Making Democracy Work

Lunch & Learn Programs

Interesting programs held monthly

We've had interesting programs and more are being planned. Take a look! To RSVP for a Lunch & Learn, click here: lwvmercedco@gmail.com

What's Up Next?

Our next Lunch & Learn is Friday, June 30th. Merced County Registrar of Voters, Barbara Levey, wants to hear our thoughts on implementing the legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 29, 2016. How these Vote Centers are put into effect now resides with each county. There are many pieces to consider and work through, and Barbara is interested in sharing what they are studying; she would also like to hear our thoughts and/or questions about this new approach to voting. So, please mark your calendars now for noon, Friday, June 30th, at 510 Bistro. RSVP by Wednesday afternoon, 06/28: lwvmercedco@gmail.com

What We Learned at the May Lunch & Learn

Once again our Lunch & Learn was held at Five Ten Bistro, only this time we were seated in the main dining room, fortunately allowing all 45+ in attendance to be comfortably seated. Our topic was Immigration and Human Rights, and we were privileged to hear from Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza, UC Merced Professor of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, back by popular demand due to the response to her Lunch & Learn presentation in February, 2016. Dr. Golash-Boza has been in high demand this year, addressing group throughout the US on deportation and human rights issues.

Dr. Golash-Boza started by stating that deportation is a violation of human rights and effectively added substance to substantiate her statements. Over the last 40 years deportations have grown. Today, based on a daily average, 40,000 people have been in detention centers daily since November. The Trump Administration would like to detain double that but that would require privatization of more prisons. Deportations rose between 1992 and 1996, during which time the average annual number deported was about 20,000. The peak year for deportations was 400,000 in 2013. The numbers declined a little bit in 2014 and 2015. At this point, the Trump Administration is not on track to reach the peak number.

Some interesting information shared with us: o An immigration detention center is similar to a prison o Detainees are held there because they are waiting for an immigration trial or waiting to be actually deported; this is purely administrative detention because they are civil detainees who are not granted the same rights as criminal offenders o ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) acts as judge and jailer; there is no separation of powers within the immigration agency o Burden of proof is on the detainees to prove their citizenship o Detainees have to have a bond hearing within 180 days, but many people still aren't receiving a hearing o Deportation is not considered a punishment o Deportation court is not in the justice system; it's an administrative procedure

Recently released reports say that, within the new administration, there is an increase by border patrols agents in sending arrivals back. If the border patrol agents believe the asylum story, they detain the person until proceedings are finished; also the detainee must show ties to the communities to be released. The wait right now for asylum is two years. That means the detainee could be waiting in a detention center for that whole time. As of 2013, 10,000 people in detention had been there for 6 months or longer. This is a serious deprivation of liberty for people who have not committed crimes. There have been increasing requests for asylum from Mexicans. Mexicans are typically not detained for a long time because they are relatively easy to send back. It is up to the country of origin to agree to accept deportees back into the country; Cambodia is one of the few countries not accepting deportees from the US.

If you are not a citizen in any category you can be deported. If non-citizens are convicted of aggravated felony, deportation is automatic. A 1996 law made the deportation automatic. Prior to that, those convicted were able to have a hearing where a judge could consider all the evidence.

The Ex Post Facto clause does not apply to deportation; i.e. the government can change the rules after the fact, or retroactively change the rules, thereby, holding some people accountable for actions that were legal or permitted at the time they were committed but later made illegal for which they are held accountable. Also, the exclusionary rule under the 4th amendment does not apply to immigrants. (Merriam-Webster: "a legal rule that bars unlawfully obtained evidence from being used in court proceedings.")

Dr. Golash-Boza's argument is that this is a violation of International Human Rights Laws, and the US has ratified laws that says that aliens have a right to present evidence to prevent expulsion to a competent legal authority. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded the US is violating several parts of the agreement and recommended the US change immigration laws to follow international norms, but the US refused.

