Born in the USA

Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner  |  2018-06-29

For two breeding seasons, bald eagle parents have raised families high above the American River.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Noted last year as the closest recorded bald eagle nest to Sacramento, the same eyrie was this summer blessed with more eaglet babies. These made debut flights earlier this month.

Orangevale kindergarten pupils named the 2017 hatchlings Poppy and Peekaboo.  Now 15 months old, these juveniles are established in new American River territory. The children retained naming rights and this year honored explorer Admiral Richard Byrd by choosing “Byrd” for the Alpha chick. They decided on “Rainbow” for the youngest.  The twins busted from baseball-size eggs a week before they were first photographed on March 23.

Nourished by non-stop room service, they achieved their parents’ great size in 12 weeks. At 13 weeks, they spread seven-foot wings and flew. Genders are yet uncertain; popular lore has the precocious Alpha as male; the timid Rainbow as female. Like Byrd’s heroic namesake, the Alpha explored air, land and water during his dramatic maiden flight.

Fledge days are stressful for parents and observers. Flapping boldly between trees on June 11, Byrd over-flew home base. His triumph rapidly turned to trial. The novice clipped a high fence to crash-land near a public trail. Without strength or experience for ground-level takeoff, his confusion was agonizing.  For 30 minutes, he beat a clumsy to-and-fro on the clay path. Observers formed a mobile shield against dogs and joggers until Byrd at last gathered speed and crested the fence to safety. Even after this trauma, the first-born refused to return to the nest. He ignored his sister’s anguished cries; he defied mama’s voluble instructions.  Explorer Byrd completed extraordinary traverses over the river at its widest. He drank from the waterside.

While on the lam, the eaglet was brought enough fish to prevent starvation but not so much as to reward rebellion. After three days, his parents coaxed him back to the family buffet.

Compared to Byrd’s surf-and-turf debut, his little sister managed a text book effort. Early on June 13, her papa delivered breakfast and evidently issued flying orders. Rainbow launched and, talons trailing untidily, flew 50-yards to an adjacent pine. Here she lurched before gaining confidence for the home flight. Papa soon encouraged an encore. This time, the debutant fell asleep on a foreign branch before heading home.

Having raised at least three previous broods, Mama Bald is a nursery pro. Her mate is younger – this is only his second adult season – but he is now a prolific hunter and confident dad. The parents’ combination of protection and tough-love comes with sacrifice. Exhausted four months of 24/7 hunting, mama and papa are now completing their parenting season. The nest is collapsing under the strain of many clumsy landings and sibling food-fights.

Repairs can wait. If this season follows the 2017 template – Byrd and Rainbow will be left in the care of sub-adult relatives while Mama and Papa wing off on distant vacation. By fall, they should return to rebuild and prep for a 2019 family. Hard lessons in self-sufficiency loom for the 2018 babies.

A testament to the regeneration of a species threated with extinction only 50 years ago, this American River family is well now established in Sacramento County suburbia. The raptors’ on-going residence is a joy to human neighborhoods in their flight-path.

Like the nation they represent, bald eagles are resilient. They’re also selfless providers, committed to family. They are single-minded in preparing children for independence.  They control vermin populations; they neither waste nor pollute. By instinct, they are fantastic stewards of the natural world.

Our national icon is well-chosen. From these fellow Americans, we might learn much.

Follow Susan Maxwell Skinner American River Nature Blog on Facebook.

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All Their Hard Work Goes Up in Smoke

Story and photos by David Dickstein  |  2018-06-29

Inside the Hengda Fireworks factory in China, workers add the final elements to Phantom Fireworks’ best-selling Brew Haha.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - On a rare private tour inside one of the world’s biggest fireworks factories, deep in China’s mountainous Hunan Province where pyrotechnics were invented over a millennium ago, an American journalist surprises his hosts by veering off the footpath on the sprawling grounds. The large single-story building with busy workers inside looks too intriguing not to make a pop-in.

“Oh, excuse me … OK, OK, go ahead,” chirps Hengda Fireworks’ factory manager Wang Qunying in translated Mandarin, smiling and showing no signs of concern over what the writer for Messenger Publishing Group may see inside. The impromptu detour causes a bit of a stir for the 35 or so employees inside. All women and wearing company-issued blue coats to offset a springtime chill, their surprised reaction could be more about their boss’ presence and less a rare Caucasian visitor with a camera. Within a minute, however, the spacious assembly room is back in full production for a visual this assertive foreigner finds absolutely fascinating, not unlike how Charlie felt upon first sight of the diligent Oompa-Loompas.

What revelers throughout Sacramento County will light off and be dazzled with for maybe a minute or two requires an army of people and dozens of hours to manufacture. The process involves numerous stages, mostly by hand, and if the work isn’t tedious, it’s perilous.

