could not point to a single reason for the decrease, Travis said it could be similar to the reason for a decrease in vehicle burglaries.
“Larceny and Vehicle Burglaries are crimes of opportunity. Usually when you take away the opportunity, it reduces crime,” said Travis, who gives the city’s strong Neighborhood Watch program credit for helping to inform the public about crime prevention.
Other serious crimes that dropped include aggravated assaults, down 9 percent (8 fewer incidents 2011), and Commercial Burglary, down by 4 percent (two less).
Rape and attempted rapes remained the same (no percent change) with 5 incidents in the same 12-month time period.
Other changes include a drop in vehicle collisions and a 23 percent increase in the number of citations —an additional 1,047 tickets — issued from December 2010 to December 2011.
Travis attributes those changes, in part, to the department’s increasing from one to two the number of motorcycle officers in the 2.5 square mile city.
Talk turned into reality after the Montebello Unified school board voted March 1 to officially end Laguna Nueva School’s run as a kindergarten through 8th grade school. The last day of classes will be June 27, 2012.
Some saw the writing on the wall as the district’s budget shrank and student enrollment dropped. The school, located in the city of Commerce, is now at half of its capacity this year with 378 students, down from last year’s 764.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: MUSD Cerrará Escuela en Commerce
Many of the students and their parents made the decision to leave after learning last year that the district was seriously considering closing the school to save money. The school managed to stay around another year by eliminating its kindergarten classes, bus service, and one campus security guard.
“I understand there are other forces at play, such as a budget crisis … but it’s definitely a sad moment for us,” said Jose Cuevas, a teacher who has taught at the school for ten years. Teachers and parents have been the most vocal against the school’s closure in the last year and were instrumental in keeping the school open a little longer.
Laguna Nueva School was opened sixteen years ago to relieve overcrowding in nearby schools, but “about five years ago we saw the first signs of a [trend in] declining enrollment,” said Art Revueltas, the district’s assistant superintendent of instructional services.
At one time there were plans to turn the collection of temporary bungalows into a full-fledged, permanent school, but after district enrollment dropped by 7,000 students during the past seven years, shutting down the school seemed to make more sense, he said.
At its peak, nearby Suva Elementary had over a thousand students, but now has only 800 students. “We have seats available at other schools,” Revueltas said.
“This is the appropriate time to move our Laguna Nueva students into the other MUSD schools in the community,” Superintendent Robert “Bo” Henke said, adding students will be moving on to schools “with more amenities and resources [than Laguna Nueva], such as a more comprehensive library and computer lab, a gym, physical education facilities and a cafeteria.”
Shutting down the school would also result in half a million dollars in savings, Revueltas said, and the district would save another $150,000 once they begin running adult education, community classes, and other programs out of the bungalows.
Cuevas points out Laguna Nueva is one of two schools in the district with a kindergarten through 8th grade structure, the other being Rosewood Park School. “I think one of the biggest losses is the unique setting, because it provides a … nurturing environment where we have teachers continuing to see their students up to eighth grade … continue to check in and care for the student, continue to want to know what’s going on,” Cuevas said.
Next year, students will disperse to other schools of their choice throughout the district, though many would “realistically” go on to attend Suva Elementary and Suva Intermediate schools in Bell Gardens, close to where many already live, says Jose Franco, the school’s principal.
Many of Laguna Nueva’s teachers will also follow the students to the Suva schools. Based on where they currently live, students could also choose to go to Cesar Chavez Elementary, Bandini Elementary, Rosewood Park School or Bell Garden Intermediate.
Franco said the decision to repurpose the school is not a reflection of their school’s academic performance, a concern that some parents had when talk of closing the school surfaced in recent years. Last year the school made the district’s highest jump in API test scores, an increase of 42 points from 703 to 745.
“We will work to make this transition as seamless as possible,” Franco said. “Our hope is that we can make this last year one of Laguna Nueva’s finest by working as a team to maintain our strong academic standards and collaborative working environment.”
