Sunday, July 12, 2015

Murgia of the Past and Present

Francisco Romero charges the Oxnard Police Department with retaliatory intimidation as he contests five citations for his participation in a march against police brutality on October 13, 2013.

An obscure 1975 California Supreme Court case, Murgia v. Municipal Court, serves as the basis for his complaint. In this decision, the justices unanimously found that the Kern County Sheriff's Department violated the equal protection clauses of the US and state constitutions against selective enforcement.

In its ruling, the court recognized the context of the case in which Jose Guadalupe Murguia [spelled correctly], an organizer, and his fellow United Farm Workers unionists, had been invidiously (unjustifiably) targeted by law enforcement. But when Teamsters—who agreed to sweetheart contracts with growers—and private agents of the agricultural industry violated the law, sheriff deputies chose not to take action.

As in Murgia, circumstantial evidence validates Romero's claim.

For example, as a member of Toda Poder Al Pueblo (All Power to the People), a grass roots civil rights organization in Ventura County, Romero previously participated in demonstrations against police brutality.

Prior to the October 13 protest for which the OPD cited Romero, a larger event occurred the year before on October 22, 2012 as part of a protest titled A National Day of Action Against Police Brutality.

About a week before this event, OPD officers killed Alfonso Limon in the barrio community of La Colonia. He was an innocent bystander who walked into a confrontation between police officers and an armed suspect.

Limon's death horrified a constituency within Ventura County already heated by the OPD killings of Robert Ramirez in June of 2012 and Michael Mahoney that August.

These tragedies and a history of tension with the police prompted close to, if not over, 1,000 people to join the National Day of Action in Oxnard.

These protestors assembled at a park in La Colonia, and then marched to the site where police officers inflicted 21 distinct gunshots at Limon. After a stop at this scene, the demonstrators continued their march to the OPD station.

On the way, the demonstrators clogged traffic on the city's main boulevard.

Once at OPD headquarters, half the crowd expressed its fury at the front of the building. The others jeered officers through the south-side gate of the station's parking lot.

Subsequently, residents in dialogue with the OPD leadership commended Police Chief Jeri Williams for the control she commanded over anxious officers, many outfitted with helmets and batons, while the station was under siege.

While the OPD publicly recognized the right of people to peacefully demonstrate, it also communicated its intention to protect the safety of pedestrians and motorists.

This is the context of Romero's case.

In an unsuccessful Murgia motion by Romero to have the citations dismissed, Commissioner Anthony Sabo ruled that the OPD did not issue the jaywalking citations with invidious discrimination as there ". . . was no showing the Defendant was targeted for prosecution for any reason other than, to the Defendant's misfortune, officers were able to identify him and observe his actions on video."

This is an intriguing ruling as the audio in the OPD surveillance video obtained by Romero's attorney, James P. Segall-Gutierrez, under a Murgia discovery motion, evidences the police identifying Romero by name as well as other protesters in the October 13 march who were not cited.

Supporters of Romero feel that the OPD would have overlooked his minor offense if he had not been a prominent critic of its conduct.

Furthermore, several of those identified in this demonstration previously and regularly denounced the OPD at the televised meetings of the Oxnard City Council, often in the presence of the police chief and her staff.

Even family members who had lost loved ones at the hands of OPD officers openly participated in all of the aforementioned demonstrations and city council meetings. But they were not cited.

The selective enforcement argument of Romero seems to have been enhanced recently as Elliott Gabriel, also a member of Todo Poder Al Pueblo, received two citations for impeding traffic as he rode a bicycle alongside an April 11, 2015 march of 100 people protesting an OPD officer's killing of Meagan Hockaday, 26, during a domestic violence call on March 28, 2015.

Gabriel claims that he was only person cited in this demonstration.

Moving forward in a trial scheduled to begin in August, Romero's attorney will argue that the OPD entrapped his client because an unlawful assembly was not declared. Segall-Gutierrez will also contend that Romero violated vehicle codes for which he was cited out of necessity and for the safety of the participants in the protest.