Since 1996, 5 million people have been deported, nearly all of them to Latin American countries; over 90% are men even though at least half of the immigrants are women. Data is unknown about how many LPRs (lawful permanent residents) have been deported. Currently 5,000 children in foster care have parents that had been deported.

There has been a really big spike in deportation since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. That agency has spent $30 billion of their budget on deportation.

Since the election, there has been increased fear felt by non-citizens. Part of the change that has occurred since January is that ICE and border patrol agents have been given more authority to make decisions at the ground level.

The attentiveness and the number of questions asked confirmed the timeliness and importance of this issue. Dr. Golash-Boza's presentation provided us with a lot of food for thought -- so much that it was not possible for me to capture all of it in my notes. In conclusion, she gave us plenty to contemplate and question, about how our country is handling immigration and human rights laws and issues.
--Mary-Michal Rawling

What We Learned at the February Lunch & Learn

The Merced County League of Women Voters held their monthly Lunch and Learn meeting at Five Ten Bistro, on Friday, February 10. The topic was Code Enforcement and 39 people braved the rain to attend. Officer Tim Farmer and Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz were the guest speakers. Officer Farmer is one of three officers assigned to code enforcement for the city of Merced.

The Code Enforcement's Goals are to: Prevent the physical and aesthetic deterioration of our community, reduce crime and poverty, protect the health and well-being of our residents, and help maintain property values. Currently the process of engagement is primarily complaint-based, meaning they will react to a citizen's complaint to help identify the following: Unsafe or unsanitary living conditions, lack of regular yard maintenance, attractive nuisances, abandoned or unsecured buildings, graffiti on private property, illegal dumping of garbage, tires or other debris, and abandoned or inoperable vehicles on private property.

There were many questions from the audiences, mainly surrounding substandard housing and public nuisances and debris. The city enforces the California Health and Safety code 17920.3, as well as other regulations relating to building violations, zoning violations and lack of proper maintenance to the dwelling units. Violations include: collapsing roof/ceiling, lack of required electricity and running water, lack of hot water, surfacing sewage, infestation of cockroaches/rodents, electrical not in safe, working condition, and plumbing not in safe, working condition.

Ms. Dietz announced that the city is currently working on establishing a program that will make it more convenient to dispose of debris. Currently, The Public Works Department will, if called, remove debris.

The Code Enforcement department can be reached by calling 385-6237. Public Works can be reached by calling 385-6800.

Submitted by Rich Gipson

What We Learned at the January Lunch & Learn

Presidential Powers

January 13th Lunch & Learn with

Dr. David Colnic, CSU Stanislaus Professor of Political Science

The presentation began with Dr. David Colnic asking the audience whether traditional political science could answer the questions posed on the flyer. With regard to the use of Executive Orders, he said that he thinks the new administration will continue the pattern of the last few administrations and use them liberally to push its own agenda. There are three things most students know about our government:

  • There is a system of checks and balances in place;
  • There is a separation of powers; and
  • Citizens have the right to freedom of speech.

The founding fathers most feared tyranny and did not provide for direct presidential `power.' A President's real power lies in his ability to persuade and is about negotiation. Lyndon Johnson was a president who used his knowledge and experience in the Senate to maximize his effectiveness in passing legislation. The Civil War was called `Lincoln's War' because it was accomplished by Congress unilaterally without the participation of southern states.

There are two places in the Constitution that reference Presidential Powers. These explicit powers include:
1. Executive Power which is the ability to execute laws and carry them out by making appointments of his choosing. The examples given were criminal justice reform and the use of the military to ensure against domestic unrest and protect the United States from foreign invasion.
2. Role in making laws through the use of his veto power though Congress can overturn his veto. An interesting point was that the President is constitutionally obligated to make a State of the Union speech and declare his priorities. Did you know that???
3. Diplomatic power to make treaties.

