Roundtable: Nathan Fletcher Turns Democrat, Julian Fire Stays Volunteer, Governor Touts School Formula, Disney Idea es Muerto
May 10, 2013 1 p.m.
Roundtable: Nathan Fletcher, Julian Fire, Governor's School finance Plan, Disney Trademark idea
Scott Lewis, CEO, Voice of San Diego
Tony Perry, LA Times Bureau Chief
Kyla Calvert, KPBS Education Reporter
John Rossman, KPBS/Fronteras Social Media Editor
Related Story: Roundtable: Nathan Fletcher Turns Democrat, Julian Fire Stays Volunteer, Governor Touts School Formula, Disney Idea es Muerto
SAUER: Good afternoon, it's Friday, May 10. I'm Mark Sauer, Senior News Editor at KPBS. Welcome to the Roundtable on Midday Edition. Joining me on the Roundtable today are Scott Lewis, CEO of Voice of San Diego.
LEWIS: Hello; Mark.
SAUER: Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief of the LA Times.
SAUER: KPBS education reporter, Kyla Calvert.
SAUER: And John Rossman of the KPBS fFonteras desk.
SAUER: It was big news last year when Nathan Fletcher left the Republican party to become an Independent. While it boosted him initially in the polls, he missed the cut, and a Democrat moved onto the election. Now he's changed his status again, joining the Democrats. Scott, tell us why Fletcher is dumping his -- why the dumping of that Republican affiliation last year was such a big deal.
LEWIS: Well, I think it's a narrative about displeasure with the party that got the national attention of -- in particular, like David Brooks, the writer at the New York Times who considered himself pragmatic and conservative who said this is emblematic of this problem with the Republican party. We're using these young stars. I think what was most interesting was that Fletcher really wanted to say at that point that he was not changing. That the party had changed and left him, and that it was sort of a playing on both parties. They can't stand the party system, I haven't changed, but I'm not going to play this party game.
LEWIS: And it fed a lot of people's frustrations with the parties.
SAUER: And it became a national story. David Brooks, they were talking about him on the political shows for a while. And it boosted him initially in the polls.
LEWIS: It was a deliberate campaign too. He really wanted the national press to feed that story to San Diegans who watched it. Because he didn't want the local press to frame the whole discussion. He didn't want to see as though it was just a desperate local move in a race that he was not doing well in. And not too long before that, he had tried to get the Republican endorsement.
SAUER: So let's drill a little deeper into why he said -- was it policy or strategy or the whole fringe element that he thought was taking over the party, and it was not being reasonable and moderate? A lot of all?
LEWIS: Basically. They had endorsed Carl DeMaio. And it was weird for them to endorse a candidate when there was three top Republicans running, to pick one. His best argument was, look, are they don't want me for this, why do I have to be a part of that? What do you want me to do? Just fall in line and play this game? I still want to try to win this seat. But again, it was all about haven't changed, haven't changed, haven't changed. Now?
SAUER: Now. We'll get to that in a second. Tony, the rest of us -- he said the party was completely dysfunctional, that's the Republican party. Does he got a point?
PERRY: Well, they do control one of the houses of Congress. It doesn't strike me as a total willy dysfunctional party. His motives are a mixture of high purpose and opportunism, welcome to politics. He seems to be a quality young man. I say young, he's not 70 years old like our mayor.
LEWIS: Exactly the same age as me!
PERRY: Indeed. A bare-faced youth.
[ LAUGHTER ]
PERRY: And we have a mayor who's 70. So by comparison, he's a young man. He'll mature yet, I suppose. Of the maturation of the politician goes on. Rennald Regan was a Democrat at one time, became a Republican. Lieberman was a Republican, became an independent. I read his manifesto, it was fairly cliche as his nonfriends at the Union Tribune pointed out. And when he switched from independent to Republican, he got a puff piece from David Brooks at the New York Times. However the hatchets at the Doug Manchester publicitiation came out! And that dispute in which he leaked out some of the verbage that had gone back and forth showing their allegiance to the Republican party over there was entertaining. So he'll have to face that if he wants to -- they're out for him.
