Regarding the article titled, “Pensions eat tenth of county budget” (Feb. 10):
The article’s statement that the county spends “nearly $45 million a year on pension payouts” belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the pension system. In fact, the county does not pay pension benefits out of general operating revenues, but rather contributes to an investment trust (the Pension Trust), the same one to which all public employees also contribute. That fund, through good management and wise investment, currently has a net asset value of about $765 million. The Pension Trust actually made $144 million in 2009 alone.
While it is true that the average annual benefit for all retirees is about $24,000 a year, the median benefit (the value at which half the retirees take home a higher benefit and half take home something less) is just $15,750.
The bottom line is that while the county most certainly has its fiscal woes to deal with, the implication that county employee pensions are a major driver in the struggle for solvency paints a misleading picture and casts a harsh light on these valuable and important members of the local economy.
San Luis Obispo
Former mayor Ray Johnson (“Council did its job,” Feb. 15) rebukes reporter Lon Allan for raising questions about the severance pay afforded the former chief of police, who left his position under a swirl of confusion and public speculation.
Having been a mayor myself, I believe I can also address this matter and I defend Allan’s concerns about the public’s right to know, particularly when significant amounts of money are spent on public employee settlements.
In this case, the public’s confusion arose from newspaper articles that first suggested that the chief’s sudden departure was voluntary, yet within days, the public learned that the chief had received a settlement of $126,000, apparently as an inducement for him not to initiate a lawsuit.
Certainly Johnson recognizes that the conflicting information raises the specter of impropriety.
Employee privacy laws are appropriate, but they should not supercede the public’s right to be informed when there are significant expenditures of public dollars and there is no means to determine if the departure was appropriate or whether it was a case of impropriety on the part of the city manager and the City Council.
Johnson’s rebuke of the messenger was inappropriate.
Achieve the goal
Cuesta College’s goal to more efficiently, effectively and economically serve South San Luis Obispo County college students should not be put on hold or delayed.
Cuesta College is responsible for providing high-quality community college programs to the entire San Luis Obispo County area. But in South County, rented high school classrooms have forced many students to commute to Hancock College or the Cuesta College campus near San Luis Obispo. The rented classrooms enable only evening courses, lack college-level teaching technology, don’t provide student support services and, during recent years, rental costs have escalated despite facility inadequacies for the 1,000 current students.
Institutional accreditation is important, but the college can (and must) do more than one thing at a time.
The proposed lease of a unique private property in Grover Beach is cost neutral and feasible today. It is dependent upon $1.1 million from private sector contributions, rather than waiting for the federal, state or district taxpayers to build a more expensive facility sometime in the future.
As a community development professional with 45 years of California experience and currently serving as a volunteer board member of the Cuesta College Foundation, I urge South County private sector leaders to demonstrate their “can-do” spirit and achieve this 45-year-old goal now.
Following the law
In San Luis Obispo, it seems Dan De Vaul has made himself responsible for the care and welfare of the most unfortunate in our community, but our government employees don’t approve (“De Vaul loses appeal of Sunny Acres convictions,” Feb. 19). Our community churches also are the ones who are shouldering the burdens of the homeless. Don’t blame the state judges and employees. Under our current system, they must do as they are told, it’s the law.
San Luis Obispo
Regarding Melissa Croxton’s letter to the editor titled, “A cowardly act” (Feb. 19): My Obama bumper sticker was also messed with. This happened outside my home in the heights neighborhood in Morro Bay.
The first time my Obama bumper sticker was taken off, I quickly ordered more, as well as made a donation. Another time, someone placed a Hitler smiley face over the sticker ... sick.
Think of the future
We couldn’t agree more with Joe Tarica (“Opportunity is there for Atascadero,” Feb. 20).
It’s a shame that developer Larry Wysong felt his project for downtown Atascadero wouldn’t be viable without the theater as an anchor. It’s also a shame that the city couldn’t try to work with him since he would have been handing them a new and revitalized downtown.
E.G. Lewis had a vision for this city that included a “mercantile,” not unlike the hugely popular Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco that showcases local foods and wine and draws millions of tourists every year.
Have we forgotten that we’re smack in the middle of wine country and we have some of the best local ingredients anywhere in the nation? Redevelopment of the downtown El Camino Real strip in piecemeal fashion and placing the desires of individual property owners over the future of the community will lead to a huge missed opportunity for Atascadero.
Susan and Kurt Bowerman
Republicans have accomplished much over the last 35 years. For example, they helped shift the distribution of income upward. In the mid-1970s, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans received around 8 percent of national income and capital gains. Now, that same 1 percent gets nearly 25 percent, leaving far less to be divided up among the remaining 99 percent of us.
Better yet, the Republicans helped reduce the tax burden on the wealthy, fought hard to reduce the power of unions and told us that if only we would get rid of all those pesky regulations on corporations, we would enter a new golden (gilded?) age. A new slogan for our coins could be, “In banks we trust.”
But wait, there is more. While reducing taxes, they managed to engage us in two expensive wars. Now they tell us that the budget deficit (that they did so much to create) must be fixed. In order to do that, they blame the poor for their poverty, the sick for their illnesses and the ignorant for their lack of education. This in turn justifies cutting programs that might help any of those groups.
In my opinion, true representative democracy occurs when a well-informed electorate turns out in high numbers (say, above 80 percent) when it is time to vote.
We have not reached that stage in our country yet and might never reach it unless every citizen able to vote becomes engaged in the political process.
With a well-informed electorate ready to vote in high numbers, special interests can spend billions of dollars and not reach their goal. If we want to really make a difference in this country, we have to do it. The Supreme Court certainly will not do it for us.
The advent of the Internet and the birth of social networking might indeed get us there.
Dependencies from birth eventually give way to independence as we age. The less reliant we become on others and support systems, relying upon and having faith in ourselves, paves the way to true independence, self-sufficiency and success.
Over time, we as a people have become so overly reliant upon others, support systems and entitlements at all government levels that we have purged our natural instinct to survive independently.
Current events within our country, state, county and city require the need to make serious changes that affect all. Crisis demands a solution to either falling into the abyss or salvation.
I am entitled to nothing. I earn my keep, live well within my means, plan for lean times as well as good, treat my fellow man with dignity and respect and simply try my best to be an asset to my world rather than a liability. I vote and pay taxes and hope that it buys me some measure of security, yet I know there’s no guarantee except death and taxes.
Independence coupled with self-sufficiency are part of our innate defining qualities. Has this become an anachronism and the new drug, dependency? Change is here. Stop complaining and deal with it.