If the trial is not decided in Romero's favor, he vows to appeal the case under the Murgia motion against selective enforcement to the highest court of the land if necessary.


Ventura County Star; Amigos 805; LatinoLA

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Got Mine!

Eavesdrop long enough to their conversations where they meet and eventually you will hear students lament over the mountain of college debt they are accruing each school year.

The loans they will have to start making payment on six months after they graduate are enormous. They can range from $40-$100 thousand or more and will take most graduates decades to eliminate.

Hence, they are more than student loans; they are college mortgages.

Meanwhile, elected officials of California issue bromides on the importance of educating a workforce to meet an anticipated economic shortfall of 1 million college graduates by 2025.

Besides the rhetoric, the politicians do little.

State legislators propose faint-hearted remedies to students on how to “manage” debt or propose abstemious relief that would restore a couple hundred million dollars to California’s public systems of higher education that suffered a combined $2 billion in cuts since the Great Recession of 2007.

In other words, Sacramento legislators do not propose any bold action that stresses a re-investment in California’s human capital. Even executives of the California State University and University of California rationalize the rising cost to attend college by stating it is still a bargain compared to other states.

Surely this assuages the financial worries of students and their parents.

Ironically, many Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento and public higher education executives are of the Baby Boom generation who received UC and CSU degrees almost completely subsidized by the state of California.

For example, in 1980 a CSU student paid annual fees of $202. Adjusted for inflation this translates to $575 today. At the UC, it was $750 this same year; adjusted for inflation this is about $2,140.

Today resident CSU and UC students respectively shell out approximately $6,500 and $14,000 in fees annually.

So Sacramento legislators are essentially saying to current and future college students and their working-class parents, “I Got Mine. You’re Out of Luck!”

This message is clear as California legislators and Governor Jerry Brown hurriedly grant tax “incentives” to aerospace, entertainment, and gas and oil corporations.

In 2014, Governor Brown and his fellow Democrats in the state capitol approved a $400 million tax break to aerospace manufacturers and another $300 million in tax credits and subsidies to Hollywood moguls.

Furthermore, with supermajorities in the senate and assembly able to stave off defeat from “anti-public-anything” Republicans, the governor last summer refused to use the bully pulpit of his office to rally his party to supporting SB 1017.

Similar to laws in Alaska and Texas, this bill, courageously created by then state senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), called for the institution of a 9.5% severance tax on oil and gas production.

Fifty percent of the projected $1-$2 billion in annual revenue raised from this tax would have been deposited into a Higher Education fund to reduce community college, CSU, and UC tuition costs. The Democrats in Sacramento allowed SB 1017 to die in the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee.

This golden opportunity is no more as the Democrats lost their supermajority in Sacramento last November.

The timidity of Sacramento pols is hardly surprising as Democrats and moderate Republicans dread to offend pressure groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce, Californians Against Higher Taxes, and other bodies closely allied with the industries of gas and oil.

Furthermore, politicians and UC and CSU executives of working-class provenance have their egos stroked as they fraternize with corporate leaders at conferences and summits while they plead for donations for their reelection campaigns and institutions.

In exchange, the super wealthy buy their silence on taxing the most able to make higher education affordable once again for working-class families.

As this takes place, increasingly college graduates caught up in this insidious system are unable to realize the American dream of homeownership as their debt-to-income ratios are off kilter before receiving their diplomas.

This is unfortunate to say the least, as the college debt crisis is a significant factor behind the state’s anemic housing market recovery.

According to a 2014 study completed by the Southern California firm John Burns Consulting, reported in the Los Angeles Times, over 400,000 potential home sales (valued at $83 billion annually) have been lost due to the national question of student debt that stands at $1 trillion.

If more CSU or UC students graduated with modest to zero college debt, they would be poised to purchase residences and all the accoutrements that follow this rite of passage into the middle class.

To make their houses homes, these recent college graduates would go on to buy durable goods and other amenities. In addition, these new homeowners would pay property taxes to fund public services that hire people and private contractors.

You would think the California Chambers of Commerce and other anti-tax scolds would enthusiastically support such a strong stimulus to the economy.