Beginning with the Great Depression in the 1930's, the President has used crisis to leverage his power. FDR declared government action was the only way to repair the country and the Welfare & Regulatory state emerged. Ten years later with WWII and the Cold War, the "War State" concentrated power with the President to protect the country via the NSA and Department of Defense. It became about beating the Russians and we saw the creation of the Welfare & Warfare State. The Patriot Act and September 11th arbitrarily transferred more power to the President.

Dr. Colnic stated that since 1990 the President's power to persuade has broken down and attributed this to 24-hour news, redistricting, hyper-partisanship and social media. Fragmentation and gotcha reporting in the press leads to an environment where no mistakes are allowed and we wonder why anyone would run for office.

Dr. Colnic was asked about the advantages and pitfalls of executive orders. He replied that it is the only way a president can accomplish anything in a system of gridlock. For example, there has been no major immigration reform since 1986 and all major changes since then are due to executive orders. There are too many people to deport and the President has to set priorities. Think of DACA and the millions of undocumented residents who registered and this can be a pitfall as it had the unintended consequence of creating lists. What will happen to the Dreamers who have registered? Executive order is also applicable to major environmentalism issues. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt created the Antiquities Act and established that the President alone can declare national monuments. Will President Trump reverse the national monument status designated by previous presidents? It hasn't been done before but is not impossible.

Over time, it has been Congress who has determined that government is too big to run alone and decided to share power with the President. President Reagan signed Exec Order #12291 which says any new federal regulation has to be evaluated based on more than its stated purpose, i.e. what is the economic and environmental effect? This concentrates power in the OMB under direct control of the President and no successive President has repealed it.

Dr. Colnic welcomed questions and comments all during his presentation. This interaction made for a very informative and interesting program.

--Submitted by Chris Bobbitt

What We Learned at the December Lunch & Learn?

Air Pollution in the San Joaquin Valley

At the December 9th Lunch & Learn, Anthony Presto presented on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD). The SJVAPCD is a public health agency that aims to reduce pollution and promote clean air. It is governed by a 15-member Board consisting of representatives from the Board of Supervisors from all eight counties, one Scientist, one Physician, and 5 city council members.

The Federal government and State government set standards and oversee mobile sources of pollution i.e. heavy-duty truck, locomotives, and motor vehicle emissions. The SJVAPCD primarily focuses on stationary sources such as factories and plants. They also conduct public education and outreach efforts.

Although Los Angeles produces 10 times more pollution than the SJV, the air quality in the SJV is only slightly better. This can be explained by the Valley's low capacity for air pollution. The Valley's geography, topography, and meteorology create an inversion layer trapping pollution.

During the summer months, ozone is considered the major air pollutant. Heavy-duty diesel trucks and farming operations are major sources of NOx and VOC, precursors to ozone. Ozone is especially problematic in the summer because the days are longer and the sunlight causes ozone to build up. During the winter months, particulate matter (PM) is considered the major air pollutant. There are two types of PM, PM 2.5 and PM 10. One source of PM 2.5 is wood burning from fireplaces.

The SJVAPCD has worked to meet federal and state air quality standards. They continue to develop air pollution control programs to improve air quality in the SJV.

To help improve air quality, Valley residents are asked to

  • Carpool,
  • Bike or Ride the bus,
  • Not idle your car,
  • Avoid using drive-through services,
  • Avoid wood burning,
  • Use an electric lawn mower,
  • Consider alternative fuel vehicles.

More information is available at http://www.valleyair.org and http://www.healthyairliving.com.
--Submitted by Andrea Lopez, UC Merced Doctoral Student in Public Health

What We Learned at the November Lunch & Learn

TAX SHARING AGREEMENTS: The Purpose / The Process / The Particulars
At the November 4th Lunch & Learn, Merced County Executive Officer Jim Brown, with assistance from Management Analyst Stephanie Dietz, provided a capacity crowd with "The Purpose/The Process/The Particulars" of Property Tax Revenue Sharing Agreements. Both complicated and complex, these agreements are necessitated by California Revenue & Taxation Code Section 99 which requires counties and cities to agree upon exchange of property tax resulting from the exchange of territorial boundaries--more simply stated, when cities annex properties. When this occurs, the annexation process goes to LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission); if no property tax sharing agreement is in place there is no annexation and, thus, no development on that property.