Cuevas thinks if Laguna Nueva had better facilities, it would have gone on to become a very successful school. “It all boils down to money, what’s out there … right now that’s what they feel is best. We move the students to schools where we have better facilities for them, and also provide
teachers with security as well,” Cuevas said.
Parents will have an opportunity in the next few weeks to start applying for their children to attend other schools. The school is also setting up a committee to plan activities to mark the closure of the school, and will likely invite alumni to participate.
The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved a budget-balancing plan on Tuesday that would maintain the bulk of programs such as adult and early education, but only if furlough and salary agreements can be reached with labor unions and if voters support a $298 parcel tax.
The plan “provides a clear pathway for building,” board member Steven Zimmer said. “I can say that this budget, even with its clear and present dangers, remains a budget of hope.
“It allows us to have hope in our classrooms, in our early education centers and our adult education programs.”
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: LAUSD Aprueba Presupuesto, Necesita la Cooperación de los Sindicatos y de los Votantes
Superintendent John Deasy cautioned the board that even though he was optimistic about reaching labor agreements with United Teachers Los Angeles and other district unions, the plan for maintaining programs in the 2012-13 school year still relies on funding from the state that will remain uncertain until at least May, when the governor issues his budget revision, and likely into November.
Even if all of those uncertainties end positively, “everything I’ve just said is only for a year,” Deasy said. “None of it is ongoing. They’re all Band-Aids, and that is not the way to run a system.”
The district had been considering massive program cuts, including the elimination of adult and early childhood education and severe cuts in after-school programs and increases in class sizes.
He said the district’s ability to maintain programs into future years will rely on a proposed $298 parcel tax that the district will put to voters in November. Also impacting the district’s future will be voters’ response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax extensions.
“That is what allows these things to be ongoing,” Deasy said.
Hanging in the balance are not only educational programs but the jobs of thousands of district employees. The board has already authorized layoff-warning notices for 11,713 employees — a number that district officials said actually represents nearly 6,700 full-time positions since the larger number includes part-time workers and others whose jobs are funded by outside sources, such as the federal government.
Deasy said the district will likely be able to rescind many of those notices if all the pieces of the district’s budget fall into place. He noted that the district issued 7,302 layoff-warning notices last year but rescinded nearly half of them of them three months later.
The district is facing a $390.2 million budget shortfall in 2012-13 —down from roughly $557 million one month ago. Deasy said the smaller deficit was the result of higher-than-expected state revenues, restoration of state funding for student transportation and lower-than-anticipated benefit costs.
Deasy said he was confident of resolving a dispute with United Teachers Los Angeles over furloughs. Negotiations were also continuing with other labor unions over a possible across-the-board salary reduction for the coming year. Those agreements would close a large chunk of the budget deficit.
But about $173.5 million would have to come from the proposed parcel tax, which would generate an estimated $255 million a year. The tax, which needs the support of two-thirds of voters in November, would be assessed on every taxable piece of property within the district’s boundaries.
“Truly the picture is simply not going to be known until election day in November,” Deasy said.
The parcel tax, which would remain in place for five years, could prove to be an uphill battle for the district, which proposed a $100 parcel tax in 2010 and was soundly rejected by voters.
Board member Nury Martinez told the boisterous crowd of district employees, parents and students gathered both in and outside of the meeting room that they needed to maintain their enthusiasm through election day.
“I need your passion in November if we are going to get this parcel tax passed,” she said. “It starts today.”
She said the district’s financial picture looks better than it did last month, “but we still have so much work to do.”
Warren Fletcher, president of UTLA, told the board that while the district’s financial picture looks better, the problems are not yet resolved.
“When you say good news, it doesn’t look quite yet like it’s good news,” he said. “There may be good news on the horizon, but it’s not good news yet.”
He told the board it should take the roughly $180 million in savings it found over the past month and immediately rescind more than 2,000 of the layoff warning notices it previously authorized.
