Roundtable: Kamala Harris And San Onofre, Unenforceable Traffic Tickets, Labor’s Richard Barrera
Friday, April 22, 2016
Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS
Kelly Davis, freelance investigative journalist
Mario Koran, education reporter, Voice of San Diego
Kamala Harris and the CPUC
State Attorney General Kamala Harris is conducting a criminal investigation of the California Public Utilities Commission over the shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, but some worry her political loyalties may be affecting how aggressive she is.
At first, the investigation went well — very well, according to San Diego consumer attorney Mike Aguirre, a critic of how the commission handled the nuclear plant's shutdown.
Harris’ investigators uncovered handwritten notes during a search at the home of former CPUC President Michael Peevey that indicated he met secretly with a Southern California Edison executive in Poland to collude on a settlement in which ratepayers were saddled with the bulk of the closure costs, not the utility and its investors.
But six months after Harris' investigators conducted that search, they obtained more search warrants for Edison and CPUC executives. But since then, Aguirre said, there has been no follow-up.
Rather than having investigators search in person, Harris' office just asked the utility and regulators to turn over all relevant records.
Edison has turned over some records, but the CPUC has withheld many on the grounds of privilege. Lawyers say Gov. Jerry Brown can waive the privilege, but he hasn’t. Critics say Harris, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate this year, doesn’t want to pursue the investigation because the Democratic governor and the state’s Democratic hierarchy could be tainted by it.
Unenforceable traffic tickets
To avoid the problem of cities setting up speed traps, California law mandates that cities conduct traffic surveys every five years (sometimes 10 years, under certain circumstances) to determine whether a speed limit is justified. But if a survey is more than 10 years old, the state considers the speed limit on that road unenforceable.
How does a person who gets a ticket find out whether the ticket is valid? They go to court. And that's a big problem for the poor.
Enter California Western School of Law and attorney Coleen Cusack. California Western set up a traffic court clinic run by Cusack to help defendants challenge traffic tickets. She found that the same name appeared on most city documents certifying the surveys had been conducted on time. Cusack subpoenaed that person, Ty Palusky, an engineer with the city’s Transportation Engineering Operations Division, to testify in a case as to whether the survey had, in fact, been conducted.
He didn’t show. She subpoenaed him again. He still didn’t show. Palusky now faces a contempt hearing in late May.
Cusack said many ticketed for speeding simply pay the fine to avoid the hassle of a challenge, which they would win with an invalid survey. She said this setup disproportionately affects the poor and people of color. Speeding tickets cost $238 or more.
For Richard Barrera, San Diego Unified is a labor of love
Richard Barrera is a San Diego Unified School District board member and, until recently, head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.
That combination seemed to many like a gigantic conflict of interest.
Barrera believes that the labor movement is the solution to the problems that face the school district and society as a whole. He believes that a living wage and quality education lead directly to economic justice. He believes the rise of inequality is proportional to the decline of labor unions.
By many measures, he is very successful.
In addition to San Diego Unified, where he has been a board member since 2008, his influence extends farther south, to Sweetwater Union High School District. There, he was instrumental in reshaping its board and influential in filling three high-ranking positions with former San Diego Unified employees.
In 2013, he became secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, whose members include educators and classified employees of San Diego Unified. Barrera was then essentially supposed to negotiate with himself.
Barrera is running unopposed for a third term on the school board. He no longer heads up the labor council.
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