When property tax is paid by property owners, the revenue is split several ways:

  • K-12 Schools & Community College Districts (39.9%)
  • Fire (7.10%)
  • County General Fund (16.58%)
  • Cities (12.74%)
  • Special districts (3.64%)
  • Cities & County's Property Tax Transfers/ERAF ##(20.04%)

When properties are annexed, cities become responsible for many services, among them:
  • Police
  • Fire
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Land Use
  • Roads
  • Development Approvals

while the County retains responsibility for:
  • Justice System
  • Detention/Corrections
  • Health & Human Services
  • Other Countywide services (such as Agricultural Commissioner, Animal Services, Assessor, Auditor, Cooperative Extension, Coroner, County Clerk, Elections, Library, Office of Emergency Services, Recorder, Sealer of Weights & Measures, Tax Collector and other Administrative Services).

Sixty-five percent of the County's population lives in one of the six incorporated cities. Seventy percent of the County's users/clients of County services are residents of one of the six incorporated cities. Fifty-three percent of the County's property taxes come from unincorporated areas. Given this imbalance, one can begin to understand the challenge and the importance of trying to achieve an equitable sharing of property taxes when annexations occur. The significant challenge, however, starts with a system that is not set up to provide all these services.

When a development is proposed that requires annexation, the Property Tax Exchange Process commences. Code Section 99 prescribes how the application proceeds, starting first with a LAFCO application; the LAFCO Executive Officer then sends a Notice of Filing to the County Assessor, who must determine values and tax rate areas, etc., and must provide this information to the Auditor; the Auditor estimates the amount of property tax generated during the current fiscal year & the property tax attributable to each agency within the territory; The Master Property Revenue Agreement then determines the amount of property tax revenue to be exchanged among the local agencies affected; (and maybe a few more steps that the note taker, inept at shorthand, did not write fast enough to get on paper).

The scope of revenue sharing agreements may vary; they can be project specific agreements or jurisdictions may adopt a Master Property Tax Sharing Agreement. Merced County negotiates with the six incorporated cities individually in an effort to develop a Master Property Tax Sharing Agreement that each city and the County can adopt (i.e., Merced County doesn't use the project specific agreement). At this time, of the six incorporated cities, Livingston is the only one without an Agreement with the County. The former Agreement was cancelled by the County in 2009 because of a disagreement between the two jurisdictions over the sphere of influence (SOI) in Livingston's General Plan.

Agreement negotiations include: revenues, such as property tax, ERAF## and sales tax; development impact fees; and other terms, such as areas of collaboration, land use and agricultural mitigation. When the terms of the split are agreed upon, the Master Agreement is adopted by both jurisdictions.

The Master Agreement Merced County and the City of Los Banos has adopted is the traditional approach; however, the Master Property Tax Agreement between Merced County and the City of Merced is a new way that has not been confirmed as acceptable by the State Auditor. This caused concern for the County, but it was agreed by both jurisdictions to include a "backstop" that would trigger the traditional way of sharing tax revenue should the "new" way be challenged.

Having read in the media about the difficult negotiations between Merced and the County in developing a mutually beneficial Master Agreement, I was concerned about why it was taking so long and why disagreement was so hard to resolve. I think we all left this Lunch & Learn with a much better understanding of the minuet required to arrive at these Agreements.

Our thanks are extended to Jim Brown and Stephanie Dietz for sharing this information and explaining a complex process in a comprehensible way.