SAUER: So why go from Independent now, we're in the middle of the real dull period, they're not even calling Obama a lame duck and looking ahead. Nobody is running at the moment. So why make this move now?
LEWIS: Well, it's probably wise to do it when there isn't a race so if seems more sincere. I think if you -- his best case is if you read this manifesto, he's actually pasted on Facebook, he refused interviews, and I think that's an interesting strategy as well. But if you read it, it reads like somebody who's coming out. And it actually uses a lot of verbage if someone were coming out.
PERRY: He says Bill Clinton just seduced me all to pieces.
LEWIS: Yeah, he's playing for the other team!
PERRY: I'm not sure how mature of a statement that is. We're seeing the evolution of a man who is looking for a role in public life. He's got himself a couple nice little gigs now, he's on the payroll of Qualcomm, he's got a teaching gig at UCSD. But I think he's looking for a role in San Diego public life. Good luck!
LEWIS: But unlike the previous statement where he says he hasn't changed, this one he says, yeah, I'm admitting I have changed, I have different principles. I've had a kid since then, whatever.
PERRY: One would have been interested in the dinnertime conversation between him and his wife, his wife having been an insider in the Republican party.
LEWIS: Yeah, I think that might be interesting.
PERRY: In the bush administration, the first bush.
LEWIS: He's not going to go back to the Republicans ever. So he had two options. He could try to build this Independent party or network of some kind that would provide the money and ground troops needed to win an election.
SAUER: Very difficult.
LEWIS: That would be like trying to build a newspaper that made money.
[ LAUGHTER ]
LEWIS: And the other thing he could do is join the Democrats. And if you think about it, the Republicans have a strong ideology and policy stand and perspective. The Democrats are just not Republican, right? So you can fit in in many different ways with the Democratic Party and support from some very centrist types like Scott Peters, the Congressman, to more strong liberals like the mayor of the City of San Diego.
SAUER: And you can mix and match. You can be fiscally conservative, social liberal as many are.
PERRY: The interesting thing I always thought about his switch from Republican to Independent, that didn't seem to speak to being mayor of the City of San Diego where I don't think partisan gridlock -- we got lots of problems. But partisan gridlock didn't seem to be one of them. So it was as if he was running for another office while claiming to run for mayor. Much like Bonnie Dumanis who seemed to be running for district attorney, having been district attorney.
SAUER: You could make the argument on the local level that there is a lot of the ideology, especially tax reform, that you just had to marry into that ideology and the compromise and the middle ground.
LEWIS: I think you have to remember the context too. Remember the Republican party deliberately wanted to frame it as a Carl DeMaio versus Bob Filner election. And this was something that he wanted to --
PERRY: He got out-hustled.
PERRY: He went to get the central party nomination, and Carl had been there first and out-hustled them. That was a failure.
PERRY: I just failed in this party, so I've suddenly found some different principles and I'm moving over here. I didn't think that really --
LEWIS: And that's his problem, that's I think why he has to make the case, look, I'm just being more honest with myself. And whether we buy it or not I guess is up to the voters.
SAUER: Let's talk about the demographics that might be behind this. Long time we've been trending in the city and in the county toward the democratic Party. That must play into this too.
LEWIS: Absolutely. If you're blaming a politician for trying to win --
[ LAUGHTER ]
LEWIS: That's what they do! So he definitely is joining a team that is doing a lot better than the other team, especially in California.
ROSSMAN: We were touching on this for a second, but this move, it's about can we trust someone -- are voters going to see this as disingenuous? It is about politics and winning votes. But if his whole campaign is that I'm coming to terms with myself, the voters need to buy it.
LEWIS: Well, the big problem he'll have is in the democratic primaries. He'll face off against other Democrats who will point out, hey, you were bros with Grover Norquist, and now you're cool with us? What's the deal! So he'll have to prove that.