The roomful of hard-working women is where the final stages are performed. Even though they’re working with explosives, the task of mixing chemicals and filling cardboard tubes with powder is done by individuals working solo in isolated bunker-like buildings elsewhere on the grounds. It’s a messy job mixing the 400 tons of black powder Hengda will need this year, but someone’s got to do it -- for the equivalent of $500 to $600 a month, a decent salary in the Hunan Province.

While some of the assembly department workers adhere fuses and tissue paper to the tubes, all manufactured on the premises, others at long tables a few feet away are giving the fireworks their final shape by fitting the pre-cut cardboard pieces together.

The stage before boxing, storing and shipping is labeling, done pretty much the same way for over 1,000 years here -- with bowls of liquid glue, brushes and a lot of stamina for assembly line-type repetition.

For two diligent assemblers in the corner, that and cardboard pieces to form a handle are the supplies needed to put the finishing touches on a beer stein-shaped fountain named Brew Haha, one of Phantom Fireworks’ top sellers in California. Since fountains, spinners, novelties and smoke items are the only types legally sold in the Golden State, there’s a decent chance these ladies’ handiwork will be delighting folks 6,500 miles away. For Sacramento County and parts of Placer County, the legal selling and lighting period is June 28 through July 4.

Brew Haha, designed and exported by Panda Fireworks for Phantom, is one of many U.S.-bound pyrotechnic passengers Hengda sends on slow boats from China, which makes 100 percent of what California will be celebrating with on America’s birthday. Located in Liling, which together with Liuyang 50 miles away are the collective heart of China’s $4 billion fireworks industry, Hengda is also home of Phantom’s popular Funky Monkey, Moondance Premiere and King of Bling, along with fountains bearing the TNT Fireworks brand.

As the factory tour moves away from operations and toward the entrance so we can safely light a sample of products, including Phantom’s Illuminati Triangle Fountain debuting in California this season, out of nowhere a throng of chatty blue-jacketed workers joins us on the walkway. It’s lunchtime for the factory’s 400 employees, and they’re scurrying off to the chow line. The faster they eat the more they earn because pay is based on output.

The herd of mostly female workers keeps its distance from the tour group except for one playfully curious woman in probably her late 50s. She yells something lighthearted in Mandarin to friendly colleagues as she catches up with the Caucasian reporter. Feeling puckish, the language-limited foreigner startles the worker when he stops in front of her and shouts, “Wo ai ni!” which means “I love you.” The woman is first taken aback, then breaks into laughter as she clutches her heart.

The affable employee might have thought the visitor was kidding around, but after gaining a better appreciation of the intricate, monotonous and hazardous labor it takes to make something so dazzling, yet fleeting, this newly schooled, fireworks-loving American meant each of those three little words.

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June 5 Election Recap: Sacramento County

SacCounty News Release  |  2018-06-28

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CA (MPG) - Final results from the June 5 Statewide Primary Election have been reported and Sacramento County’s first election under the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) is one for the books. We sat down with Alice Jarboe, Interim Registrar of Voters for Sacramento County, to catch up on how the election went and learn more about what we can expect for future elections.

How did it go?

With Sacramento County being the largest of the five counties to implement the VCA beginning with the June Primary Election, the pressure was on. The implementation took months and months of planning and coordination by all Sacramento County Department of Voter Registration and Elections (DVRE) staff and what resulted, was a very successful election where voter turnout reached 42 percent, significantly surpassing the 2014 Statewide Primary Election of 29.6 percent. 

Voters in Sacramento County were very receptive to the new voting model and took advantage of the Vote by Mail option, returning a record breaking amount, higher than the past three Primary Elections. In fact, based on the results from the Voter Experience Survey, 79 percent of respondents said they were very satisfied or satisfied with their overall voting experience.

What were the top three questions the department received?

What security measures​ were taken?

Every precaution was taken to safeguard the system and all data is housed on a secure closed network with no internet connection. Additionally, access to the system and ballots is limited to authorized employees under 24/7 surveillance and all staff, both permanent and temporary are sworn in as election officers and anytime there is a ballot in the room, there are always two or more people present. 

When will the ballots be processed and counted?

This year, the results released on election night were different than in years past. While they still included any Vote by Mail (VBM) ballots received by June 2, the difference was the low volume of in-person votes from Vote Centers.  In total, there were only 18,104 in-person votes and 106,505 VBM ballots to report election night. Since the majority of voters waited until June 5 to return their VBM ballot, those were not included in the initial results but counted in the days and weeks after the election.