For those of you curious about the Master Property Tax Sharing Agreements adopted for the cities of Los Banos and Merced -- how they are alike and different, links to those agreements follow. http://www.co.merced.ca.us/BoardAgenda/2016/20160607Board/154394/154402/154541/154716/RES154716.pdf (Los Banos Agreement)

http://www.co.merced.ca.us/BoardAgenda/2016/20160816Board/156591/156603/156758/156797/CON156797.pdf (Merced Agreement)

--Submitted by Kenra Bragonier
______________________________________________________________________________ ##ERAF: Education Revenue Augmentation Fund. For more information about ERAF -- the what & whys--see the League of California Cities Fact Sheet at: http://www.californiacityfinance.com/ERAFfacts.pdf

What We Learned at the October Lunch & Learn

An Economist's Story on International Trade

Negative talk versus positive press: which version of international trade are we to believe? To help us understand this complex issue, Dr. Greg Wright, UC Merced Assistant Professor of Economics--trade is his specialization--joined us at the LWV Merced County's October 7th Lunch & Learn to share his expertise and perspective.

Most people say they are against global trade. Conversely, no or almost no economists believe there should be more barriers to trade. Greg asked us to start out by thinking about 800 million Chinese people whose lives are vastly improved by trade; also to think of the millions of people in India, Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia, all whose lives have improved because of trade. How important is trade to the world's GDP? A graph to illustrate this showed, from 1960 onward, a significant and steady upward trajectory. And he shared that, as the world has been trading more, wealth has grown.

So what's not to like about global trade? While research shows that trade has no effect on the number of jobs, it does have an effect on the types and pay of jobs. The quantity and types of jobs in manufacturing have been changed by offshoring and by technology. In the past, jobs linked to manufacturing provided steady employment with good incomes to support families, and many of these jobs did not require education past high school. As a result of offshoring, technology and productivity gains, these types of jobs are going away or have already gone away. Weak firms are driven out. Global trade has resulted in manufacturing not being a "comparative advantage" to the United States.

What's good about global trade?

  • Prices, variety & newer, quicker, better (think cell phones, TVs, computers).
  • Increased export markets for U.S. products (example: agriculture) and services.
  • Global trade has resulted in massive price savings for consumers and, for businesses, productivity gains.

With globalization some people are winners and some are losers, and inequality rises. This requires us to think about the policy implications, of which redistribution is key. Job retraining as well as targeted education to prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow -- we need to have support programs in place for these.

Greg did make the distinction between economists' approach to the discussion of international trade and political scientists' approach to international trade. How international trade agreements may affect political, military and diplomatic relations with trade partners, therefore, is a discussion for another program.

As he started his presentation, Greg invited us to share questions and comments as he went along; many of us in attendance eagerly accepted his invitation! This resulted in an interesting interaction between Greg and those in attendance.

After the program, when asked to share which points Greg presented that resonated, responses included: "I appreciated that he started out by reminding us to think about the Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and other workers around the world who are benefiting from economic development achieved from global trade; benefits of trade are diffuse, while the losses are real and emotional for those affected." "Trade has no effect on the number of jobs, but the types of jobs available." "The TPP will not directly impact jobs; it's more about geopolitics than economics." "Policies should support education and training for the jobs of the future, like biotech and the green economy." And: "Greg Wright provided a great deal of info in a very short time. My mind kept drifting to the many high school students who are receiving career/vocational counseling. Greg stated that, with the rapidly changing economy and the evolving job market, in which direction should we be vocationally guiding these students? What happens to the students who can barely make it through high school? What happens to them? If they are fortunate to get an entry level job upon graduation, will their jobs be the first to be eliminated? Will these students be the chronically unemployed? By the time they graduate, much of the vocational information presented to them will be obsolete."

(What resonated with you? Which points did you find most salient? Share them with us by e-mail to lwvmercedco@gmail.com. I'll add your thoughts to this summary on our website as they are received.)

We thank Greg for providing an informative overview of international trade from an economist's point of view and stimulating discussion on very consequential policies facing our country and us as voters this election and into the future.
--Prepared by Kenra Bragonier