PERRY: It did seem as if the manifesto, while not stating it directly, was hinting rather broadly that it's immigration. That he sees that change coming to San Diego, it's already here, but coming even more profoundly, and he also sees the Republican party on the wrong side of that dispute. And I thought as I looked at the manifesto, that's what he was doing along with high-minded motives and press opportunism. But he also I thought was reacting to immigration as "the" issue.
LEWIS: And he's trying to address that point too by saying, look, I know I'm going to get criticized, this is really hard, I know how this looks. And there was folks that probably didn't want him to be like that. He did have one statement that was pretty harsh on the Republican party. He said I think they've turned into the party not of opportunity but of protecting those who have already made it. So that was kind of the most -- the biggest policy push or sort of perspective attack he had. Of but yeah, he's definitely going to run for something. He definitely wanted to join a team that would take him and that he could win with. And we'll see.
SAUER: He's going to have to shoulder in with those Democrats, Todd Gloria being one.
LEWIS: They gave him a standing ovation. He released it right before their annual dinner, and he got this huge love-fest when he showed up.
SAUER: But you've got the City Council president, Todd Gloria, who would seem to be a similar kind of candidate.
CALVERT: What makes it interesting to me is that the real growth and registration is Independents. Both are leaving both parties, but there's not a viable way to office for someone who is an Independent.
CALVERT: So is it just -- what is it? Are Independents actually farther out on the spectrum than either party?
LEWIS: It's not their Independents. They're decline to state.
LEWIS: So look at the situation. It's the primaries that matter. The primaries have such low voter turnout that you have motivated people who are often more partisan. So this Independent network or whatever -- he couldn't beat two of the most partisan types out there. Imagine if he had even stronger candidates on the left and right in the sense of more popular candidates.
PERRY: And the independent voter is sort of like the undecided voter. There have been studies that say show me the demographic of an independent voter, and he will be exactly like his brethren or sisteren with similar demographics left or right. It's a feel-good thing, I'm independent! I'm decline to state! Nobody owns me. Oh, really? You're just as captive of your social economic class as the rest of us.
LEWIS: And it comes down to the push to get out the vote and all that stuff, those are parties and organized groups.
PERRY: The question is, do we need Mr. Fletcher? Is there an office currently either open or with a clunkhead in it that we need him? Or is he knocking on the door trying to get in?
SAUER: Well, we're going to have to find out, and we'll find out as we move to the next election.
SAUER: Many find the tiny mountain town of Julian a wonderful place to live or a great weekend destination for most of the year. But when the red warning flags are flying and the hot winds of late summer in fall, Julian can be ground zero in a devastating wildfire. Tony, your story this week focused on something besides the fresh apple pies. Tell us about the grassroots political tussle that's straining friendships and other relationships around town.
PERRY: Indeed, this is San Diego County, and a couple of our distinguishing marks are, one, we are on the front lines of fire, and also our method of fire protection is unique. No county fire department, unlike other big counties. We have a patchwork of --
SAUER: The only one in California, right?
PERRY: Indeed. A patchwork of city, district, some volunteer, the Indians, the military, you name it, we got it. Several dozen. And in the 2003 fire, that was to our grief. Communication problems, all sorts of problems. 2007, a whole 'nother thing. But the Cedar Fire, lots of problems. And coming out of that, the county, Diane Jacobs, supervisor, tried to cobble together a way, not to have a county fire department, that's far too expensive with our viewpoint of taxation, but a half thing. The county fire authority. That meant going to a lot of independent parties out there and saying, yo! We will give you have money! But you've got to come aboard here. And for some of them, it means giving up your locally controlled fire board. Enter Julian, a locally controlled fire board. Lots of passion out there.
SAUER: Lots of volunteers.
PERRY: Lots of volunteers who acquitted themselves bravely in 2003, 2007. In 2003, they and hundreds of others had to fight the fire to keep it from destroying the little city of Julian. This time around the county said we've got money for you, better coordination, better training, but you're going to have to give up the fact that your board controls things. You're going to have to let the Board of Supervisors, some 70miles away, be the controlling body. 2-2, the Julian board said no thank you. The fifth member recently retired and moved to Arizona. So they said no, and it was such a vicious battle that even when they fill that vacancy, nobody wants to go back to that fight. We're left with the fact that in San Diego County, we have one of the oddest fire protection situations cobbled together anywhere. And we've got fire season coming down the road here. We just saw it up in Ventura.