“To do otherwise means those teachers and their students and their schools are going to be treated as budgetary hostages,” he said.
The East Los Angeles Residents Association (ELARA), which led a four-year effort to incorporate East Los Angeles, is shelving its cityhood campaign for now, but has no plans to disband.
ELARA members say incorporation is still one of their main goals.
Vice President Diana Tarango on Tuesday told EGP that while ELARA will not continue to pursue the current incorporation effort, cityhood is inevitable. “It could be four years, it could be eight years,” but it will happen, she said.
“We have to wait for the economy to improve, we have to wait and see. We can’t just rush into it,” said the recently retired Tarango.
The younger community leaders in East LA are very interested in eventually making East Los Angles a city, she said, adding that’s why she feels so strongly incorporation will happen.
A handful of people were at the group’s March 8 volunteer meeting that seemed to move forward as though the cityhood effort had not been defeated. Last month, the Los Angeles Local Agency Formation Commission (LA LAFCO) ruled East Los Angeles would not be economically viable as a city, stopping the group’s bid to incorporate.
ELARA director Kristie Hernandez led last Thursday’s meeting with several items on the agenda, including how to thank the 16,000 voters who signed the petitions that authorized the Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis, how to ensure a budget is published for unincorporated East Los Angeles, as well as a discussion on the future of East LA.
Former ELARA president, Oscar Gonzales, who now works in Washington D.C., was in town for the meeting, and suggested the group hold a town hall meeting to thank residents and begin a community dialogue about what residents want in the future.
“We are a better community because of this effort,” said Gonzales, who left Los Angeles to work for the US Department of Agriculture in 2009.
Moving forward, ELARA is anxious to see whether County Supervisor Gloria Molina follows through on her statement at the Feb. 9 LAFCO meeting, during which she expressed interest in publishing an annual budget for unincorporated East Los Angeles so residents can see what the revenues and expenses are for the area.
“In unincorporated areas, you don’t have this data,” Hernandez said, noting the Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis was a victory for the community because it provided fiscal data to residents for the first time in 30 years.
However, it is unclear when the first budget may be published.
The group’s discussion on East LA’s future was cut short as the meeting time ran out, but not before City Terrace resident Carlos Leon, a long-time cityhood supporter, said he wanted to see less blight in East LA because property values affect the area’s sustainability.
He suggested the group work toward holding the county accountable for garage conversions and other code violations that affect property values in the area.
“There is no code enforcement [in East Los Angeles],” he said.
James Rojas, an urban planner who grew up in East LA, said ELARA should pursue a grant for community engagement on East LA’s future.
Leon also noted the importance of the group’s continued work; in less time than the incorporation effort lasted, East Los Angeles will have a new supervisor, he said. Molina is termed out and leaves office in 2014.
Several of ELARA’s board members and volunteers are also involved in community efforts outside of the organization, and were elected in 2009 to the ongoing East Los Angeles Planning Advisory Committee (ELAPAC). The committee is advising the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning on the updating of East Los Angeles’ nearly 25-year-old Community Plan.
So for now, the group will continue to meet to discuss ways to improve services in unincorporated East Los Angeles, while keeping their eye on their ultimate goal, cityhood.
ELARA meetings take place every second Tuesday of the month at the Eastmont Community Center, for more information visit http://www.cityhoodforeastla.org/
The Commerce City Council appointed a planning commissioner and businessman Tuesday night to take over the un-expired seat of former councilman Robert Fierro who resigned last month.
Ivan Altamirano was among a group of five finalists narrowed down from a field of 22 applicants who were interviewed for the seat at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Altamirano Ocupará el Asiento Vacante en el Concejo de Commerce
He was sworn in following his appointment by the city council on a three to one vote, with Councilwoman Denise Robles casting the dissenting vote.
The 38-year old resident of Commerce, Altamirano has been on the planning commission since 2005; serves as a speaker, coach and author for the Les Brown Platinum Speakers Network, and is on the board of Atlantic Health Services.
