tv NBC Bay Area News Special NBC September 19, 2015 6:30pm-7:01pm PDT
female: all of a sudden, people started to run and then screaming, and they started to call 911. sam: another tree collapses in california, endangering kids. is the droughts really to blame? we investigate that claim. and sprinkling in a new element to the drought debate, one presidential hopeful is weighing in. carly fiorina: you know what's also made it worse? politicians. sam: have california democrats fueled california's thirsty dilemma for decades? we'll flush out that statement. finally. bill patzert: this is the godzilla el niño if it matures and actually comes to fruition. sam: the predicted el niño winter, will it deliver the goods, or leave us high and dry? we get to the truth in tonight's "reality check. and good evening, i'm sam brock. welcome to tonight's "reality check, where we put the claims of our leaders under the microscope using data and expert opinion to dig up the truth. and tonight, we begin with money, generally a lot of it.
how much does your ceo make? soon, most companies will have to reveal exactly how much more their ceos earn than the typical worker. is it eye-opening, or are we eyeing the wrong numbers? the facts behind the so-called ceo pay gap. nick woodman had reason to celebrate 2014. the gopro ceo brought home the bacon, $77 million in total pay. tim cook guided the country's largest publicly-traded company, apple, and netted $9.2 million. and jamie dimon ran the nation's biggest bank, jp morgan chase, raking in $27 million. but from wall street execs to silicon valley superstars, how much stock should we put in the ceo pay gap? some reports calculate that divide at 330 times the median american worker. others, more like 216 to 1. are any of these studies accurate?
well, here's one problem. robert daines: the ceo salary is usually a relatively small part of their total take home pay. sam: robert daines, co-director of stanford's rock center on corporate governance, hits on a really important point. ceo salary isn't usually that high. the bureau of labor statistics says it's about $180,000 a year, which is roughly 5 times that of a typical worker. elon musk made $35,000 in salary in 2014. larry ellison made $1. robert: the vast majority of their pay is actually in stock options or stock that they get. sam: so, you can go by salary and stock awards, which most studies do. but it turns out that data isn't reliable either. brookings institution senior fellow robert pozen explained to us over facetime that stock awards aren't automatically awarded. they're usually tied to performance. robert pozen: the condition should not be just that the ceos alive and still there after 4 or 5 years.
it should be something like the company has grown revenues, or has grown earnings, or it's done some good things. sam: the reality is ceo pay could be inflated or understated in these studies. we don't know. neither do the authors. there's also a question of value and corporate fairness. woodman, for example, was the highest-paid ceo in silicon valley, but he founded gopro. and last year, it went public. marissa meyer: it's something truly special. sam: marissa meyer topped all women ceos with $42 million, but she had to be wooed away from google. is that a gaping pay gap or the price of competition? robert: you have to pay a lot to get good talent. there's a really difficult question, does pay always reflect talent? and that's a really tricky--that's a really tricky question. sam: value can be debated. what cannot is that the so-called ceo pay gap contains inaccuracies. and beyond that, pay gap disclosures don't even work historically.
and daines says every time there's been a financial crisis in the last 20 years, the congress has voted to disclose more about ceo pay. and each time, ceo pay has gone up, not down. moving now to a story that's garnering national attention. two colorado parents lost their daughter in a theater shooting, and now they might lose their life savings after their case against ammunition dealers was dismissed. where does justice lie, in the law or the legal efforts to change it? shock and horror as a gunman opened fire at a movie theater in aurora, colorado. and for sandy and lonnie phillips, devastation at the loss of a young daughter, 24-year-old jessica ghawi. now, 3 years later, their tragedy continues. lonnie phillips: they have taken our daughter and now they want to take our worldly goods. i think that's a little much. sam: after filing to sue several online retailers who sold ammo and other gear to james holmes,
the convicted aurora shooter, a colorado district court judge dismissed the case, then ordered the phillips family to pay the retailers' attorney fees. lonnie: so, we're on the hook for $200,000 right now, which will drive us into bankruptcy. sam: you heard that right. in his order this june, judge richard p. mash wrote, quote, "those who ignite a fire should be responsible for the cost of suppressing it before it becomes a conflagration." how could a case that didn't make it to trial cost so much? robyn thomas: to me, $200,000 sounds crazy. it's not--isn't that high. sam: robyn thomas is the executive director at the law center to prevent gun violence in san francisco. robyn: you'd be shocked at how quickly fees can go up very, very high, the amount of time that's spent preparing these lawsuits and working on their defense. sam: in fact, the court order tallies up all the costs. the phillips will be charged for attorney's fees, travel expenses, even postage. but despite the shocking headline about cost,
legal experts say the outcome of the case isn't really that surprising. deep gulasekaram: there have been a number of cases that have worked their way through state or federal court. sam: santa clara law school's deep gulasekaram says a federal law, a shield law, the protection of lawful commerce in arms act, or plcaa, makes it very difficult to bring any legal action against arms or ammo makers and dealers. deep: as it's written, it provides a fairly broad and blanket shield for those manufacturers. robyn: there's absolutely no other industry in this country that receives that kind of protection from our government. sam: but is plcaa so ironclad that the phillips stood no chance at all? sam: when it comes to this case, the optics aren't good in the sense that you have a family that's lost a child, they're looking to change the system as a result, and they end up with a $200,000 bill. is it justice or should they have expected that outcome? deep: it would have been foolish for them not to have known that the odds were stacked against them
because of this law. that being said, there are still colorable claims that one could make. sam: this case never saw the light of day and it's possible the phillips could have poked some holes in the federal shield law. but the $200,000 bill, the couple might not be paying it alone. the brady campaign, a gun laws reform group, provided legal assistance. and when we asked them if they helped the phillips with the court fees tab, they had no comment. right now, we are just getting started on this edition of "reality check." up next, a scene that does not sit well with parents, yet another tree collapse in california. is the drought really to blame? and. chris farley: el niño is spanish for the niño. sam: chris farley's classic snl skit might be farce, but is it fact that an el niño weather pattern is barreling toward the bay area? we'll find out.