SAUER: And it's going to be hot and dry again this weekend.
ROSSMAN: So my question is, if a big fire breaks out this summer, which some experts are predicting it might, Julian is going to have a lot of help, a lot of hands-on.
ROSSMAN: So they are turning down a lot of money, but they're keeping independence. So if there is a really big fire, they're going to have help.
SAUER: Is it the best of both worlds?
PERRY: You make a very good point. You could oversell the idea that the volunteer fire department is what saves Julian. Their argument is it's the volunteer fire department that stops little fires that being big fires. The 2003 fire was the first in recent memory that started on a Saturday afternoon in the unincorporated rural area and roared into America's finest city. So we're all in this together. To save Julian was more than 1000 firefighters, including one from Novato who died and whose picture hangs in a place of honor in Julian. Again, it is an oddity that is characteristic of San Diego County, this pinch-penny cobbled together fire protection.
LEWIS: Do we have any evidence that these other places with better, more organized fire departments for the county lose fewer structures, any data like that? And I'm on -- I've even touted that, why don't we have a county fire department? But I guess what bothers me is these fires get so crazy, unless you put a truck at every single house, you're not -- you have very difficult times saving things.
PERRY: Certainly that was true in 2007. When you've got 70-mile an hour winds and embers flying horizontal --
SAUER: A mile ahead of the fire.
PERRY: There isn't much you can do. Now, the 2003 fire, after-action reports pretty scalding about lack of communication, lack of cooperation, in Orange, in LA, in Ventura. A lot of improvements have been made since then. Enough? Let's come back in 90 day, and we'll see after we get through this prospective long and hot summer.
SAUER: Now, it is hard to understand why maybe you couldn't come to some sort of balance where you can -- they were going to keep the volunteers?
PERRY: Oh, indeed, indeed.
SAUER: We're going to give you this money and this extra facilities and equipment.
PERRY: Indeed. Long memories out this. They remember when the Board of Supervisors in the early 1970s dropped its contract with what is now CAL FIRE. Prior to that, they paid CAL FIRE at a contract to protect the backcountry along with some of the volunteer fire departments. Pinchpennies that they were in those days, they dropped it. Diane Jacobs testified against that idea before she was on the Board of Supervisors and told the supervisors at the time this was stupid! She has been the leading advocate of the county fire authority, whose boss is CAL FIRE, but cobbles together, brings these people in, better communication. The volunteers can still volunteer. Those bellies who slipped over their belts may not be fit enough. Some of the goodest of the good old boys. And a number of them are people, young people, young men and young women who are getting experience, hoping against hope to get one of those wonderful City of San Diego fire department jobs with great salaries and benefits. So they volunteer for a whole bunch of years, waiting, waiting, and they're ready to go. The argument is from the San Diego County fire foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for these folks, all throughout the county, 400 firefighter, volunteers, 30 decisions, ten different district, they are the first responders in 60% of the county, that these are our first responders, they stop the little things from getting big. They also respond when Scott's motorcycle capsizes and he breaks his leg outside of Julian.
SAUER: A lot of calls.
PERRY: And that's what's financially draining. The nonpayers who get very expensive medical emergency help from these volunteer fire departments and then have no insurance, and they continue on back to ocnard, and we never hear from them again. That's very burdensome for the young fire departments.
SAUER: And we have other volunteer departments in this county, right?
PERRY: More than 400 volunteer firefighters, 30 different stations, I think it's 10 different distributions, 60% of the county is volunteer. Some of those folks have the relationship that Julian turned down. Some of them have the relationship with the county fire authority, and they've given up some local control. But it's still the first responders are largely volunteers.
