In September, two Inland Empire small business owners exposed sloppy work by a state auditor during two tax appeals that were heard before the State Board of Equalization. In doing so, the business owners scored unlikely victories against powerful state government.
As an elected member of the board who heard the case, my job isn’t to protect the state from itself. My job is to provide agency oversight and apply tax laws fairly and equally. If the state is at fault, taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook. It’s that simple.
The improbable victories, however, raise an important question: Will ordinary taxpayers stand a chance against the new and powerful Office of Tax Appeals beginning January 1?
In the first case, a state auditor lost sensitive taxpayer information, causing the taxpayer to go through the tedious work of changing all her accounts since her driver’s license, social security number, bank account numbers and other sensitive information were included in the missing paperwork.
The state never found her records, but that didn’t stop auditors from “guesstimating” she owed more taxes.
In the other case, the auditor visited an Upland restaurant owner. The auditor made careless errors and used unfounded assumptions to justify a much higher tax bill than was warranted.
After hearing testimony, Democrats and Republicans voted in favor of the two taxpayers, relieving them of thousands of dollars in taxes, penalties and interest the state claimed they owed. After a long and lengthy appeals process, the two taxpayers prevailed, and in the process, helped expose some serious problems.
With these cases in mind, we all should be aware not every taxpayer has resources to fight the state, even when it’s clearly wrong. As matter of fact, the two businesses owners represented themselves before the board without attorneys. It’s easy to see why many worry the deck is stacked against the little guy. After all, the state has a horde of auditors, collectors and lawyers on payroll—all at taxpayer expense.
When taxpayers prevail, it gives hope. It signals that maybe, just maybe, there are checks and balances that correct injustice. But, why didn’t supervisors and managers catch these problems during the appeals process? And what will happen next year when state workers, rather than elected officials, start hearing tax appeals?
Earlier this month, the Legislature and governor hurriedly enacted faulty legislation creating positions for state employees who will be paid annual salaries of up to $143K to hear tax appeals. It’s an open question whether these new panels will be fair to taxpayers.
Concerns are already growing that there could be conflicts of interest.
In fact, nothing in the new law prevents the state from filling positions with its own tax agency attorneys.
My Democratic colleague Fiona Ma is so concerned about this possibility that she sent a letter to the governor warning:
“If we were to allow these same biased attorneys to serve as Administrative Law Judges on this new panel, I believe we would be doing a grave injustice to taxpayers and be setting the reform effort up for failure.”
She’s right. It would be incredibly naïve to think unelected bureaucrats won’t be pressured into ruling against taxpayers to protect state coffers. If that were to happen—and it will—it would add additional stigma to an already misguided reform effort that stripped taxpayers of their rights.
George Runner is an elected member of the State Board of Equalization.
American River Eaglets Named and Famed
Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - What’s in a name? Monikers chosen by children for local bald eagle babies are on the lips of raptor fans all over the world.
In the space of 12 weeks, siblings “Peekaboo and Poppy” fed, flapped and eventually flew before the kindergarten children’s eyes. Thanks to photos and social media, thousands of followers -- some from as far away as the Arab States -- experienced the growth of eaglets deemed closest-hatched to Sacramento in recorded history.
For the record, Department of Fish and Game gurus documented the American River chicks as Eaglet One and Eaglet two. Anthropomorphism – the practice of bestowing human traits and names on wild animals – is discouraged by scientists. However, nobody told the Golden Valley River School children that. “Peek and Poppy” flew the nest in June but the huge bald babies will soar in the children’s memories forever. “We walk the American River trail every week,” explains teacher Tavia Pagan. “One day in fall (2016), an adult bald eagle flew right over the children. We all knew the national bird. It was extra special to see it right in front of us.”
Weeks later, the junior naturalists beheld a huge nest. “It was exciting,” recalls fellow teacher Becky Page. “We decided to keep an eye on things. All through winter, the children looked forward to visiting what we called ‘our eagles.’ One day in spring, we heard a new little sound from the nest. We realized it was a hungry baby.”
The snowy-crowned parents began supplying the nest with fish from the river. Eventually, bystanders saw a fluffy head rise to welcome deliveries. “One of the children named him ‘Peekaboo,’ explained teacher Pagan. “We all started calling him that.” When a second baby crested, the teachers asked their classes to volunteer another name. Poppy was the final choice; evoking flower-lined river trails and the magic of a wee head popping above the nest. Delighted by Facebook reports, raptor lovers world-wide soon adopted the names. By pure serendipity, the kindergartners also nailed eaglet genders. Peekaboo, they decided, was a boy and Poppy his little sister. Beak shape – a text-book sex identifier – eventually proved truth had come from the mouths of babes.
