Ovitt Outlook
In This Issue...
September 2007
Clean Air

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Earlier last month, the South Coast Air Quality Management District Board (AQMD), on an eight to three vote (I was one of the eight) approved rule changes that could speed up the construction of 11 or more power plants across our region. That decision could bring an estimated $419 million to public treasuries. I viewed my vote as one to ensure energy reliability in our region and to prevent electricity outages. And by building new power plants some older dirtier ones could be replaced.

The rule change would give power plant developers the opportunity to buy credits to offset the pollution that would be released by the new facilities. The vote on the rule change, after months of hearings and testimony, was contentious with neither plant developers or environmentalists completely satisfied with the decision.

The idea of buying credits was put forward by Governor Schwarzenegger in a report to the California Air Resources Board. It is essentially a market-trading program. Under such a program power plants, refineries, cement plants and other industries that produce greenhouse gases can buy and sell credits for their emissions. That allows businesses that cannot cut their greenhouse gas releases, because of costs or technological problems, to buy the right to pollute from other, cleaner companies. The idea is that this “carbon market” will lead to a reduction in overall emissions because it provides a financial incentive for the cleaner companies to get even cleaner.

In some ways, I am ambivalent about the buying credits concept. As San Bernardino County’s representative on the AQMD, I understand the importance of cleaning up our polluted air. Conversely, we haven’t built a new power plant in decades and current facilities don’t meet present demand and the disparity between usage and power generation becomes more dramatic every year.

The AQMD Board is considering using the profits of new power plants to fund alternative-energy incentives and studies on pollution health risks and that will help enhance air quality in our region. A secondary issue at our meeting was a debate over what type of electricity generation will replace coal power, which is being phased out under state law. Natural gas-fired plants are a proven technology but still emit greenhouse gases. Cleaner sources such as wind, solar and other renewable sources are currently not reliable.

It is important to understand that although current megawatts of power are sufficient, 400 additional megawatts will be needed annually in coming years to meet the demand. Though we are not in a current power crisis, it takes at least four to five years to plan for and construct a power plant. We can’t afford to wait for a crisis to take steps to increase generating capacity now.

State Budget

The state budget was 52 days overdue this year and there doesn’t seem to be a timely end to this annual stalemate. In the past thirty years, the state budget has passed just 13 times before the start of the fiscal year (July 1) even though by law it should be passed by June 15. You would think with that historical record, a meeting of the minds would have taken place by now and a better way of developing an annual spending plan would have been developed. A plan that was completed not only on time but also without a deficit. It seems to me that the model for a budget plan is every responsible California citizen who writes checks against what they have in their checkbook. If you don’t have it you can’t spend it and no maxing out credit cards is allowed.

What this current budget morass means, besides a lot of state employees not receiving paychecks, is delayed payments to vendors and medical institutions. The final cost of the budget impasse is estimated to be $20 million including legislator per diem payments, overtime for the State Comptroller’s Office, penalty interest and fees to vendors and nonprofits and extra welfare payments.

The pain for a late budget was not felt equally. Hospitals, community colleges, and other big institutions have reserves to fall back on or access to bridge loan help. But there are many smaller community based providers in Southern California that are a lifeline to immigrant groups and low-income populations. The budget impasse, for them, was severe. It’s a financial crisis as well for many thousands of in-home child-care workers whose clients pay them with money received from the state. These folks need their money to pay bills now. They don’t have an economic cushion.

Besides the partisan and personal political wrangling that occurs every year, there is a fundamental structural imbalance that seems to exist. There is a big discrepancy between revenue and spending. California relies disproportionately on income and capital gains taxes that fluctuate with the economy (just look at the wild ups and downs of the stock market these past few weeks).

Someone has suggested that we have a budget process built for a manufacturing economy, which no longer exists and doesn’t mirror the economic realities of the 21st Century. We are also paying for past lawsuits and voter-approved initiatives that redirect where the money goes. Many reform proposals require voters’ approval of constitutional amendments further complicating the situation and making a quick fix unlikely. Every year it is suggested that state officials take the time to find a better way to craft and then pass a budget. Clearly their credibility is hurt with the general public who wonder why there is not a budget passed on time and a budget, which lives within our means.

Electronic Voting
Early last month, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen determined that most of the electronic voting machines used in California were vulnerable to tampering. She ordered new security measures be put in place and limited the use of machines made by Diebold Election Systems and Sequoia Voting Systems to one per polling place to limit the chances they could be tampered with, but, still be available if required by handicapped voters. Sequoia machines are used both in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

The new security measures Bowen imposed include: reinstalling the software before the February 5th election to ensure it has not been tampered with; placing special seals at vulnerable parts of the machine to reveal tampering; secure each machine at the close of each day of early voting; assign a specific election monitor to safeguard each machine; and conduct a complete manual count of all votes cast.

Bowen’s actions came at the end of an audit she conducted of electronic voting machine systems. The audit found that the Sequoia machines could be compromised either by manipulating the software or physically breaking into the computer hardware. Sequoia responded by pointing out that no electronic voting system has ever been successfully tampered with in an actual election. Bowen’s audit has been harshly criticized by elections officials around the state who said the testing wasn’t consistent with real life situations and were done under unrealistic conditions, assuming that election officials would take no defensive measures to prevent hacking.