CALVERT: So how many holdouts there are? Julian is not the only holdout.
PERRY: Not the only one. After I wrote that story, I've become the go-to person. So I've heard from Valley Center, Jamul, they're either holding out, not signed with, or not pleased. The relationship between the rural community and that big government down there overlooking the bay, the county government, is tenuous. It's a shotgun marriage at best.
SAUER: And you mentioned the selfless volunteers in Julian whose own homes burned while they were out saving the homes of others.
PERRY: The figure I heard was nine! Nine volunteers in 2003 were on the line for days and days and days! They were out there fighting while their own homes were burning. That's the kind of thing that gets you loyalty! And that's why in Julian, the idea of ceding the control over their volunteer fire department just hit them the absolute wrong way.
SAUER: One board member up there, Janet brag den, I believe, she worried about ceding control to outsiders because that might rely on people ignorant of the area. They have the shrined for the poor fellow from Novato who gave his life. I don't know if that holds water, but that's one of the arguments.
PERRY: And again, long memories. They remember being dumped by the county government in the '70s. So when the county government in the person of Diane Jacobs or the persona of the county fire authority comes knocking, long memories come out and play a role.
SAUER: Well, you would think in a state like California, north to south accident we've certainly had our experience in what they call this urban wildlife interface, where people are living where they probably shouldn't, and these wildfires are just part of the natural scene. This is so unusual in San Diego County as we're describing it. The rest of the state's gone that way. Isn't it a matter of time before Julian at some point and this county will go that way?
PERRY: One would think. And more departments have gone that way. When folks come knocking with money, it's very hard to say no. Even if I have to give up a little local control. Julian said no, 2-2. But there are other districts that have a relationship with the county authority, and they're not as pleased as they could be. So this issue isn't going away, although I think you're right, the long trend line is for joining folks that come knocking with money and better equipment and coordination.
CALVERT: In my understanding too, we're seeing more people move into these areas that are prone to these kinds of fires. Assuming this kind of risk. So I'd imagine not only does San Diego standout in this way, but you're going to have people who don't have those long memories and are more concerned with their property and safety.
PERRY: In our fire of 2007, it was a new development with a one-way access point, and people died trying to get out.
SAUER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.
SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable. Never accused of being a wallflower, governor Jerry Brown has set out a bold plan to move money from affluent school districts to more rural districts. He says those opposing his plan are in for a major fight.
CALVERT: I think characterizing it as a redistribution away from affluent districts is a little problematic, just because this is new money that we're talking about. No district is losing money. Right now education funding in California is set up that you get a certain amount per student, and then there are all of these programs that you can get dedicated funding for.
SAUER: Like, 40, right?
CALVERT: Yeah. So then they get money based on which of these programs they provide. And so what Brown's proposal would do is change that formula, and you'd still have that amount per student dedicated, but the 40 programs would be just rolled into general school funding. So there would be a flat rate for students based on their grade level and then districts would get a 35% bump for each student who is low income or an English learner. The English learner bump would only be for a student over five years. Because the goal is to get them recategorized as an English proficient student. And there would be a bump for foster youth also. Also in Brown's plan, there would be an additional 35% bump for districts where 50% or more of the students fell into one of these high-needs categories.
SAUER: And his whole thinking is that this is just a profound investment in the future. We've got to bring these folks along. I don't know if underclass is too strong a word, but we can't ghettoize these kids.
CALVERT: Right. He called it a social issue. It's about social yesterday and civil rights.
SAUER: Some say there's winners and losers and it's robbing Peter to pay Paul
CALVERT: Under the status quo, there are certain districts -- Brown's plan would be phased in over seven years. So if that plan is fully funded in seven years, I can't imagine politicians sticking to any single plan for that long, but if Brown's plan was fully funded at that final time, compared to the current system, there are districts that would get more funding under the current system, there are districts that would get more funding under Brown's system. And it's large urban districts like San Diego or districts where there are a lot of those high needs students like National City that would be getting a lot more funding under the Brown system than they would under the current system. Poway, Solana beach wouldn't be guaranteed as much money under Brown's plan, and also one of the other areas is rural districts. Because rural districts right now, they get a lot of money for bussing students. And that's one of those categorical plans that would be rolled into the general fund.