Federal law protects bald eagles. As the chicks grew, the school party and other trail users were soon warned against lingering near the raptors’ nest tree. Cordons went up and Park Rangers cautioned visitors. “We were still able to do our walks,” explains teacher Page. “The children were reverend. They used their whisper-voices near the nest. They knew to respect the eagle family’s space. We could see Peekaboo and Poppy when they began to flap their wings. Then we saw one of them on a branch. One day, we saw there was only one baby left.”
Alpha chick Peekaboo fledged first. A week later, his sister flew the coop. For weeks, their dutiful parents continued food deliveries in and near the nesting tree. In summer, the juveniles began hunting on their own. By fall, they had found territory downriver. “The children were concerned about where Peek and Poppy were,” says teacher Pagan. “We encouraged them to use their imagination.”
The teachers consider the five and six-year-olds’ eagle encounter has blessed them with extra wildlife appreciation. “We hope this experience helps them grow into people who protect nature,” says Tavia Pagan. “We protect what we love. And we only love what we experience.”
Carmichael, CA (MPG) - For eight weeks, a group of Sacramento area homeschool students participated in a Toastmasters Youth Leadership Program. At a showcase banquet on October 25, the students presented a typical Toastmasters meeting demonstrating their public speaking skills with informative speeches and impromptu responses.
During the Toastmasters program, students learned how to give speeches, become better listeners, become more comfortable in front of an audience, evaluate speeches, and speak with limited preparation.
Carmichael Toastmasters sponsored this program which is offered free nationwide as a service to the community. Jennifer Harris, a member of Carmichael Toastmasters Club #2213, coordinated the Youth Leadership Program.
The program was led primarily by the students, who served as President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Sergeant-At-Arms. Mrs. Harris guided the participants as they learned how to conduct a meeting and how to improve their speaking abilities.
The showcase banquet was held at a Sacramento Public Library on Wednesday, Oct. 25th. The banquet began with a meal, then transitioned into a typical Youth Leadership Program meeting. Several participants gave speeches or participated in Table Topics, an impromptu-speaking exercise. The audience was also invited to participate in Table Topics. It was sure an inspiring evening!
For more information about the Toastmaster Youth Leadership Program, visit www.toastmaster.org.
E&E Legal Forced to Sue for Failure to Records Shared with Activists Involving Their Inappropriate Lobbying Practices
Sacramento, CA (MPG) - The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) has filed suit under California's Public Records Act (PRA) against the state's Attorney General Xavier Becerraa for withholding all but one email showing or mentioning its work with partisan and environmentalist activists to use law enforcement in going after opponents of the "climate" political agenda". Under Kamala Harris, California's OAG had participated in the since-collapsed "Climate-RICO" cabal organized by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, but kept its involvement off-screen. The new AG, Becerra, has since suggested that he has indeed been working with activists, correspondence to, from or discussing which E&E Legal sought in its PRA request.
Specifically, in July, E&E Legal requested records "concerning the Office of Attorney General’s work with private outside parties to pursue, as targets of investigation, perceived opponents of a political and policy agenda shared by the Attorney General and these outside parties." The complaint specifies the public records sought, in the form of correspondence that was sent to, or received from, the Attorney General, or members of his Executive Office, and certain named parties or entities of interest because of their involvement in the AG Climate RICO scandal beginning roughly six-months prior to the request:
"[C]opies of any email correspondence dated between February 1, 2017 and the date you process this request, a) which correspondence was sent from or to (including also as cc: or bcc:) Attorney General Becerra at any address, or members of the Executive Unit of the Attorney General’s Office (including also as cc: or bcc:) and b) which correspondence is also to or from (including also as cc: or bcc:), or which uses or mentions, any of the following individuals, entities, or email domains:
The OAG initially delayed its response, and then produced only a single document with little relevance to what E&E Legal sought. OAG withheld all other potentially responsive records claiming the records were 'privileged.' On the basis of E&E Legal's experience with other "Climate-RICO" AGs, as well as information and belief, E&E asserts this is likely baseless given the request encompasses documents shared with outside parties, and work with private, third-party political activists. No such privileges should apply to these records, unless AG Becerra will claim, as has NY's Schneiderman however implausibly, that he has 'deputized' partisan activists, donors and environmental pressure groups.