Altamirano writes in his application that he is a “successful business owner” who will “have the time to invest on behalf of our City to take ownership and use our imagination to create revenue.”
Altamirano will be finishing Fierro’s term ending in March 2013. He went straight into a closed session meeting Tuesday night following his appointment and swearing-in.
The public will have an opportunity to attend a March 20 ceremonial swearing-in to be held along with the city council’s annual reorganization.
The entire interviewing and appointment process on Tuesday occurred in a two hour time span during which each of the 22 original candidates were asked one question by the mayor about what “city leaders should consider as they guide Commerce in the next few years.” Each candidate was given 60 seconds to answer.
Councilmembers then submitted their top two candidates to the city clerk, who tallied them to come up with a list of finalists.
The five candidates in the final round were asked a question by each council member, including how much time they think they will devote to being a councilmember; what they feel the business community contributes to the city; whether they see themselves as a leader, manager or politician; and how they would handle budget shortfalls. Each finalist had 90 seconds to answer each of these questions.
A motion by Councilwoman Lela Leon to appoint Jonathan Garza, who also sits on the planning commission, failed. Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio nominated Altamirano, she was seconded by Leon, and the council voted to appoint him.
President Obama’s recent attempt to convince the country he is the most pro-energy president in decades reminds me of the Ralph Waldo Emerson observation that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
If true, the president must have one of those big minds because he has never been constrained by consistency.
In his recent State of the Union address, Obama claimed more domestic oil and gas are being drilled than at any time in decades. The only problem with his boast is all of that expanded drilling is going on in spite of the president’s efforts to limit it.
As a candidate, Obama made it clear he wanted to transition the United States away from oil, coal and natural gas to clean energy sources, like solar, wind and biofuels. As president he has done his best to keep that promise.
His strategy is twofold: (1) hinder or stop development of traditional energy sources, (2) while pumping billions of taxpayer dollars to his green energy friends.
He has succeeded on both fronts – sort of.
There is a drilling explosion, thanks mostly to new drilling techniques such as “fracking.” But drilling is mostly being done on privately held land. The president and his traditional-energy skeptics have little control over those resources. So these developments are booming, creating jobs and helping swell local tax revenues.
Obama has also been successful in handing out billions of taxpayer dollars to green-energy projects. However, that effort has taken a hit due to a string of high-profile failures like Solyndra ($535 million loan guarantee), Beacon Power ($43 million loan guarantee), and, most recently, Ener1(used $55 million of a $118 million government grant).
Now that Obama is in full campaign mode, he wants to confuse the record to convince Americans that he is leading the energy-production charge. But the facts speak for themselves.
For example, almost immediately upon taking office, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar began withdrawing tracts of public land that had already been approved for oil and gas leasing. Most of these tracts had undergone a thorough, seven-year-long environmental review.
Six days later Salazar put a six-month delay on an offshore-drilling program. Soon after, the Interior Department decided to prioritize solar-energy development, which had the practical impact of removing large swaths of federal lands from traditional energy exploration.
Frustrated with the administration’s stonewalling, the Institute for Energy Research released a statement in December 2009 that included the following stunning stats: “To date, the Obama Administration has offered 2,888,354 onshore acres for lease, of which 1,028,299 have actually been leased. The Administration also rescinded or deferred 77,055 acres that were issued for lease in Utah in 2008. Accounting for this subtraction, fewer onshore acres were leased in 2009 than any other year on record.” (Emphasis in original.)
Are you detecting a pattern? There’s more, lots more.
In March 2010 the Obama administration announced it would delay an offshore drilling plan and only make available a fraction of the offshore land that had been previously agreed upon.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf on April 20, 2010, led to the biggest oil spill in history. So it was understandable, albeit economically damaging, when the administration responded with a moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf.