SAUER: Let's talk about San Diego unified under Brown's new plan would get more money, but a place like Chula Vista wouldn't be getting as much.
CALVERT: The Chula Vista elementary school district wouldn't be getting as much. Poway couldn't be getting as much. Places like Solana beach, which I actually think is -- they're paying for their own schools, really. So it doesn't matter.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CALVERT: Places like Carlsbad couldn't be getting as much.
SAUER: So you've done some stories recently, a lot of stories throughout California on the disparity in some of these affluent districts. Del Mar, Solana beach, Encinitas. The folks there, it's just a matter of affluence. You have higher income and homes, you have presumably more disposable time and income to work with children. Other people are working a couple jobs. Maybe it's a single mom at home, English is the language in a lot of these homes. So it seems Governor Brown's whole point is that a lot of these affluent people will take care of themselves. We've got to give the leg up now, the disparity is too great.
CALVERT: Well, that's what some of the people who have been -- there's a group of Senate Democrats who have put forth their own plan that tweaks Brown's proposal. And their plan does away with that concentration grant, that additional bump for districts where there's 50% or more of these high needs students. So that money would just go into the general student funding. There would still be the bump for each individual high needs student, but not the concentration money. So they said basically that the state needs to see all boats rise, and that it's more fair this way. Brown's argument is that districts that have a high concentration of these students have problems that more affluent districts just won't face. The concentration of poverty, the concentration of English learners presents problems for districts or challenges for districts that the more affluent districts just won't experience.
PERRY: So is this a class size thing? Is that when this money is going to do, to do something that everybody has tried to do and can't do? Break that one to one link between parental income and achievement of the children? Weave trying to break that link for decades and decades. Is that what we're going to do here? Lower the class size in some of these districts?
CALVERT: Well, the thing is, what districts do with it is up to them.
PERRY: Yo! Is that going to end up in the teachers' pocket?
[ LAUGHTER ]
CALVERT: Well, it's up to the district. So right now, one of the categorical programs rolled into this general funding is for class size. If you have smaller class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade, you're getting more money than districts that have larger class sizes in those grades. The state supplements that. They decided this is a good thing for kids and we're going to throw money at this. But now with funding based solely on a per student basis, the districts would have to, under Brown's plan, develop a plan for how to best educate their student, how to close their achievement gaps. And in the budgets, tie their spending to the goals they've set for their students' academic achievements. So another one of the criticisms of the Senate Democrats is that there's really not enough accountability to make sure that the district spending under Brown's plan would really align with their academic goals for students. So under the Senate Democrats' plan, there would be more ability for the state or the county office of education to step in and say you aren't really living up to the goals that you've set for yourself. You aren't sticking to the spending plans. And we're coming in make sure that you stick to those plans.
PERRY: You mentioned politicians, that's fine. But let's go to the people are the real power in the State of California, the California teachers association. Of what do they say about this, and what supporter will they give to their vassals?
CALVERT: Well, the teachers' union isn't opposing it. They're not saying we don't want to see this happen. Even the Democrats who are opposing it are saying we want to see this happen, we just want it to happen a little differently.
SAUER: Don from San Diego, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Can you give some color as to the amount, the magnitude percentage-wise or in actual dollars, for example the San Diego school district would get in increased funding under the Brown plan compared to without the Brown plan?
SAUER: Okay, thanks for that call.
CALVERT: I know that for San Diego unified, it's less than $1,000 per student, the difference between Brown's plan fully funded and that magical future time when they follow through on the plan and fully fund it or compared to the status quo, this is not one of the largest gains. There are districts that would stand to gain more per student in the county. And then the districts that stand to lose the most per student are those rural districts that are getting a big supplement right now for basically getting their kids to school.
SAUER: And on the website, we've got the breakdown in what this proposal is on KPBS.org. So if there were no new plans from the governor, how would the Prop 30 funds be apportioned?