"As a California citizen and independent journalist, I have seen this act many times with the state government and their chosen third-party groups," said investigative journalist Katy Grimes, an E&E Legal Senior Media fellow and co-petitioner on the suit. "We ask the Court to confirm that the blindfold on Lady Justice reflects how our laws are to be applied equally to all citizens and groups, and not a tool for lobbying by those that elected officials deem sufficiently politically-correct."
In addition to California, E&E Legal is embroiled in similar lawsuits in New York and Vermont, home of the two co-ringleaders of the AG Climate-RICO scheme. The effort entailed a gathering of nearly twenty state-attorneys general, who were joined at their public announcement by climate "investor" Al Gore, vowing to use every legal tool at their disposal to shut down dissent on the 'climate change' issue and to seek a tobacco-style global settlement from ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel companies. E&E Legal's public record requests and subsequent litigation in Vermont and New York, and other states, exposed this scandal, leading to most of the attorneys general to flee from the climate crusade.
"Once again we find ourselves having to litigate a routine public records request with a state's attorney general," said E&E Legal President Craig Richardson. "Apparently when these attorney generals are required to follow the same laws they are elected to enforce, they hide behind legal smokescreens and stonewalls."
The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) is a 501(c)(3) organization engaged in strategic litigation, policy research, and public education on important energy and environmental issues. Primarily through its petition litigation and transparency practice areas, E&E Legal seeks to correct onerous federal and state policies that hinder the economy, increase the cost of energy, eliminate jobs, and do little or nothing to improve the environment.
Free Concert at Pioneer Church, Sunday November 12
Sacramento, CA (MPG) - Pianist Jason Sia will be performing works by Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel, DeBussy, Brahms, and Gershwin, Sunday, November 12th at 3:00 pm. at Pioneer Congregational Church, 2700 L Street. The concert is free, part of the Pioneer Church’s musical series.
Sia received his formal musical education at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and at the Aspen Music School. He earned his Bachelor and Master Degrees in piano performance at California State University, Sacramento. He began playing at age 6 and has performed at Carnegie Hall and recitals in France, Hone Kong, Korea, and the Philippines.
Currently he is the pianist for the Sacramento Valley Concert Choir. He is preparing for his Carnegie Hall solo piano concert in June of 2018.
Doors open at 2:30 p.m. with the performance at 3:00 p.m. The historic Pioneer Congregational Church is located across from Sutter’s Fort, at 2700 L Street. www.pioneerucc.org.
**There was a time change from Saturday, November 11th after we went to press this week. The new time listed in the article for Sunday is correct.
Sacramento, CA (MPG) - The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today commemorated California Flood Preparedness Week by encouraging residents to prepare for flood season.
“Extreme weather and natural disasters are a way of life in California,” stated Jon Ericson, acting chief of the state’s Division of Flood Management. “Taking the right steps now can mean all the difference to you and your family if flooding occurs.”
More than 7 million California residents are at risk of flooding, and many don’t realize it. Flooding happens throughout the state, from rural communities to urban areas, at the base of hills and along the coast. In fact, every California County has received a flood-related emergency declaration in the past twenty years.
This year many communities are at an extra risk for flooding because of wildfire damage. Flooding after wildfire is often more severe, as debris and ash left from the fire can form mudflows. These mudflows can cause considerable damage that is not covered by homeowner’s insurance, however if the mudflows are related to flooding then NFIP flood insurance may cover the damage. Please check with your insurance provider for details.
Be Flood Ready by following these steps: Talk to your insurance agent about buying flood insurance, or contact the National Flood Insurance Program for information. 1-800-427-4661; Make an evacuation kit. Tips are available at: www.redcross.org/ ; Make an evacuation plan. Familiar routes may not be accessible during a flood; Stay informed during heavy storms; Don’t walk or drive through flood waters. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
More information is available at: https://www.ready.gov/floods
DWR also cautions the public not to wait if they are told to evacuate, as first responders may not be able to reach residents later.
The state, through DWR’s Emergency Rehabilitation Program, is coordinating with local, state and federal agencies to support repair and rehabilitation work on project levees damaged during the 2017 storm season. The state has committed $80 million to repair 30 critical sites this year, prepare designs for 10 more future sites, and jointly prepare contingency plans for 100 additional sites in preparation for this year’s rainy season.