But a federal judge struck down the moratorium. So Salazar just issued another, newly worded moratorium – in essence, defying a federal judge. The administration eventually lifted the moratorium in October, but drilling applicants then began to notice that permits were being slow-walked through the approval process. By December, the offshore ban was largely reinstated.
By February 2011, a federal judge found the Department of Interior in contempt of court for its foot-dragging.
And, of course, Obama recently nixed the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried millions of barrels of Canadian oil to Texas for refining.
So when the president claimed that he’s “opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration” and that he’s ordering his administration “to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources,” the public should be skeptical.
This is the same president who claimed health-insurance premiums would go down by $2,500 by the end of his first term. You’ll be lucky if they only go up $2,500.
Obama has done more to block traditional energy production than any president in history. Inconsistency may not trouble him, but it will voters.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas.
Oh my God. Gasoline is headed for five bucks a gallon. I read it in the newspaper, so I know it’s true. The national average is already creeping up on $4, and it’s bound to climb higher as the summer surge in travel approaches.
FIVE DOLLARS A GALLON!
Oh the pain. The suffering. How will we survive as a nation?
You know, they talk about the courage, fortitude, and resolve of the Greatest Generation, the cohort that came of age in the 1930s and ‘40s and overcame great obstacles to make the United States into Fat City. And in truth they had a lot to deal with — World War II, the Great Depression, polio epidemics, manual transmissions — but they never had to put up with $5 gas. If they had, history might have told a very different story.
Could the Greatest Generation have pulled out of the Depression in time to conquer the Nazis, subdue the Japanese, and rebuild Europe if they’d been saddled with $5 gas? Could it have funded the GI bill or established a nationwide system of hospitals to deal specifically with military veterans and their problems? Could it have invented the computer or Instant Replay?
They’d have spent all of their time and money lining up at gas stations to buy gas at five dollars a gallon!
They wouldn’t have been so great if they’d had our problems.
Fortunately, we have a slate of Republican presidential candidates angling to save us from this crisis. Why, Newt Gingrich alone has promised $2.50-per-gallon gas by next summer if he’s elected. Sure, that’s a big if, and he hasn’t let us in on how he’ll do it yet. But the common thread in Republican rescue plans is this: “Vote for me instead of Barack Obama.”
Yes, surprisingly enough, Republicans have looked out on the sea of troubles that confront us and decided that it’s all Obama’s fault. They say he’s rejected every single plan to increase our oil and gas production.
Drilling in the Arctic wilderness? Building a pipeline from Canada down through the United States? Lifting job-killing regulations aimed at preventing oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico? Obama has been against (or kind of against) them all.
He, of course, claims that the rising gas prices aren’t his fault.
He says that as the recession improves, demand for oil and gas increases, driving up the price.
Why, Obama even advocates conservation. Can you believe that? The man will stop at nothing. He and the wimpy environmentalists around him want us to use less oil and gas. They go so far as to suggest we travel on buses and trains.
Well, you listen up, Mr. Obama, and you listen up good. We are Americans and we do not believe in buses and trains, which if I’m not mistaken are Communist ideas that originated in Europe.
Did the Greatest Generation have to conserve things? Not on your life. (Unless you count that gas rationing — along with meat, butter, and eggs — during World War II.)
We patriotic Americans think that the way to happiness is drill, frack, strip mine, and clear-cut our way back to $2.50-a-gallon gas. Oh, and we need to do what it takes to go back to buying Cokes for a nickel too.
And don’t tell me about global warming, that hoax perpetrated by 10 or 20,000 climate scientists who are trying to convince us that the earth is getting warmer. Don’t you know that it snowed in North Dakota just the other day?
We global warming deniers have hundreds, or maybe that’s dozens, of scientists on our side saying:
The earth isn’t getting warmer.
If it is, it’s not our fault.
And anyway, it’s good for you.
So there. Everything is good. Or it will be as soon as we get rid of Barack Obama and his $5-a-gallon gas.
OtherWords.org columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.