CALVERT: Well, Prop 30 is just a general tax increase.
SAUER: Big pool of money coming in.
CALVERT: Exactly. So there's another proposition from long ago in California, Prop 98 that says a certain amount of tax dollars much go to funding education. Prop 30 doesn't change that, it only brings in more money. So money would just go into the general revenue pot the way any tax revenue does, and then that amount that's guaranteed under Prop 98 would go to funding under the status quo system that we have right now.
SAUER: Now we mentioned it's Democrats, of course they control the supermajority up there in Sacramento, are it's the governor's own party. But these are fightin' words! Let's talk more about how he frames this as a cause.
CALVERT: Well, I think Tony touched on it with the whole idea that through funding for education, you're going to break that link between family income or the home that a child comes from and their educational outcomes in life. And right now, California is something like the 46th in the nation in terms of per student funding. It really depends on what kind of ranking you look at.
SAUER: But we're way down there.
CALVERT: Yeah, we're way down there. People who are critical of this plan have said it wouldn't really change California's ranking, and this is just a slow trickle of money back in. And the real problem is just that we need to throw a lot more money at education.
SAUER: We've got a long way to come back to get to prerecession levels. The cuts were just enormous.
PERRY: And Oakland? Oakland where the governor used to be the mayor would take a hit on this? How is that possible given Oakland's challenges?
CALVERT: Well, again, Oakland would get more funding under the governor's plan than it does today. But it wouldn't get as much as it would stand to have in that sort of out period where everything is fully funded magically, that under the status quo plan, it would get slightly more than it would under Brown's plan. So I'm sure that has to do with whatever categorical programs they're running in Oakland that right now get state funding that sort of weight the funding more heavily for them.
SAUER: Oakland does have some affluent areas, like Oakland Hills.
SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable.
(Audio Recording Played)
SAUER: The March of the marionettes, that's the perfect way to introduce this segment on the Walt Disney company which this week marched right into social media hell! A subsidiary tried to trademark the phrase Dia de Los muertos, the Day of the Dead, which is a Mexican holiday to honor all those who have gone before us. It was a pretty deadly move for the company. Tell us about Dia de los muertos
ROSSMAN: Roots, it's celebrated throughout all of Latino America, it originated in Mexico, and it's just huge there. People paint their faces with skulls, making altars, cooking meals for the deceased. But it is a holiday that commemorates for families family members who have passed away the
SAUER: And folks really get into this.
ROSSMAN: Well, are yeah. A cool way of thinking about this, it's not a funeral, it's a celebration of life. It's a way to connect with someone who's deceased. So it's a day dedicated to not only celebrating them and remembering them but reconnecting.
SAUER: A real sacred thing. So tell us about this Disney subsidiary. Why did they want to trademark this name?
ROSSMAN: Right, well, Pixar, part of the Disney family, is under production right now for a film about diade Los muertos. So what they want to do is trademark that name. So an easy way to think about it, they took out ten trademarks for this film. If you go on the same site and look at trademarks, Toy Story has 18 trademarks under it. And it's the same type of stuff, it's merchandise, fruit-based snacks, Christmas ornaments, etc. And just like you wouldn't make a T-shirt that says Toy Story and Buzz Lightyear on it without the threat of getting sued.
PERRY: They tried to trademark Seal Team 6 and had to run like scolded dogs.
ROSSMAN: After that all blew up in their face, they were quick just to remind people that they're trying to protect their assets.
PERRY: I'm always -- that always persuades me. I'm just trying to make money!
ROSSMAN: So obviously it's just a little dubious, right? They would have named it a different thing. But Diad e Los muertos, which is also a very important holiday for the fastest growing demographic in the nation, that's a pretty powerful trademark.
SAUER: So how did Fronteras get wind of this story the other way?