It’s important to remember that getting timely received Vote by Mail ballots through the verification processes such as comparing signatures, separating ballots from envelopes, unfolding the ballots and finally, counting them, does take time. For those concerned with how long it took to release final results, this election was actually certified faster than the November 2014, June 2016 and November 2016 elections. 

What are the hours of operation and locations of ​Drop Boxes and Vote Centers? ​

Under the VCA, traditional polling places were replaced with 78 Vote Centers where voters could go to any open location to register, drop their ballot off or vote in person. Additionally, we more than tripled the number of secure Drop Box locations.

Although we do encourage residents to make a plan for how they want to return their ballot, there was some confusion over Drop Box locations hours of operation. Since these were inside the designated facilities, they were only accessible during the facilities business hours but moving forward, we will be working with facilities to have more uniform hours for all the locations. Additionally, we will be redesigning the maps and reference pages in the CVIG and VBM packet to more clearly provide that information to voters.​

What can we expect for future elections?

Higher voter turnout. This is an incredibly exciting time and we expect to see increased voter turnout in the November 2018 election. As more voters become familiar with the new voting model, we anticipate more VBM ballots being returned so we are working to prepare for that. 

Additional outreach. Based on my 20 years of experience at DVRE, I have found that it takes at least two to three elections for voters to really acclimate to voting changes. As this is the case, we will continue our efforts to educate all residents in Sacramento County about the changes to voting under the VCA and all of the opportunities available to them. 

With the November election around the corner, Sacramento County residents can expect to see additional outreach in the coming months. For more information about upcoming elections, registration information or the VCA, visit DVRE’s website

Source: SacCounty News

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The Case of Janus v. AFSCME

By Rich Peters, MPG Editor  |  2018-06-27

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Unions

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - This week the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Janus v. AFSCME that government workers can no longer be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a heavy financial blow to public sector unions.

This revokes a 41-year-old decision that required employees to pay union fees to the state unions that represented them whether or not the workers chose to join.

Mark Janus works as a child-support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus, who is not a union member, challenged the $45 per month that is deducted from his paycheck. That deduction goes to the local branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

Janus argued that any form of required payment to cover the cost of collective bargaining violates the First Amendment because it finances speech by the union intended to influence the government.

The unions argued that their alleged fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. More than half the states already have right-to-work laws in place that ban mandatory fees, but most members of public-employee unions heavily populate the states that do not, including New York, California and Illinois.

The court’s final ruling states:

“Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” (p. 48)

The unions believe that the outcome could affect more than five million government workers across roughly two dozen states and the District of Columbia. Those workers’ paychecks are heavily funded by the unauthorized dues collected from employees like Janus around the country. A 2015 national report showed that the average union president makes $170,000 annually in states with compulsory dues but only $132,000 in states with voluntary dues – a $38,000 difference.

“Supreme Court rules in favor of non-union workers who are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice without having those who control the Union deciding for them. Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!” President Donald Trump tweeted after the 5-4 vote. The court ruled that the laws violate the First Amendment by forcing workers to support and pay unions they disagree with.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the millions of workers who should not be forced to pay into a union as a condition of employment,” said Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach). “I applaud the Supreme Court for taking the first step to give public employees more control over their paychecks.

“In California, we should build upon this ruling to pass right-to-work policies that protect the freedom of choice for all employees. While I praise the victory of Janus, California Democrats and unions continue to install barriers that obstruct workers from opting out of unions.”

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Citywide Pothole Project Begins This Summer

City of West Sacramento Release  |  2018-06-25

WEST SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - The 2018 Pavement and Striping Repairs Project aims to perform substantial interim pavement repairs along high traffic routes, such as Industrial Blvd. Construction is expected to begin in mid to late July.

In preparation for the project, City crews have already marked repair locations along Industrial Blvd (you may have noticed the pink construction markings) and other locations throughout the City.