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a look now at california's drought and its impact. back in july, a fallen tree injured eight schoolchildren in southern california, triggering new warnings about the dangers of collapsing trees. but is the drought really to blame? or more specifically this drought? male: it looks like whatever happened here happened pretty quickly. female: all of a sudden, people started to run and then screaming, and they started to call 911. sam: toppled trees have taken over headlines in recent months. we've reported on several incidents. >>laura garcia-cannon: we're trying to find out what caused a tree to fall and land on eight children visiting the museum yesterday. sam: a 75-foot pine tree fell in pasadena this july, leading to lasting images of kids strapped to stretchers. and before that. male: a branch fell from a live oak, it was about two and a half feet in diameter. sam: a calamity at a campground in mount diablo state park, with one man airlifted to the hospital. has the shortage of water shaken more than just
trust in child safety? has it shaken our trees to the core? recent reports have linked the california drought to fears of dying trees. certified arborist robert booty says those claims are unfounded. while there is undoubtedly a link between droughts and tree health, he points out it could take years or longer for a lack of water to wear down a tree's immunity, leading to disease and decay. robert booty: it's very hard to attribute a broad spectrum of tree deaths to one particular drought because california's had many, and trees live for a long time. sam: larry costello agrees. he collects reports of tree failure from around california and shoots down a connection between the drought and recent tragedies. larry costello: we're talking about structural failures at trees, not trees dying or declining. we're talking about branch breaks, trunk breaks, or uprooting. and the data does not say that, and you can't,
you know, pull that out of the data. sam: what does the data say? according to the university of california's tree failure report program, there were almost 4,000 tree failures in the state in 2010. that's our baseline. skip ahead now to 2015. the number rises to more than 5,000, which looks like a massive jump. but these numbers aren't year over year, they're cumulative. so in reality, the figure really breaks down to 200 failures per year, not an outrageous sum or even a telling one. larry: it really varies from year to year, depending upon a number of factors. sam: the facts say the numbers don't jump off the page. but recent events have reinforced an important point: drought conditions can make these trees more susceptible to harm in the long run. robert booty: how much solid wood is still holding this tree up? sam: arborists advise governments, schools, and homeowners to take notes and inspect their trees regularly. the city of pasadena hired an independent arborist to come out and inspect the tree that fell there.
what they found was that recent drought was one reason why that tree collapsed, along with the slight lean of the tree and heavy weight due to recent rainfall. so from trees now in the droughts to presidential hopefuls and clout. gop contender carly fiorina recently spoke out about the droughts, blaming the state's dry conditions on liberal lawmakers dating back many years. is that claim true? the state's historic drought is flowing into new terrain: the republican primary. last month on "meet the press," carly fiorina told moderator chuck todd that global warming isn't the only culprit costing california precious resources. carly: you know what's also made it worse? politicians, liberal politicians, who stood up for 40 years as the population of california doubled and said, "you cannot build a new reservoir and you cannot build a water conveyance system. sam: is that claim true? let's take a quick tour through the history books.
a pivotal moment for california took place in the early 1970s, when the state passed the wild and scenic rivers act, protecting many rivers from dam construction. the move rode the support of left-leaning environmentalists, but was signed into law by then-governor ronald reagan, a conservative, throwing some cold water on fiorina's claim that it was just liberals standing in the way. jeffrey mount: he influenced the direction we went, both in the 70s,as well as in the 80s, and we're seeing some of that today. sam: now, let's jump back to present-day, and fiorina's statement does carry a little more weight. state democrats have currently stalled two major reservoir projects from moving through the legislature, the sites and the temperance flat reservoirs, which would have boosted california's storage capacity by trillions of gallons in theory. jeffrey mount with the public policy institute of california says the real impact california would have received with the lack of rainwater is much less significant.
jeffrey: the problem is you can't fill those dams. you have other dams that already take the water. so the average yield that we would get from that--from all those dams, every one that we've got on the book right now, 1%. sam: and nbc bay area political analyst larry gerston says even with political approval, just building those reservoirs takes time, decades in some cases. larry gerston: you don't make a dam as if you're just building with legos. i mean, it's an extraordinarily complicated project, the last part of which is the dam itself. sam: gerston adds that the success of these kinds of water projects can't be blamed solely on politicians since voters also play a part in getting them passed. a perfect example would be governor brown's water bonds, which the legislature crafted and you approved last year. a third of the money in that bond goes toward storage projects like dams. so, there's a lot of stakeholders in this process. and historically, both parties have helped either build or block those water projects here in california.
