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Economics

County Settles with Nonprofit Trust on Litigation

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County Settles with Nonprofit Trust on Litigation

The County of Marin, the San Geronimo Advocates, and a nonprofit trust that owns the former San Geronimo Golf Course have settled out of court instead pursuing an appeal of the Marin County Superior Court decision regarding the 157-acre property.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), which in 2017 bought the course in Marin’s San Geronimo Valley, had intended to sell the property to the County by the end of 2018 once the County arranged its finances. TPL was appealing an October 2018 court ruling that prevented the transaction.

County Counsel Brian Washington said TPL incurred significant expenses in defending the litigation alongside the County. The County has agreed to pay TPL’s share of the attorney fees and costs liability arising from the case and is resolving all outstanding issues with TPL over the purchase and sale agreement. The total compensation is $308,391, and it will be paid from the County’s litigation fund.

Starting in 2017, the County sought to purchase the golf course and preserve it as a park. The motivations were to protect the area’s character, preserve recreation and environmental values, and consider potential long-term public uses subject to the community planning process. The County leased the golf course and contracted with another company to manage golf operations as it worked on fundraising to complete the purchase. However, the Court decision required the County to rescind its purchase agreement. The County no longer has any control over the property and is not participating in any discussions about it, Washington said.

“The County appreciates TPL’s partnership with the County in attempting to acquire the San Geronimo property for park and recreational uses,” Washington said. “This is a fair resolution that allows TPL to move forward.”

A voter initiative aimed on restricting the use of the property will appear on the March 2020 ballot in Marin County. The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted in February 2019 to order the Registrar of Voters to place the initiative on the next statewide ballot. All registered Marin voters will be eligible to cast a vote on the issue. The initiative would amend the San Geronimo Valley Community Plan and the Marin County Development Code to mandate retention of a golf course use as the property’s primary use.

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Community

GOP Candidate for State Controller Lanhee Chen Known for Bipartisanship

Chen, a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is respected among Republicans and Democrats for his work across party lines. President Barack Obama appointed him to serve on the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board. And he has served as adviser to several Republican elected officials, including U.S. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

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Lanhee Chen. COF.org photo.

By Bo Tefu, California Black Media

Attorney and Stanford Law School lecturer Lanhee Chen is a Republican running for California State Controller.

Chen, a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is respected among Republicans and Democrats for his work across party lines. President Barack Obama appointed him to serve on the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board. And he has served as adviser to several Republican elected officials, including U.S. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The Los Angeles Times recently endorsed Chen, stating that his bipartisan experience is an indication that he would be independent in a state government that is majority Democratic.

Chen spoke with California Black Media (CBM) about his plans to promote fiscal accountability, transparency and the state’s economic advancement.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and concision.

CBM: From your perspective, what is the State Controller’s main function?

Lanhee Chen (L.C.) The State Controller is the chief financial watchdog for the state of California. It’s the individual who gives California taxpayers accountability over every single dollar the state spends. The Controller oversees the disbursement of state funds.

The Controller’s office also has an unclaimed property department. The state keeps a catalogue of all the information people need to claim money they forgot they had.

Perhaps the most important thing the controller does is audit. The Controller is responsible for auditing programs ran by the state government. These audits help the Controller figure out where and how the state spends taxpayers’ money.

The main objectives of this role are financial management accounting and fiscal responsibility.

CBM: Why are you running for Controller?

L.C.: I believe that when we think about the challenges California faces right now, some of those challenges are created by a lack of good fiscal management. A lack of a real set of accountability principles around how our money is being spent. My background in policymaking, academics, and business is exactly the kind of experience that is needed for this job. I’ve spent my career solving problems in fiscal and public policy.

All that experience has prepared me to serve in a role which is predominantly about making sure that the state is spending money wisely. The Controller’s independence from other statewide elected officials is the most important. My track record shows that I have a history of working as a bipartisan problem solver.

CBM: Do you feel being a Republican is a disadvantage or an advantage?

L.C.: The obvious disadvantage is the sheer number of Democrats that outnumber the number of Republicans in the state. There are also some ways that the Republican Party hasn’t been a welcoming and inviting place for people of all backgrounds. I have an immigrant background. I grew up in Orange County. My parents came to the U.S. and managed to put together and raise a great family.

One of the major advantages of this job is that I get to be the one asking tough questions who isn’t in the ‘go along to get along club.’ My background and political affiliation will be helpful in terms of making sure we get answers to tough questions.

