PD Editorial: Thumbs up, thumbs down

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Filling the rental gap

Sonoma County’s acute shortage of rental housing is reflected in a low vacancy rate and sharply rising costs. Fewer than 3 percent of the county’s apartments are vacant, Staff Writer Robert Digitale reported last week, and rents have climbed 30 percent over the past three years, hitting an average of $1,579 a month this past summer. Political and financial obstacles can thwart even the best plans for rental housing, so it’s especially good holiday news at Sonoma Valley project is not only moving forward, construction will start sooner than expected.

MidPen, a peninsula-based nonprofit, secured a $20 million tax credit for a 60-unit apartment complex, the Sonoma Index-Tribune reported. To collect, MidPen must start construction by June and have units occupied by December 2016. The same builder is planning 40 units for low-income seniors and a community garden near Highway 12 and Rancho Drive. It won’t solve the county’s rental crisis, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Keeping the public in the dark

It’s a rare day when Democrats and Republicans in Washington stand together behind an important piece of legislation. It happened this month, and we’re not talking about the catch-all spending bill that kept the government open (and provided holiday gifts for big banks and political donors). We’re talking about a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, the law governing public access to government records. The bill, which would have established a “presumption of openness” with government documents, codifying an order issued by President Barack Obama in 2009, passed the Senate on Dec. 8. Despite bipartisan support, it never came up for a vote in the House before Congress adjourned. Transparency advocates say they’ll try again next year.

Showering lawmakers with gifts

It may seem odd to turn thumbs down on gifts during the holiday season. But California legislators get paid $95,000 a year plus living expenses. Can’t they buy their own tickets to Disneyland, Cal football games and the like? A new report from California Common Cause says legislators accepted $265,000 in gifts, including $65,500 worth of tickets to entertainment and sporting events and $100,000 in meals and receptions, in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available. Legislators also received $580,000 worth of travel. That’s a combined $845,000 in gifts and travel — an almost four-fold increase over 2012, according to Common Cause. Almost all of this largesse came courtesy of people and organizations with business before the Legislature. With all the junkets and outings, it’s a wonder they find time for any business.

A hometown hero

Even in a community known for philanthropy and volunteerism, Evelyn Cheatam stands out. She provides free culinary and food-service training for teenagers and young adults who have been homeless or in foster care at her Worth Our Weight cafe. And since 1989, she has rounded up volunteers to fix hearty Christmas dinners — “lovingly and cheerfully,” she says — and deliver them to anyone who asks for one. By her own tally, they’ve prepared more than 12,000 meals. This, she said, will be the last year, though she hopes someone will carry on with her tradition. Many others do, too. Thank you, and thumbs up to Evelyn Cheatam.

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