ROSSMAN: One of our reporters saw it in a small trade journal that follows Disney's news. And it was kind of, like, what's going on? And we looked online and really no one was covering the for, and it hadn't really broken yet. With everything on the web, it's just a mad dash to get it up there first. So it took a second because we wanted to confirm the trademarks. So we got it out there, we did an initial social media push, and it was just -- it just started picking up really fast. So if you followed us on twitter, you're probably really annoyed because for the whole day, we were just promoting the crap out of it because we were seeing it grow. And I look at a lot of the numbers on the web, and just seeing it quadruple, I was just kind of woozy.
SAUER: And then the story took off.
ROSSMAN: Yeah, and it's kind of how it works on the web with LA Times or voice of San Diego, you find a story or you find a nugget of a story and relate it back to your reporting, and other bigger organizations pick it up.
PERRY: Trending, trending.
ROSSMAN: And you just see it growing. So yeah, it totally got picked up. And people were really outraged, and it started a petition on change.org that over time got 21,000 signatures. And it was just talking about how important this holiday is.
PERRY: Were these products to be for the Spanish market? Or us English speakers having a little look-see at an Hispanic tradition?
SAUER: Anybody who saw the movie, I would imagine.
ROSSMAN: Well, the way I see it, I don't know what their game plan was, but if you just look at the power of labeling something Latino, you can see that there's union vision, fox Latino, NBC Latino, is this just a huge demographic that's just growing in the United States, and everyone wants to market off it, whether you're Disney or whether you're Republicans. So it's just very powerful. And if they were trying to trademark it because they were trying to make a bunch of money off it or trying to get in touch --
LEWIS: And they also might have been just kind of stupid. They might have said this is a big deal in Latino America, but we can be the ones that own it in the United States.
SAUER: Ian from Solana beach, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon. I have a comment, and I'd love to hear your take on it.
NEW SPEAKER: Under supreme court decision, the supreme court ruled that fair use of any expression, popular expression is disallowed. And anybody who wants to use it can use it. So what's Disney trying to accomplish? Somebody could come along and name their product diade Los muertos just as well.
SAUER: All right, thank you for the call.
LEWIS: I might be off, but I think it's just like NCAA, right? You can't say March Madness on a T-shirt, you can't put it on a drink or a video game. But you can say it and use it in ways that aren't applicable to that particular product. So what they're talking about is this movie, right? So they just wanted to protect that movie and its representation. So I'm sure you could have a shirt that said dia de Los muertos.
SAUER: Another caller, Able from San Diego.
NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to comment on the issue of the response from the Mexican American community. In the United States, even though it's a more traditional Mexican celebration versus a holiday, but it seems as if the Mexican American community really felt that they also were violated by this attempt to basically trademark this phrase. So they were really I think also responsible for the pushback on social media as well.
SAUER: Right, so it was both sides of the border.
ROSSMAN: Absolutely. And I -- just some of the things that were coming out, the social media outcry was responsible for Disney pulling their trademark, not the fronteras desk as much as I'd like to think. But just some of the comments, one that stuck out with me was people were saying try to trademark the 4th of July and see what happens. But another one is, I'm quoting here, but this is a tradition that goes deep into the roots of being Latino, it is the essence of understanding that Latin culture is more than tacos and salsa.
LEWIS: But you could trademark the 4th of July, if it was related to, like, Independence Day the movie. If they had a shirt that said dependence day, the movie, you wouldn't be able to duplicate it.
PERRY: And we're sitting at an esteemed university where the sports teams are called the Aztecs, and there's anned in at the costumes who jumps around at the football games, and he's considered an Aztec, and there was pushback on that. Pre-Internet pushback. And the president at that time said, no, nobody really owns Aztec, there being no direct descendants of them.
SAUER: I wanted to ask you, what did Disney say when they finally agreed to drop it?
ROSSMAN: Oh, I think they were just pointing out this was the title of their film. They were not trying to trademark the holiday.
SAUER: Didn't want to offend anybody, all the movie-doers out there.
ROSSMAN: And Scott brings up a good point. Independence Day. The difference between then and now is obviously Twitter. And if people were really upset about the 4th of July now, it might have been changed.