Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

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Associated Press

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 23 at 4:30 PM

April 21

Contra Costa Times: Drone use will heighten privacy issues

It's simple to explain Google's and Facebook's sudden, intense interest in drone technology: An estimated 65 percent of the world's population today lacks Internet access, and flying robots probably can connect those 4.5 billion potential users to the rest of us.

Talk about expanding markets. Even the Silicon Valley mind boggles.

Engineers think they can mount lightweight broadband equipment on drones and keep them aloft for days, weeks or months to make connections from the remotest and least advanced regions of the world.

It's exciting. It's also another reminder that privacy concerns are reaching new highs, and drones only can drive them higher.

The valley already is struggling with worldwide consumer confidence. The National Security Agency is hacking into systems willy-nilly, while tech companies themselves resist telling consumers how their personal information is being used. And now come drones, which the Obama administration uses to kill people.

Silicon Valley's future hinges largely on whether it can rebuild the trust that smartphone, laptop and tablet users have in the privacy of tech products. If it can't, then the potential of the Internet will be limited.

Drones just up the ante. People won't want them buzzing their once-private backyards, cameras rolling, or tracking their movements based on smartphone signals.

President Barack Obama's use of drones to spy on and kill military targets doesn't make the job any easier. The sinister element goes beyond privacy concerns to physical safety — and setting limits will be difficult.

Google elevated snooping concerns in 2013 when it admitted intercepting data transmitted over household Wi-Fi networks while its car-mounted cameras were snapping street-view photos. If Google's cars were acquiring hundreds of gigabytes of information from users, imagine what drones equipped with transmission gear can do, flying 50,000 feet above cities around the clock.

Google needs to abandon its assertion that data transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks is fair game. Instead it should be leading the charge to make emails, photos and data more secure as the age of drones approaches.

Back in 2012, Obama set a 2015 deadline for the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with regulations for domestic use of drones. It will be none too soon; drones are expected to emerge as a $6 billion market in the next 10 years.

But the FAA's purview is safety. It is not likely to deal with privacy.

So we're back to our recurring theme: To protect its own industry, Silicon Valley needs to formulate privacy principles that reassure a legitimately worried public and keep the focus on the positive aspects of technology, including the latest drone advancements.

If it doesn't, consumers around the world may begin bailing on digital connections and commerce, trading convenience and connectivity to regain their privacy.

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April 22

San Francisco Chronicle: Warriors change direction on S.F. move

The Warriors' planned move to San Francisco just became more real. By switching from a contested spot on Piers 30-32 to empty land in Mission Bay, the team is minimizing public opposition and regulatory hoops. The revised plan also takes the city out of the financing game — another potential source of resistance.

The new location would give the basketball franchise a new home that would double as a much-needed convention and concert venue. The 12-acre spot is unencumbered with the political, environmental and traffic sensitivities of the original site at the edge of the Bay Bridge.

The Warriors' ownership was feeling the public pressure over its first-choice location. The crumbling piers near the Bay Bridge have gone begging for a new use, but the showcase location came with drawbacks.

Nearby neighbors vehemently opposed the potential crowds and congestion, not to mention the lost views. The blueprints called for an imposing bowl-shaped structure that intruded on the generally open and accessible feel of the waterfront. There were major concerns about public financing, government approvals and a ballot-box challenge.

Warriors President Rick Welts said the team was preparing for a November vote on the Pier 30-32 arena proposal. "Even with a yes, that still didn't remove the obstacles" such as the city's "emerging political atmosphere" and regulatory approvals. The team needed "a much more direct path" toward building a new facility, he said.

The team's new choice is an empty lot on Third Street in Mission Bay, purchased for an undisclosed amount from software giant Salesforce, which once earmarked the acres for a new headquarters.

The location has the potential to meet the team's needs and allay public concerns. The land is near a Muni rail stop with a quick connection to BART. Adjacent parking garages, used by office workers during the day, would be available for evening events. The privately owned land is free of the official delays that come with using public acres along the Embarcadero.

These advantages suggest that the controversy over a major arena could be over. Two determined foes of the Pier 30-32 location, former Mayor Art Agnos and former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, blessed the shift to Mission Bay.

But the decision leaves the two decaying piers empty. In a session with the Chronicle editorial board Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee acknowledged the problems. Six proposals, which included a cruise terminal, housing and now the arena idea, have all died in recent years, he said.

The chance to fill this blank spot made Lee an early booster of the Warriors' waterfront arena, a project he once dubbed "my legacy project." But he conceded that public opposition added to the "unsurety of the process" and led the Warriors to look elsewhere.

Pleased as he was with team's decision to stick with San Francisco, Lee nevertheless acknowledged a tinge of regret that the first-choice spot didn't work out. "I feel a little bit of loss here," he said, adding, "Maybe I'll live long enough to see something built on the piers."

Still, the Warriors' course correction suggests the team ownership is listening, and learning what it takes to win over a city that can play tough defense against any new development — but especially one on its cherished waterfront.

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April 21

San Jose Mercury News: San Jose airport stowaway does us all a favor

The 16-year-old Santa Clara boy who hopped a fence onto the tarmac at Mineta San Jose International Airport to hitch a ride in the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound jetliner did us all a favor. We're just glad he beat the odds and, miraculously, was still alive when the plane landed on Maui.

While parents of their own rebellious teens were struck cold by the tale for fear of copycats, the rest of us immediately thought: terrorists. If the kid could get onto the runway and into a wheel well overnight, why not a guy planting a bomb?

That's where the favor comes in. The porous security was exposed without anybody getting hurt, let alone killed.