But Instead of making this a reality, today’s elected officials and public university executives carry the water of the Chamber and their corporate donors while expressing to our young adults by their actions, “We will not invest in you to any meaningful degree as others did for us. Take out a loan.”

This essay was published in The Bakersfield Californian, ¡LatinoLA!, and the Ventura County Star.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Affordable for All?

Last fall semester, I shared a bus ride from campus with a California State University Channel Islands student. I will call her Cora.

Cora is a bright young person from the San Fernando Valley with the dream of international travel before her pursuit of a post-baccalaureate degree to become a teacher.

After expressing her plans, her sanguine demeanor suddenly transformed to sadness. With one more year to go before she graduates, to date she has accumulated $30,000 in student loans.

As she considered how she would pay back this debt, her eyes welled up and she became silent. I was flummoxed. What could I say but encourage her to complete her schooling? A growing $30,000 debt is a daunting figure for virtually all, especially a first-generation university student.

Regrettably, in my use of public transit I occasionally overhear CI students approaching graduation commiserate about their debts that range in the tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, $30,000 is the national average.

The extreme cost of a public higher education in California is particularly unfathomable as my generation (the baby boom, born between 1946 and 1964) enjoyed virtually free college education opportunities. Indeed, in 1983, my first year at Moorpark College, there was no enrollment fee. It would not be until the next year that a fee was introduced. It entailed $50 (the equivalent of $114 today adjusted for inflation) for 12 or more semester units.

When I transferred to CSU Fresno two years later, my working-class parents paid $720 (adjusted for inflation $1,600) a year in fees.

In talking to mentors and colleagues who went to public universities during the 1960s, the deal was even sweeter. A composite of their stories goes like this:

"Frank, back when I was going to school at San Jose State, I paid $36 ($275 adjusted for inflation) a semester and worked a summer job at a utilities company that covered my fees, books and living expenses for the entire school year."

Today the price is $46 a unit or $552 for 12-plus semester units at a community college. For CSU students, the estimated fees and totals for an academic year (fall and spring terms) based on full-time enrollment (6.1 units or more per term) is $6,506. The 2014-2015 Estimated Cost of Attendance for Undergraduate & Transfer Students Living Off-Campus is $24,338.

Consequently, the likely total price for a CSU baccalaureate degree can be well over $100,000 since a majority of students take longer than four years to graduate.

I am not aware of a summer job currently that will significantly offset this expense.

Some elected officials and university administrators dismiss this problem by pointing out that a CSU education is a bargain comparable to other states. I am sure this is of great relief to parents with two or more children in or facing college, especially those with a household income that exceeds the ceiling to qualify for federal or state grants.

In the end, the pursuit of a higher education should not relegate students and their families to an intergenerational existence of a new form of debt peonage. So what is the solution?

A good start would be for Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to restore the $1 billion in cuts to the CSU budget between 2008 and 2012. This would significantly lower the costs that parents and students face as well as open up room for a burgeoning demand for admission as the CSU rejected 30,000 applicants this past year.

Fortunately, some elected officials recognize the severity of this condition. In this regard, Asssemblymember Das Williams, D-Carpinteria, my representative in the Legislature, worked successfully with his colleagues to infuse $30 million in last year's budget for the Cal Grant and the Middle Class Scholarship programs. He also co-authored AB 1476, which passed the Legislature and would have appropriated $100 million of increased funding for the systems of the CSU and UC to split evenly. Unfortunately, Gov. Brown vetoed the bill.

The governor's veto is regrettable as it hamstrings California's economic recovery. College graduates who are relatively debt-free translate to them being more able to realize the dream of homeownership. This would stimulate a lethargic housing market and concomitant industries.

Furthermore, for every dollar the state invests in the CSU a multiplier effect of $5 is infused into California's overall economy.

So how do we make going to college truly affordable for all? A good start is for parents, grandparents, college students and all eligible to vote to contact the governor and their representatives in the Legislature demanding that they reinvest in public higher education so that college students like Cora can realize the California dream.

This essay was published in The Bakersfield Californian and Ventura County Star.

Con Safos