A parched Folsom Lake, at less than 20 percent of capacity (photo courtesy of National Weather Service).
This is not a good time for umbrella merchants in California.
2013 was one of the driest years on record in the state. And January – usually among the wettest months — has failed to provide any relief. With the precipitous drop in reservoir levels, Gov. Jerry Brown recently declared a statewide drought emergency, calling this “perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago,” Continue reading →
Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to create California’s first set of regulations on hydraulic fracturing. The controversial extraction technique, commonly known as fracking, involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into deep shale formations in order to create fractures that release reserves of oil or natural gas.
While fracking operations in the Northeast generally extract natural gas, in California, oil is the big prize. Continue reading →
Wait … Californians actually voted to tax increase their own taxes?
Get outta here!
Like most Americans, California residents don’t look too kindly on the notion of raising taxes. In fact, voters have rejected statewide tax measures the last seven times they’ve been on the ballot!
So in many ways, it’s pretty miraculous that on Tuesday 54 percent of California’s electorate approved Proposition 30, which temporarily increases sales tax for everyone by a quarter cent and raises income taxes for those making over $250,000. The measure, which Governor Jerry Brown crafted and threw himself behind, is expected to raise about $6 billion a year and prevent massive cuts to the state’s already beleaguered public education system.
“I know a lot of people had some doubts and some questions: Can you really go to the people and ask them to vote for a tax?” Brown told supporters at the victory party late Tuesday night. “Well here we are. We have a vote of the people – I think the only place in America where a state actually said, let’s raise our taxes for our kids, our schools, for our California dream.”
And he was right. In a state where voters haven’t approved a tax hike in almost three decades, the very real threat of huge cuts to education appears to have actually resonated with voters.
The consensus seemed to be: “Yes, taxes suck, but some things are just too important to lose.”
The temporary nature of the tax, also, likely made the measure more palatable to voters.
Interestingly, it was younger voters who turned out in force on Tuesday in support of the measure. Voters ages 18-29 – who Brown and his campaign targeted – made up almost 30 percent of the electorate and were critical in pushing the measure through.
Who’s actually behind bars in California? Here are four key characteristics of California’s prison population:
The majority of inmates come from the southern part of the state. A whopping 50,000 – or 34 percent of all prisoners – come from Los Angeles County alone. But the highest incarceration rates are concentrated in poorer counties in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. Leading the charge is Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley, where nearly 1 percent of the entire population is in state prison.
Click on the map below for info on the number of prisoners who come from each county in California, what percent of the prison population each county contributes, and what percent of each county’s total population is in prison.
The majority of prisoners are non-white. The largest group is Hispanic. But African Americans – who make up less than 7 percent of the general population and almost 30 percent of the prison population – are dramatically more likely to be imprisoned than any other group.
The prison population is aging. Currently nearly 20 percent of inmates are age 50 and up, about quadruple the rate from 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the percent of prisoners under age 25 has steadily dropped.
Includes interactive map of voting rates and party affiliation throughout California
Click each county on the map below for stats on California’s eligible and registered voters, as well as a breakdown of political party affiliation (but keep in mind there’s a big difference between registered and “likely” voters). The darker the shade, the higher the percentage of registered voters.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, called voting “the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.”
But in California – where nearly 24 million adults are eligible to vote – the number of people who actually take advantage of this right is surprisingly small.
Consider these California voting stats (approximated):
24 million: People who are eligible to vote
17 million: People registered to vote (about 72% of those who are eligible)
6 million: “Likely voters” (those who regularly vote)
5.3 million: The number of votes cast in the June 2012 primary election
A Public Policy Institute of California survey also found that California’s “likely voters” are not representative of the state’s racial and economic diversity. About 65 percent of them are white (even though whites make up only 44 percent of the state’s adult population) and only 17 percent Latino (who make up about one-third of the state’s population). Likely voters are also generally older, more educated, more affluent, and far more likely to own a home than the average Californian. And more than 80 percent were born in the U.S.
For more on how to register to vote and who is eligible, go here.
(Click on each state for population estimates of the undocumented immigrant community; source: Pew Hispanic Center)
Although the vast majority of immigrants in California came here legally, the state still has by far the largest undocumented immigrant population in the country, many of whom are young. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 350,000 young undocumented immigrants living in California are eligible for deferred deportation and work authorization, as a result of the Obama administration’s recent policy shift, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Continue reading →
2011 State Congressional Districts_California Citizens Redistricting Commission
Gerrymandering: it ain’t nothing new in California politics.
For much of the state’s history, the legislature has firmly controlled the once-a-decade redistricting process. New district lines are typically redrawn in a way that directly favors whichever party is in control.
Demographic techniques like splitting apart cities, carving up ethnic enclaves, and leaping across vast geographic swaths to bundle like-minded voters are common gerrymandering tools long used by pols to solidify power. Continue reading →
Natural-Bridges State Beach, near Santa Cruz (credit: Ca. Dept. of Parks and Recreation)
“These state parks are our cathedrals. This is what defines us as Californians to the rest of the world. But they are not cheap to run. And so I think Californians need to decide whether it’s worth it to them to save these parks … I think it begs a much deeper question of what we value as Californians.”
- Ruth Coleman, California state parks director
In 2010, California voters rejected Proposition 21, which would have added an $18 annual surcharge to vehicle license fees and raised about $500 million annually to fund state park and wildlife conservation programs. Now, without the funding, nearly a quarter of the entire system’s sites – almost 70 parks – are in danger of being closed down. During difficult economic times, it’s no surprise that public resources like state parks are given low priority, especially compared to more urgent services like public safety. Continue reading →