Death to death row

Apr 29, 2011

A long-controversial -- and expensive -- plan to expand California's Death Row was halted by Gov. Brown, who said the state couldn't afford the $356 million price tag or the $28.5 million a year in interest on the construction loan.


From Wyatt Buchanan in the Chronicle: "The new, bigger Death Row had a projected construction cost of $356 million, an amount that had grown from an original estimate of $220 million in 2003. The costs were criticized in several reports by state officials, and the state auditor estimated the state would spend $1.2 billion on additional staffing to operate the new Death Row over the next 20 years."


"In a statement, Brown said canceling the project would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. He said spending that money on a new Death Row while making budget cuts in other services would be "unconscionable."


"At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the state of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals in our state," Brown said. "California will have to find another way to address the housing needs of condemned inmates."


Good riddance, notes the Bee's Dan Walters, who says there is a greater chance of dying of old age or boredom on Death Row than of being executed.


"California pretends to have a death penalty for murder and other heinous crimes. That is, judges and juries sentence violent felons to die in San Quentin State Prison's execution chamber."


"But that is just a pretense because, in fact, almost no one is ever executed."


On a related issue, Brown is allowing the release of parole-eligible killers at a greater rate than his predecessors. David Siders in the Bee has the story.


"Early in his term, Brown has let 106 of 130 convicted killers' parole releases stand – about 82 percent, according to Brown's office and records provided in response to a California Public Records Act request."


"Brown's deference to the state Board of Parole Hearings is in contrast to his predecessors, who more aggressively used their power to overturn parole grants."


"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger let stand only about 27 percent of parole decisions. Gov. Gray Davis was even less lenient, letting only nine of 374 paroled killers out of prison while he was governor."


"Instead, supposedly about 700 condemned inmates reside for years, even decades, on what's called "death row." They're in greater danger of dying of old age – or boredom – than in taking the long walk. The state can't even obtain an adequate supply of the legal chemicals it would need to administer lethal injections."


The City of Vernon, long plagued by scandal and corruption, would be dissolved under legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Assembly. The action follows a ferocious lbbying fight in the Capitol. The LAT's Sam Allen has the story.


"The bill, which is the first known attempt by legislature to disincorporate a charter city, was passed on a vote of 60 to 7. The legislation was authored by Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), who described a “pattern of unprecedented corruption” in Vernon, a city of fewer than 100 residents."


"He vowed that his bill would create a more open government in the 5.2-square-mile industrial enclave and protect the 1,800 businesses located there."


“Members, we have an absolute obligation to make sure that we have transparent and accountable government at every level in the state of California,” he said.

Thursday’s debate also marked the first opposition to the bill from other legislators. Those urging a “no” vote included Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) and Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). The three said they feared Perez’s bill would cause a loss in jobs."


J. Clark Kelso has abeen accused in a lawsuit of spiking his pension. Kelso is the state-paid, federally appointed receiver in charge of improving the state's prison health care system.


From Jon Ortiz in the Bee: "Technically, Kelso is on loan to the federal court. The receivership corporation reimburses the AOC for Kelso's pay and benefits. Ultimately, the state pays the receivership's costs."


"Kelso has worked in various capacities for the state, so he was in CalPERS before taking the receiver job. In an interview with The Bee last year, he was open about his AOC employment agreement and his desire to remain in CalPERS while working as a federal court appointee. He said that the arrangement was legally vetted and doesn't break any laws.

At least one former state employee who was already working for the nonprofit when Kelso came onboard, Linda Buzzini, tried and failed to get her pay retroactively applied to her CalPERS retirement."


"The plaintiff wants the court to revoke Kelso's CalPERS membership as an employee of the AOC."


The skyrocketing cost of gasoline is matched only by oil company profits, as drivers face sticker shock at the pump.


The LAT's Ronald White has the story: "Exxon Mobil Corp. earned nearly $11 billion in the first three months of the year, a rollicking 69% increase over its performance for the same period last year. That's on sales of $114 billion."

"It's the same story for the other big oil companies. Royal Dutch Shell turned a profit of $6.3 billion in the first quarter, and BP — despite lingering costs from the Gulf Coast oil spill— made $7.1 billion."

"What they aren't making is fuel, at least not in normal quantities. And that's a key factor in their reinvigorated financial performance."

"Despite increasing demand, refiners are producing less gasoline and diesel in the U.S. than usual for this time of year. They're also exporting more to foreign countries."


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