In terms of working with Democrats, I have a demonstrated record of working with Democrats and I don’t have an issue working with people who want transparency in terms of how we’re spending our money and where it’s going.

CBM: What experience do you bring to this position?

L.C.: Along with my policy background, I’ve served on boards of regional and community healthcare systems. I’ve also been an entrepreneur and investor for small businesses. My experience helps me understand the business and financial aspects of this job. I know how to look at the financials of our state and figure out what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and how do we give people more information.

Seeing I am also an educator, I can help people understand what’s happening in our state budget.

CBM: If you win, what will be your first priority?

L.C.: The first thing we need is transparency into every dollar the state spends. I want to create a fully transparent, searchable, machine-readable database that allows you to figure out exactly our state is spending money. This project will help us set up a government transparency portal that gives us a sense of whether the spending was effective or not.

Second, I want to use the role’s auditing power and dig deeper into how and what we’re spending on. We need clarity on funding that supports the state’s priority issues such as K-12 education, homelessness, and health care.

CBM: A lot of Black and Brown people work for state government. What is your view on unfunded pension liabilities?

L.C.: Ideally, promises made should be promises kept.

I have a big problem with the idea that we play politics and interfere with pension funds. The primary goal of pension funds is to keep people’s retirement earnings safe and ensure that we’re maximizing the return on the investment that we make. Unfortunately, the state isn’t doing that in a lot of cases. CalPERS and CalSTRS both have not been truthful with us for too many years about what their expectations are about how much in unfunded liabilities we have.

CBM: How would you describe your leadership style? And how does that match with the demands of being the State Controller?

L.C.: My leadership style is about establishing goals and having principles. But it’s also critical to understanding that there’s a time to stand on principle and a time to stand alone. That is a delicate balance. Integrity and ethical leadership are pivotal to making sure everybody’s rowing in the right direction.

This role calls for a leader that isn’t afraid of managing conflict. We won’t not always be on the same page. Fiscal responsibility can only be achieved through transparency and accountability. It is my priority to be the type of leader that lets people know that I’m happy to work together, but I won’t back down on my values or compromise my independence.

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Bay Area

California Gas Prices to Spike Even More with July 1 Tax Increase

Democratic lawmakers, backed by environmentalists, are digging their heels in, defending their decision not to suspend the inflationary tax increase that they fought hard to approve when they voted to pass Senate Bill 1 in 2017. “As we’ve said before, suspending the gas tax would reduce critical funds available for road repair and improvement projects,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood said in a joint statement.

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As of Friday, the average gas price per gallon was $5.82 in the state.
As of Friday, the average gas price per gallon was $5.82 in the state.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

“I really don’t understand how the price of gas can rise so drastically in California,” said a Black woman and 55-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident who agreed to be interviewed for this article but asked to not be identified.

“Unfortunately, we need to purchase it regardless of the prices and that’s one of reasons, I believe, it continues to increase,” she complained. “Weekly, it is costing me approximately $75 to commute to and from work, which is $35 more than I used to pay.”

The woman, who is a collections officer with a lead abatement company, said filling her tank often means she has to forgo another obligation.

As of Friday, the average gas price per gallon was $5.82 in the state.

Now, news that the state is tacking an extra 3-cent tax on every gallon purchased — which will not be a significant increase — is still absurd, says the woman, considering that California already has the highest gas prices in the nation.

Because Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature missed the May 1 deadline to suspend an inflationary gas tax increase that is scheduled for July 1, it will still take effect.

Policymakers would have had to act 60 days in advance to avert the increase.

Democratic lawmakers, backed by environmentalists, are digging their heels in, defending their decision not to suspend the inflationary tax increase that they fought hard to approve when they voted to pass Senate Bill 1 in 2017.

“As we’ve said before, suspending the gas tax would reduce critical funds available for road repair and improvement projects,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood said in a joint statement.

“Additionally, as oil companies continue to rake in record-high profits, there is no guarantee this relief would be passed onto consumers,” Atkins and Rendon continued.

With the tax hike, the average excise tax price per gallon in the state will go from about 51 cents per gallon to 54 cents per gallon.

Last month, with the May 1 deadline looming, Newsom’s office acknowledged that it would not be able to convince lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly to suspend the tax increase.

Instead, Newsom’s spokesperson Alex Stack released a statement suggesting that the Governor’s office was turning its attention to providing relief to Californians as the cost of gas, food and other commodities continue to skyrocket.

“We look forward to working with lawmakers on the governor’s proposal for direct payments to Californians wrestling with rising prices,” Stack said in a statement. “Helping offset the impact of inflation on California residents remains a top priority for the governor.”

