Republican Darrell Issa, the super-rich car-alarm magnate who now heads the House Oversight Committee, says his GOP-controlled panel has launched a review of California's High Speed Rail Authority, which is in the midst of developing a 500-mile-long bullet train -- a project backed by the Obama administration.
From Dan Weikel in the LA Times: "As much as $4 billion in federal funds have either been provided or set aside so far for the 500-mile project, the estimated cost of which has fluctuated between $33 billion and $98.5 billion. The current estimate is $68 billion."
"High-speed rail officials plan to pay for half the project's costs with federal funds. Republicans in Congress, however, have repeatedly opposed giving additional money to the bullet train."
"The committee's notification letter says there are additional concerns about the project's compliance with Proposition 1A, the California ballot measure passed in 2008 that authorized more than $9 billion in state bonds for the project. The panel further notes that since 2010, allegations of conflict of interest have surfaced regarding authority board members at a time when the authority received and spent federal funds."
An Alameda County judge is poised to give the green light to California's top-two primary election setup, which had been challenged by minor parties and their voters as unfair. California voters approved the system, in which the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary square off against each other in the general election.
From the Oakland Tribune's Josh Richman: "In his tentative ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Appel said the arguments made in the lawsuit filed last fall are the same ones that failed to convince the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court that Washington’s version of the law should be overturned."
"A hearing on the tentative ruling is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday in Oakland."
"The lawsuit, filed in November on behalf of the Green Party of Alameda County, the Libertarian Party of California, the Peace and Freedom Party of California and eight minor-party voters, argues Prop. 14 “effectively denies voters their fundamental right of choice by precluding small party candidates from the general election ballot,” thus violating the First and 14th amendments."
For years, the strapped state has been deferring payments to schools until the new fiscal year, an accounting gimmick that helps balance the books, at least on paper. But the smoke-and-mirrors of borrowed money is starting to catch up with the budget writers.
From the U-T's Michael Gardner: "The cumulative outstanding debt: $9.4 billion to K-12 schools statewide and $600 million to San Diego County districts."
"It would be easy to conclude that persistent school budget woes, including teacher layoffs and program cuts, could be minimized — if only the state would stop this temporary pilfering."
"But districts eventually do see the money months later. And by delaying payments the state avoids making permanent cuts in school funding on top of the ongoing reduction in spending that have hit education in recent years."
Speaking of the budget, looming cuts for the court system in Los Angeles are likely to lead to the closure of juvenile and traffic courts, among other reductions, according to a note from the Superior Court's presiding judge.
From Tami Abdollah at KPCC: "All 13 Informal Juvenile and Traffic Courts will be closed and four Delinquency Courts shuttered under the latest Los Angeles County Superior Court plan to deal with millions in proposed state budget cuts, according to an email sent last week by Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash to L.A. County officials."
"As a result, tens of thousands of cases that involve typically lower-level offenses that students are cited for in and around school campuses, for example daytime curfew violations or disorderly conduct, will instead be routed through the remaining 24 Delinquency Courts — a system that often deals with more serious felony violations that would be considered criminal if committed by an adult."
"We're pushing those kids into a system that puts kids on formal probation and many times has to send kids away to juvenile probation camps, or take them out of their home," said David Sapp, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California."
California's interminable water wars are ferocious, and the long-standing feud between San Diego and the MWD is ricocheting off into numerous directions -- including the Internet.
From the AP's Elliot Spagat: "The San Diego County Water Authority launched a website last month to attack its largest supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, saying it wanted to lift a veil of secrecy."
"The site offers a trove of internal documents obtained under California's public records law, including references to a "Secret Society" and an "anti-San Diego coalition."
"The highly public attack comes as Metropolitan's board of directors prepares to vote Tuesday on a budget that would raise rates 7.5 percent in 2013 and 5 percent in 2014, a move the San Diego agency says would hit the nation's eighth-largest city and its suburbs disproportionately hard. San Diego wants to limit annual increases to 3 percent."
And from our "Hercule Poirot on Steroids" file comes the tale of the Pakistani man who has one of the most luxuriant moustaches in the world. Okay, it has nothing to do with politics, but we couldn't pass it up.
"There is no finer mark of a Pakistani man than a fully oiled, waxed and twirled moustache. For 18 years, Amir Muhammad Afridi’s vast handlebar moustache, curling as high as his forehead, made him a celebrity throughout the rugged, tribal lands that border Afghanistan."
"But that was until his luxuriant facial hair came to the attention ofLashkar-i-Islam, extremists who are fighting to impose hardline Sharia in the Khyber agency where Mr Afridi lived."
"For the past two years he has braved death threats, intimidation and been forced to flee his home all in the name of a moustache that demands 30 minutes of grooming every morning. (It's a highly specialised regimen involving almond oil, hairdryers and a secret wax that no amount of pleading will make him reveal.)"