CASA comes home

In 2003 and 2004, there was a lot of local newspaper ink spilled over legal issues associated with the California Administrative Services Authority (CASA). CASA was a pension plan that offered exceptional benefits to about 100 education administrators with the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD). But administrators who wanted to join had to take leaves of absence from SCUSD and be hired by CASA. Their jobs stayed exactly the same; CASA paid their salaries; the district stopped paying into the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) for them; and the administrators earned extra credit, which translated into extra-generous payouts at retirement. Lawyers assured the district board that CASA was cost-neutral, but concerned parents, independent auditors and the Sacramento County Grand Jury convinced board members otherwise. The district has since severed its contract with CASA. (See “Sac High struggle still raging"; SN&R News; July 17, 2003.)

But legal issues remain unresolved. Should SCUSD have paid CalPERS or CASA for past coverage of its administrators? As SCUSD’s attorney Judd Jordan explained, the district ultimately will pay one entity or the other, but not both.

In 2004, SCUSD filed a lawsuit with more than 100 respondents in Los Angeles Superior Court, but an appellate court recently sent the case home to Sacramento. Files arrived here in December, but there’s already a new motion for venue change. According to court documents, “CASA contended that its retirement plan had been the subject of extraordinary and adverse media scrutiny in the Sacramento area.”

Polluter pays piper

The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District agreed last week to settle with Aerojet Fine Chemicals over the company’s violation of the district’s air-pollution rules. The district found that the company had allowed too much air pollution in the form of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air from its pharmaceutical plant in Rancho Cordova.

The company will pay a $10,800 civil penalty as part of the district’s mutual settlement program. District spokesperson Jamie Arno said the company had “barely exceeded” its allowable pollution limits to trigger the violation. Both NOx and VOCs are considered “ozone precursors"—chemicals that create smog.

Bridge boondoggle makes the big screen

Political junkies will be glad to hear about an unusual documentary on its way to Sacramento. The Bridge So Far: A Suspense Story, produced by award-winning documentary producer David L. Brown and sponsored by the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) will be screened at an invitation-only event at the Crest Theatre on January 10 and later will be shown on local television.

The film chronicles the troubled history of the San Francisco Bay Bridge since it partly collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. In the years since the disaster, the now $6 billion effort to build a new bridge has been marked by delays, staggering cost overruns and political backstabbing.

“One day it will be a world-class bridge, and everybody involved with it will look really good,” said Brown, but today, “it’s become this world-class, monumental fiasco.”

PECG, which represents Caltrans engineers, obviously has a major public-relations interest in the bridge saga. But Brown said the film is “not a puff piece about Caltrans.”

“I fought for what I thought was a good and true story. Because I knew that if it was perceived as Caltrans propaganda, it wouldn’t be accepted by the public.”

The documentary will be airing on Channel 10 on February 4. It’s narrated by comedian Will Durst and includes interviews and archival footage of Mayors Willie Brown and Jerry Brown, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sacramento-area developer and bridge builder C.C. Myers.

Although the film takes a comedic look at the bridge project, filmmaker Brown said there are a few lessons to be learned. “You know, most of my work has celebrated the power of grassroots democracy,” Brown said. “But I think one of the lessons is that, in serious public-safety projects like this, the public process can be problematic.” The new bridge may be completed sometime in 2013.