Legislative Republicans blasted their Democratic colleagues for their “inaction” on the gas tax increase.

“Californians are desperate for any relief at the pump while paying the highest gas prices in the nation, but Democrats have decided to run out the clock and increase the state’s gas tax instead,” read a statement the state Republican Party released earlier this month.

Gov. Newsom and lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature have still not agreed on how to address the excessive cost of gas in the state.

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Activism

Project to Help Non-Profits Gain Access to Almost $200B in State and Federal Funds

The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation, a Sacramento-based organization that promotes health and racial equity, and the James Irvine Foundation, a private San Francisco-based philanthropic nonprofit that advocates for Californians who earn low wages, are the first two foundations investing in the fund called the Community Economic Mobilization Initiative (CEMI).

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CEMI is expected to begin funding the CBOs in the summer of 2022 with $14 million from the James Irvine Foundation and $1 million from the Center at Sierra Health.
CEMI is expected to begin funding the CBOs in the summer of 2022 with $14 million from the James Irvine Foundation and $1 million from the Center at Sierra Health.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Non-profit organizations across California will be able to apply for funding from a pool of cash created with an initial investment of $15 million from two foundations.

The money will help local Community Based Organizations (CBOs) gain access to almost $200 billion in federal and state funding coming down the pike for economic development projects.

The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation, a Sacramento-based organization that promotes health and racial equity, and the James Irvine Foundation, a private San Francisco-based philanthropic nonprofit that advocates for Californians who earn low wages, are the first two foundations investing in the fund called the Community Economic Mobilization Initiative (CEMI).

“CEMI will strengthen nonprofits working in marginalized communities and help them secure and influence the use of public funds designated to reduce economic and environmental inequities,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation and The Center.

This year, California is expected to receive close to $200 billion in federal and state funding. The money will be sourced from the American Rescue Plan ($43 billion) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act ($56 billion), as well as the state’s Community Economic Resilience Fund ($565 million) and its budget surplus ($46 billion).

“This is a much-needed investment for community-driven organizations, particularly those that support the most vulnerable Californians. Historically, they have not been invested in the same manner as larger organizations. Many of them were affected throughout the pandemic and need this fiscal and operational support,” said Kellie Todd Griffin, convenor of the California Black Women’s Collective, an organization of more than 1500 Black women leaders in various professions from different regions of the state. “My hope is that there will be intentionality to be inclusive of the organizations that can have the greatest impact in our communities.”

CEMI is expected to begin funding the CBOs in the summer of 2022 with $14 million from the James Irvine Foundation and $1 million from the Center at Sierra Health.

“We have a golden opportunity to make sure these investments reach community-based organizations that best know the infrastructure their communities need for economic growth that is inclusive and resilient,” said Don Howard, president and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation.

Howard says the funding from CEMI aligns with the James Irvine Foundation’s mission of supporting low-income workers because it helps grassroots organizations and community advocates participate in the planning and decision-making that goes into the distribution of public funds.

“We need an economy built on inclusion, equity, and dignity for all work and workers — and that starts by making room for diverse leaders to have a say in how these once-in-a-generation investments shape their communities’ futures,” Howard continued.

The CEMI funding will provide technical assistance and training to the CBOs that qualify to build their capacity and infrastructure and build models for what community-driven economic development looks like, according to the Center at Sierra Health Foundation.

The funders of CEMI say they believe the organizations they support will grow into a strong network that can drive more “equitable economic development policy, regulation and accountability at state and local levels.”

The California Endowment (TCE), a private foundation with headquarters in Los Angeles, has also committed to investing in CEMI.

TCE is a 56-year-old foundation that supports programs that improve the health care of Californians living in underserved communities.

“The availability of state and federal funding provides California with an important opportunity to address critical health and economic challenges for the most vulnerable Californians,” said Dr. Bob Ross, president and CEO of TCE.

“This potential can only be realized by investing in community-led change,” Ross added.

Gov. Gavin Newsom praised the foundations for taking a leadership role in making a difference in the lives of Californians who need help the most.

“This initiative will help grow the capacity of committed organizations to continue their important work in communities across the state. This will be especially important as we focus on COVID-19 recovery and creating a healthier, safer, more equitable future for all,” Newsom said.

Hewitt says the project will result in “transformative change” in California.

“The past few years have laid bare the impact of long-term disinvestment in poor communities. We must do all we can to position community institutions to grow power and create opportunity for the places and populations they serve,” he said.

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