UC Davis, Shriners Hospitals Party Down With the Kids
Sacramento County, CA (MPG) - Children, few would argue, should never have to spend a single day in a hospital bed, hooked up to life-saving monitors and medications, undergoing treatments for things like cancer, head trauma from accidents and the myriad things that can go wrong. But, sadly, many do.
To make things feel a little better, to normalize the experience to some degree for the children admitted as patients (and their families) at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento, staff and supporters delivered the “spirit” of Halloween, literally and figuratively, and threw them all a big fat party Oct. 18 and 19.
It’s an annual event, says Shanda Pierce, who, alongside her husband, Kirk own more than 20 Spirit Halloween pop-up stores across the Central Valley, as well as Sacramento, Placer and Yuba Counties, and as far north as Redding, CA.
For the last six years, the Pierce’s and several of their Spirit Halloween store employees have brought costumes, backpacks, toys, face paint, photo booths, craft fixings, live character “actors,” along with a boat-load of Halloween fun to UC Davis’ Children’s Hospital and organized a Halloween bash for the children admitted as patients and their visiting family members.
In addition to the parties, in the weeks prior to Halloween, Spirit Halloween stores across the region organize a range of fundraisers, including the company’s Vampire Ball, a purple pumpkin painting contest, as well as in-store outreach to Halloween customers to benefit UC Davis programs. And, last year, Spirit of Halloween fundraisers expanded to include support for Shriners Children’s Hospital next door and now both facilities are recipients of the company’s program.
“Spirit Corporation, our parent company, actually started this program for children’s hospitals back east several years ago and we began participating in 2011,” said Pierce. “We start planning for the Halloween party and raising funds in all of our stores right after we open in early September, and we don’t stop until we close the doors November 2.”
To date, the Pierce’s stores have raised roughly $360,000 for UC Davis Children’s Hospital, and the company, via the generosity of its customers and other fundraising channels, generated just under $50,000 for Shriner’s the first year of participation, Pierce said. “Every penny, 100 percent of what we raise in the stores and through fundraisers goes to fund the two facilities’ children’s programs now.”
For William Banks, 5, of Chico, CA and his mother, Amanda, the Halloween “spooktacular” brought a welcome respite from the day-to-day routine they’ve been operating on since he was diagnosed with lymphoma in August. Banks’ wore a contagious, ear-to-ear smile as he spent the afternoon painting his face and head, crafting and mingling with other kids and their families—doing everything a kid should be doing this time of year, never mind the cart of medications and monitoring devices he had to push around the party. Those things are just part of life right now.
“This is so great,” William said, freezing for selfies with his mother, taking in the attention from staff, media representatives from this paper and others, including local TV reporters, and of course his fellow patients. “I feel really happy today,” he said, and then went off to paint the top of his head tiger style.
Lisa and Jason Chandler from Cottonwood, CA, joined their daughter, Anastacia Reynolds, 12 for the fun at UC Davis. Anastacia is recovering from a near-hanging accident on a swing set that has l eft her with a traumatic brain injury, from which she is recovering at a pace that has even astonished her doctors, according to her parents.
“This place is amazing,” said Lisa Chandler, wrapping her arms around her daughter who must currently use a wheel chair to stay mobile. “We can’t believe how awesome all this is. She’s making such amazing progress and this is really a great way to give her and all the kids a chance to socialize and just be kids for a little while. This facility is absolutely amazing. They are the best.”
The UC Davis Child Life and Creative Arts Program is a direct beneficiary of Spirit Store donations. The program helps coordinate the Halloween party, as well as other events throughout the year, including a holiday with Santa at Christmas. But its core services provide an ongoing menu of programs and services for patients and their parents through the work of child life specialists, as well as music and art therapists, among others, who deliver a range of powerful coping strategies and educational information for the patients and their parents.
Diana Sundberg who runs the program at UC Davis, said the donations and party made possibly by Spirit Stores is a vital part of the process of keeping kids’ spirits high as they go through what is, in most cases, the scariest time of their lives.
“We do everything we can to help minimize fears and normalize the hospitalization experience for the children,” said Sundberg. “By throwing the kids a Halloween party with costumes and games, we give them something they can recognize from home, be a part of, and a little bit of normal that they can carry with them while they are going through their treatment or in the recovery process. It’s a very scary experience for kids to be away from home, let alone in a hospital. So bringing in Halloween fun for them is one of the ways we work to take those fears away, even if for just a little while.”