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ernest jones, calling the state's system ineffective and an example of cruel and unusual punishment. franklin zimring: this is an opportunity to inject into the judicial system a sort of a wide-angle imax picture of the whole dysfunctional adventure of california. sam: frank zimring is a death penalty expert and critic of a system he says by all reasonable statistics is dysfunctional. consider this. of all the ways california inmates have died on death row since 1978, execution ranks third behind natural causes and suicide. in total, 749 people have been sentenced to death in that time frame, but only 13 have been executed. despite those numbers, attorney general karmala harris is fighting to preserve the status quo. she says the lower court's decision to overturn jones's execution, quote, "undermines the important protections that
our courts provide to defendants. this flawed ruling requires appellate review." and that's what's happening right now. so the court of appeals could wipe away capital punishment in california, but zimring says it's not likely. franklin: the verdict that is being defended in the ninth circuit is a long shot. the most likely outcome will be that a panel of the ninth circuit will reverse it. sam: on what grounds? california may show it's not up to the courts to decide the issue in the first place. or attorneys might point to delays as proof the state doesn't want to execute innocent people. that's congressman adam schiff's hunch. still, he believes that the court proceedings will lead to change one way or another. adam schiff: given the concept of the death penalty, given the difficulties we've had in it, and the difficulties other states are experiencing at it, we need a wholesale review whether this makes sense.
sam: this court case could very well prove a tipping point. male: i have major problems with the district court's exhaustion really. sam: on a tired subject here in california. and we are still awaiting the court's decision in that case. finally on "reality check," can we expect the floodgates to open? one climatologist has called this winter the arrival of the godzilla el niño. but what does history have to say about our chances for rain?
for all the formulas and science that follow an el niño weather pattern, there's a bit of farce too. chris farley: el niño is spanish for the niño. sam: not to be outlandish, but a nasa climatologist did have this to say. bill: this is the godzilla el niño if it matures and actually comes to fruition. sam: what will this monster bring by way of rainfall to our drought-stricken state? in a recent statement, california climatologist michael anderson said it could be flood or famine. he says, quote, "historical weather data shows us that, at best, there's a 50/50 chance of having a wetter winter." is he right? we asked one of anderson's former professors at uc davis, nationally renowned water expert dr. jay lund. jay lund: i believe that mike--when i look at the statistics, i get about the same kind of answer that he gets. sam: which is to say you can have an el niño pattern without
heavy rainfall. in fact, data from northern california shows little correlation between the two. this graphic plots out the strength of el niño from left to right and the corresponding water flow. jay: you'll see that there are some very low and very high el niño events that have a lot of precipitation and very little precipitation. sam: so el niño can mean lots of rain. chris farley: el niño. sam: or no rain, at least in northern california. southern california is a different story. jeanine jones: the strongest correlation geographically is up at the pacific northwest, and down to southern california and into the mexico coast. where we are in northern california is in sort of a grey zone that can go either way. sam: jeanine jones with the state's department of water resources says we're in that so-called grey zone because of a ridge of high pressure, seen here in the dark-red circle sitting off the coast that basically blocks the bay from storm activity. jeanine: if we have a strong high pressure ridge off the
coast, we don't get storms. sam: even if the ridge doesn't serve as a barrier to el niño, that still won't end california's drought. our deficit is too deep. jay: for some of the reservoirs, a half-decent flood will fill them up pretty well. some of the larger reservoirs will take something more than that. sam: and how much more than that? in some cases, those aquifers would take decades or even centuries to fill back up. now, there's little question that heavy rains would help out our situation and we continue to cross our fingers on that. but the odds of a wetter winter, or the claim that it's a 50/50 proposition, is true. if you'd like to see more in-depth stories like these, just check out our webpage, nbcbayarea.com/realitycheck. we tackle issues every day that impact you, so please e-mail us your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. now, that is it for tonight for this special edition of "reality check."
michael mina: you cannot find a better city to be a chef. alice waters: if you eat beautiful, real food, and you understand where that comes from, and that you're really nourished by it, and you think differently about the world. [music] peter coyote: before tech, before tourism, before the gold rush and shipping and trains, even before the first spanish missionaries, the bay area was a great place to eat. for more than 5,000 years, the ohlone tribes lived on healthy, delicious, sustainable food that was usually found within a few miles of home.
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