San Jose's airport officials say they meet all the federal standards for security — which means the warning is not just for San Jose but for all U.S. airports. High fences, some barbed wire and video cameras might seem like enough to keep people out or at least make sure they get caught, but clearly they're not.

SJC covers more than 1,000 acres, and it's a relatively small airport. Imagine the perimeter at Chicago's O'Hare. Of course the smaller expanse might make it a quicker run from the perimeter fence to the airplanes, but still. The word is out now that this is possible, so there's a new urgency to tightening security.

Thank the young interloper — who, by the way, is about to encounter a whole new meaning of being grounded.

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April 22

Los Angeles Times: LA, where tax breaks come easy — for some

Nearly a decade ago, when Los Angeles gave a $270 million tax break to the developer of a 1,000-room luxury hotel at L.A. Live, city leaders described the deal as essential to spur downtown redevelopment and help the struggling Convention Center.

Today, however, downtown is booming and its hotels are doing brisk business, yet developers continue to line up for taxpayer handouts. Four more hotel projects have been approved for tax breaks worth half a billion dollars over the next two decades — money that otherwise would pay for police and fire services, street paving and tree trimming. Three more developers have asked for subsidies, and the City Council will vote Wednesday to study one of the requests. And it's not just hotels: In March, city leaders let mall developer Westfield keep $59 million in city taxes for building a new shopping center in suburban Woodland Hills.

Convention Center Executive Director Robert "Bud" Ovrom recently took on the touchy subject of tax incentives. He agrees that L.A. needs more hotel rooms, but he questioned whether the projects seeking subsidies would include enough new rooms to help the Convention Center attract bigger, more profitable events. Ovrom called for a fresh look at how Los Angeles is using incentives downtown, but he raised points that should be considered citywide.

The City Council and the mayor run the risk of making tax breaks for big developers the norm. There is no comprehensive policy guiding decisions on when the city should consider subsidies to encourage economic development, which projects merit help or what taxpayers should get in return. As it is now, developers go to City Hall, pay for an independent economic analysis, and, if they have a "funding gap," the city will generally allow them to keep about 50 percent of the new sales, hotel, utility and property taxes the project will generate for 25 years.

Proponents of the tax breaks say the city benefits from the construction, and that 50 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. But that assumes developers won't build in LA without an incentive. Perhaps that's true of some projects in some communities; undoubtedly subsidies can play an important role in spurring economic development.

But would Westfield really have walked away from the fancy shopping center it wanted to build in Woodland Hills if it hadn't gotten a tax break? It had already put nearly a decade into the process and gone through an environmental review, and it owns another shopping center directly across the street that houses Neiman Marcus and Cartier.

The city needs a more careful and studied approach to the process so that developers don't immediately head to City Hall seeking subsidies they don't need — and that don't bring benefits for taxpayers.

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April 21

Orange County Register: California clings to illegal taxes

We are well aware that California government seems always to be looking to its long-suffering taxpayers for more revenue, but the following strikes us as beyond the pale — even for California. The state imposes numerous taxes and fees, and assesses some property values, but, occasionally, a court will rule these levies illegal. However, recovering the money the state illegally took from you is another matter.

As Board of Equalization Member George Runner explained in a FlashReport column last week, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get back money paid to the state in illegal taxes. And even when taxpayers are successful, they must hack through a jungle of costly and time-consuming red tape.

"Currently, taxpayers are only eligible to receive refunds if they have exhausted all of their 'administrative appeals remedies,' even if the tax they paid is later declared illegal or unconstitutional," Runner explained.

"The time period to file a refund claim is different for each tax and fee program, ranging anywhere from 30 days to several years," he said. "That's right; your state government will keep any and all money it illegally took from you, unless you have already jumped through several confusing administrative hoops — even hoops that you were never aware of."

To remedy this preposterous process, identical bills have been introduced by Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine (Assembly Bill 2510), and state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale (Senate Bill 1327). The legislation would require the government to automatically refund any taxes, fees, assessments or surcharges, with interest, deemed illegal by a final court decision. It additionally gives taxpayers up until one year following a court decision to file a refund claim with the Franchise Tax Board or Board of Equalization.

This strikes us as an uncontroversial and necessary reform, and we hope the Legislature will speedily adopt it accordingly. If someone takes your stuff illegally and is caught with it, you should be able to get your stuff back without jumping through bureaucratic hoops. The same should apply to government.

The Senate Governance and Finance Committee is scheduled to consider SB1327 at a hearing Thursday.

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April 21

U-T San Diego: A great day for San Diego as well as Boston

Monday's Boston Marathon was very special for residents of Massachusetts. It was the first running of the famous race since the horrific terrorist bombing at last year's event. But it turned out to be very special for San Diegans as well.

Meb Keflezighi — one of our city's great ambassadors and athletes — won what The Boston Globe called "perhaps the most emotional and daring victory in the history of the world's most fabled road race." It was the first time an American finished first since 1983 and the fastest marathon Keflezighi has ever run. At 38, he was also the oldest winner since 1931.

It's one more happy chapter in Keflezighi's extraordinary life. At age 12, he came to San Diego with his family from the small northeast African nation of Eritrea. He was a star runner at San Diego High and UCLA, then won the silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics and first place at the 2009 New York Marathon.

Keflezighi is beloved by the small local Eritrean community, based in City Heights. But he has many more admirers in San Diego and beyond — people who know and appreciate that his accomplishments were achieved with humility, grace and the deep patriotism felt by many naturalized U.S. citizens.

Good for him — and great for his adopted hometown.

Congratulations, Meb Keflezighi. Who says nice guys finish last?

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