Computer Warfare, Employment, Cal-Trans, Budgets, Marijuana, and Protests

COMPUTER WARFARE

Driving through San Luis Obispo I noticed various small groups moving along the streets, but it didn’t register at first. Yes, they were protesters—I forget who or what they were protesting—but there they were, a small trickle of activists exercising that classic American prerogative to gather peaceably to express their opposition to something. Ever seen anyone march because they like something? Yeah, me neither, but this time I must admit to a small tinge of pride in seeing our normally georgic passivity disturbed by an organized political vent, if only because we so rarely see them.

So I assumed, but in fact 2017 turns out to be something of a watershed year for Central Coast activists. Rallies, marches and public ventings: people occupying, people against oil trains…They were out in January in vitriol over Milo’s visit to Cal Poly, demanding Trump’s tax returns, pro-lifers on Planned Parenthood’s sidewalk, it seems like anyone and everyone was out. Perhaps the biggest local demonstrations pitted Hilarists against Trumpsters, angry over a supposedly rigged election. Hacking, they said, was to blame; Russians, neocons, take your pick, this was the year of cyberterror at the ballot box.

Then things calmed, no hacking proof materialized, but quietly in late June, high school students gathered here to fight cyberterrorism. They weren’t protesting anything, they were attending a competition to see who could uncloak a mock cyberattack, set up by competition staff.

They weren’t the first, because earlier this year, The County opened a cybercrime training facility, with help from Cal Poly forensics students.

Why all the attention? Did you know that apparently California seems to lead the nation in cybercrime? It is apparently true, in fact, six out of ten of us have been hacked.

The real cause for fear, an election hack right here on the Central Coast was a very real threat, enough so that a discreet coalition of county officials and FBI agents descended on the county to monitor the election.

County Clerk Recorder Tommy Gong released information that in November hackers with foreign web addresses tried to get into county databases, but that apparently isn’t unusual in itself, these days. At any rate, reinforced security measures kept out out the baddies, election computers remained airtight.

Officials are tight-lipped about specifics, but we do know that shared information and best-practices recommendations from the FBI were implemented to safeguard your vote.

But I do think county officials should hire some of the students competing in cyber-security exercises; when it comes to technology, today’s kids are amazing.

SLIDIN…

Caltrans demonstrating it can work at nearly the speed of light, when so motivated, says a new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge will open on Hwy 1 at Big Sur as early as September. Bridge girders are on trucks and should be onsite by the time you read this. That’s a lot sooner than the two years Caltrans originally suggested it would take to replace the landslide-wrecked bridge.

Look for a much longer wait for crews to reopen Hwy1 at aptly-named Mud Creek where nearly half a mile of the roadway is buried—if it is still there—beneath millions of tons of rock and dirt.

State highway crews have reopened a portion of Hwy 1, up to Salmon Creek; it was closed at Ragged Point.

I flew up to the landslide location to get a look at the unfathomable amount of land rearranged this past winter, and even from a thousand feet the volume of material is simply massive, creating a new coastline hundreds of feet farther into the Pacific. I was reminded of a recent visit to Mt. St. Helens where in1980, an explosive eruption and subsequent erosion carved out Colorado River-scale canyons in mere seconds of geological time. The Mud Creek landslide is so big, reopening Hwy 1 to Big Sur is going to take a lot longer to reopen than it took God to close it.

EMPLOYED

California jobless numbers are close to full employment, according to the latest info from San Luis Obispo County Employment Development officials. State Unemployment dropped to 4.7% in May, with county jobless numbers in tow at 3%. Those numbers are so close to full employment that the difference is mostly statistical background noise.

But as always, there are plenty of footnotes, qualifiers. For one thing, the biggest job growth sector is government employment, a sector that doesn’t produce wealth. Secondly, although more people are working, they tend to make less money, and housing costs more, a lot more, over the past year or so.

One bright spot, medical professionals, already the top-salaried individuals in the workforce, saw sizeable increases in their paychecks. Dentists are closing in on a quarter-million dollars a year while general practice physicians make over $260,000, up 23% in a single year. That’s well over what the average county CEO earns. Probably one reason healthcare and social services are the county’s biggest expense, at $223 million.

BUDGET

Speaking of the new budget, money seems to be flowing into county coffers like last winter’s rains, bringing tough choices about how to spend an expected $13.7 in discretionary funds, or money not specifically spoken for.

$590 million is spoken for, that’s the latest sum proposed for the county’s new budget and it includes a new consumer fraud and environmental protection division with an annual $315,000 budget.

Perhaps more tangible is the proposed $3.6 million hike in road repair, bringing the new proposed budget for roads to $11.6 million, none of which will build a flyover at the junction of Hwy 46 and 41.

No doubt onerous to disapproving voters is a million dollar budget item to fund recreational marijuana growing, law enforcement and licensing. I think I speak for all of us when I say I hope legalized marijuana won’t cause our health and social service budget to skyrocket. Hey, if it does, we could always go out in the streets and protest.