Regardless of who is right in this debate, the integrity of the voting process is sacrosanct and its integrity should be protected at all costs. We all remember the hanging Florida “chads” from the 2000 Presidential Election and the Ohio “cloud” from the Presidential election of 2004. We don’t want a repeat.

That means in San Bernardino County, voting in the November 2007 and February, June and November 2008 elections will be almost entirely by paper ballots in order to ensure compliance with state standards. But the effort will be completed at a substantial cost. The County will have to purchase additional paper ballots, voting booths and boxes to transport the ballots. That cost will total approximately $1.5 million dollars. Equipment used to count absentee ballots will be used to count paper ballots, but the downside will be delays in reporting election results.

Our County Registrar of Voters, Keri Verjil, is also working with Sequoia officials to have our machines recertified by state Secretary of State officials at the earliest possible time.
Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is a complicated problem nationwide. It is primarily a responsibility of the federal government but we can and are doing something about it here in San Bernardino County. The newest phase of activity at the national level, after Congress failed to come up with comprehensive legislation to deal with the situation earlier this year, was initiated by the White House last month when they introduced a plan to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

The intention was to diminish the United States as a “job magnet” that draws illegals to our country. The plan includes higher fines for employers and a new electronic scanning program to help detect fake documents. The White house says the plan is not focused on those employers who follow the law but on the deliberate violators who will now face stiffer sanctions. Fines for employers who knowingly hire illegals can range from $250 to $10,000 per illegal worker and incident, according to the law.

Under the Bush Administration plan, employers who have been notified that workers have problems with their social security information will be held liable if the problem is not resolved within 90 days. Other elements of the proposal include: reducing the number of documents employers can accept to verify a worker’s eligibility; directing the Department of Labor to make changes in the H2A agricultural seasonal worker program so it is easier for farmers to use; address delays in the H2B program for hiring workers for landscaping, hospitality and other industries; extend from one year to three the duration of a visa for hiring professional workers from Canada and Mexico; and, spend additional money to speed up background checks on would-be immigrants.

I believe that illegal immigration is just that and violators should be punished accordingly. I also believe that we should stand behind those who do things the right and legal way and support their desire to become productive members of our society. As a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, we are doing our part. We have taken steps to ensure that those who apply for county jobs and desire contracts with the County are legal citizens.

The Board has taken a very strong stand in an effort to identify criminal illegal aliens and refer them to federal authorities for deportation once their status is known. This will allow us to more efficiently prosecute and house our own inmate population. It is estimated that 15 – 20% of inmates detained in our county are illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrant detainees contribute to overcrowding and pressure for early prisoner releases.

Our San Bernardino County program identifies and processes undocumented immigrants. It is estimated that 15% of the inmates detained in our county are illegal immigrants. That amounts to about 750 per month. We have to identify the undocumented immigrants in order to receive reimbursement funds from the federal government. We are, in effect, doing their job by housing them. Our county taxpayers should not be left holding the bill. The cost for housing inmates is about $46.68 per day. That amounts to about $35,010 per month if each illegal immigrant were incarcerated one day. However, the average stay in West Valley Detention Center is 28 days. That amounts to about $11,763,360 per year for illegal immigrants. Housing illegal immigrants also adds considerably to prison overcrowding, hence the need to spend millions more to build additional prisons.

Community Clean Ups
In July, my staff and County Code Enforcement staff conducted a highly successful community clean up in Chino. Over 202 vehicles were served and 74.25 tons of material was removed. That is approximately 15 trash trucks. About a dozen County staff participated along with additional help provided by Waste Management and E-Cyclers.

In August, we held another community clean up in Montclair. Again my staff, County Code Enforcement staff along with additional help provided by Waste Management and E-Cyclers, contributed to a successful effort. 183 vehicles were served and 46.75 tons of material was removed. That is approximately nine trash trucks. We will hold more community clean ups in the future. Check my website at www.sbcounty.gov/ovitt to get the link for dates, times and locations.

Besides our regular Fourth District community clean ups, we are beginning a new program at the County focusing on illegal dumping. We are in the process of installing 90 surveillance cameras at known illegal dumping sites to find out who is dumping trash in order to catch them in the act. Illegal dumpers can be arrested and have their cars impounded by deputized code enforcement officers. A first offense conviction can land an illegal dumper in county jail for up to six months.

The motion-activated, high-tech cameras can see in the dark, up to 90 feet away and the images are stored on a digital hard drive for one month. In order to steer clear of privacy concerns, the cameras will be placed only in public unincorporated areas. Fines are also increased from $500 up to $1,000 to $3,000.
County Employee Spotlight
Desiree Tomlinson
IT Technical Assistant II
Information Services Department
County of San Bernardino

Desiree began working in May 2005, for the County of San Bernardino, as a Secretary to the Applications Development Division Chief of the Information Services Department. Approximately a year later, she was promoted to IT Technical Assistant II, where she works primarily on web content and graphics for County department websites and applications.

Desiree received her Bachelor’s Degree in Experimental Psychology from La Sierra University and is currently attending classes at Crafton Hills College with the goal of adding an Associates of Science degree in Computer Information Systems.

Desiree loves to spend time with her husband Dustin and two sons Xander and Lucas. She enjoys camping on the beach, swimming, hiking in Yosemite and many other activities.


Clean Air

State Budget

Electronic Voting

Illegal Immigration

Community Clean Ups

County Employee Spotlight

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