Project Scope

  • Industrial Blvd (Harbor Blvd. to Lake Washington Blvd.)
    • wheel path milling and repaved with hot mix asphalt
    • full lane widths will be milled and repaved within 25 feet of Union Pacific’s railroad crossing
  • Harbor Blvd. (Industrial Blvd. to Beacon Rd.) 
    • full lane width milling and repaving within the intersection of Harbor Blvd and Del Monte Blvd.
    • replacement of all loop detectors, detector lead cables, and detector hand holes damaged during milling and repaving
    • detector hand holes shall be adjusted to grade with new paved surface
    • manholes and valve boxes may need to be adjusted to grade
  • West Capitol Ave. (near Enterprise Blvd.)
    • full lane width milling and repaving
    • manholes and valve boxes may need to be adjusted to grade
    • temporary striping and permanent striping may be needed if existing striping is damaged
  • Southport Parkway (Lake Washington Blvd. to Ramco St.)
    • wheel path milling and repaving with hot mix asphalt
    • manholes and valve boxes may need to be adjusted to grade
    • temporary striping and permanent striping may be needed if existing striping is damaged
  • Linden Road.
    • half lane milling and repaving with hot mix asphalt as needed to adjust manholes and valve boxes to grade with adjacent pavement
    • temporary Striping and permanent striping may be needed if existing striping is damaged
  • Marshall Road.
    • removing existing traffic striping, slurry sealing, and re-striping at the intersection of Seymour Avenue
    • removing, relocating, and installing new traffic signs and markers
  • Kegle Road.
    • installing thermoplastic bike share traffic striping, installing bicycle accessible traffic signs, slurry sealing, and re-striping.
    • removing, relocating, and installing new traffic signs
  • Enterprise Blvd.
    • removing, improving and replacing traffic striping from Industrial Blvd. to Highway 80
  • Reed Blvd.
    • removing, improving, and replacing thermoplastic traffic striping from Stillwater Road to Riverside Parkway

Please check this page often for updated information on scheduled work in your neighborhood.

To report pothole problems, please use the West Sacramento Connect app. 

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SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - Cal Expo Police Chief Robert Craft has retired after 40 years of outstanding and dedicated service to the Cal Expo Police Department. While former-Chief Craft enjoys his well-deserved retirement, the California Exposition and State Fair has begun the process to recruit a new Chief of Police, which could take 4 to 6 months. With the 2018 California State Fair slated to start onJuly 13, and in an effort to maintain continuity in its Police and Security Department, Cal Expo believed it prudent to select a temporary Acting Chief of Police. After conducting interviews and performing reference checks, Cal Expo announced that Joe Robillard has been selected to serve as Cal Expo’s Acting Chief of Police.

Mr. Robillard has worked at Cal Expo since 2007 and has many years of law enforcement experience, including 13 years with the Yuba City Police Department, 20 years with the CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and 3 years with the State Lottery. Mr. Robillard has been an integral part of the Cal Expo police and security operations throughout the last 11 CA State Fairs.

More specifically, Mr. Robillard began his career at the Yuba City Police department as a young Police Officer and worked his way up to the position of Watch Commander. He then moved into State service with ABC as an Investigator and over time became the Chief of the Professional Standards Unit. He was subsequently appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger and then Governor Brown to serve as the Deputy Director of the Security and Law Enforcement Division for the State Lottery. Given his experience at the local regional and State level, he brings a wealth of strong relationships with management personnel at other law enforcement agencies throughout Northern California. Cal Expo is very pleased to have a person of his background, experience and proven leadership to serve as Cal Expo’s Acting Chief of Police.

“Chief Craft devoted his long and distinguished career to providing for the safety and security of everyone at the California Exposition & State Fair," said Robillard, "I am honored to serve as the Acting Chief of Police and will strive to continue the high level of public safety that Chief Craft so proudly developed and consistently provided.”

Cal Expo congratulates Joe Robillard as he assumes the role of Acting Chief of Police, effective immediately.

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SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - On Thursday night, the Sacramento City Unified Board of Education unanimously approved a $555.3 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year. In recent years the district has been facing a number of significant cost increases to cover its obligations, including rising health care costs and a state-mandated increase in the amount school districts have to pay for pension contributions administered by CalPERS and CalSTRS. To balance the budget, the district projects it will need to spend $24.3 million from its reserves in the 2018-19 fiscal year. It also plans to make $4.2 million in cuts, including eliminating for next year its Expanded Learning Summer Program which had previously been launched earlier this week by Superintendent Jorge Aguilar. At the Board meeting, Superintendent Aguilar announced that the cuts were necessary because revenues in future years will not be sufficient to cover the district’s expenses.

“The district is forced to dip into its reserves to cover expenses,” said Aguilar who started as Superintendent in July 2017. “Now that I have had almost a year to see and understand our system, it is clear to me that our district faces significant fiscal challenges. We will begin addressing these challenges by making central office cuts, executing a hiring freeze and making other administrative cuts that will not impact the classroom. While I had hoped that the Board and I would be able to expand some of the very small investments we have made in recent months to promote an Equity, Access and Social Justice agenda for our students, unfortunately those investments will not increase significantly.”

Aguilar also stated that he would pursue an independent financial audit of the district.

Although Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget earlier this week which invests more money in schools, the increased PERS/STRS costs, as well as rising health care costs and other obligations, is contributing to a net loss in funding for the district. Governor Brown has warned that the next recession is around the corner and districts need to prepare for a slowdown. Large urban districts that have had to make significant reductions in their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year include Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified and San Francisco Unified.

Click here to view the full budget presentation.

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