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New coalition pushing for more healthful, low-cost food options

CAPITOL BUSINESS BEAT

The California Food Policy Council wants to persuade legislators to pass laws that would support sustainable agriculture and protect soil and water quality for large and small farmers.

January 13, 2014|By Marc Lifsher
  • The California Food Policy Council wants to protect soil and water quality for large and small farmers. Above, a farmer harvests parsnips in Goleta, Calif.
The California Food Policy Council wants to protect soil and water quality… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — A coalition of organic farmers, nutritionists and environmental justice activists is jumping into the rough-and-tumble politics at California's Capitol.

The California Food Policy Council, a network of 19 groups around the state, wants to persuade legislators to pass laws that would support sustainable agriculture and safeguard soil and water quality for large and small farmers. The idea, organizers say, is to make healthful, affordable food options available for low-income urban dwellers, schoolchildren and others.

"It's a confluence of many different elements of what you could call the food movement," said Michael R. Dimock, the president of an Oakland group, Roots of Change, that provides staffing and funding for the new organization.

Combating climate change is high on the agenda, he said. "If the climate goes crazy, it's going to impact food production."

The council, in a report, already is touting some successes, including the passage last year of bills that expanded access to fresh produce for food-stamp recipients, gave property owners a tax break for urban farms and gardens and cleared the way for driver's licenses for immigrant farmworkers.

The coalition is also reaching out to the powerful agricultural industry, he said. "It's not our goal to make Big Ag the enemy."

Ponzi scheme victims

Bernice Tingle, 67, lost her life's savings of more than $1 million to a convicted Bay Area Ponzi scheme operator who's serving 46 months in federal prison. The retired phone company manager says she now barely gets by on the income she has left. But state tax collectors came after her for $84,000 in taxes on the paper profits that she never got. The debt now is $135,000 with interest and penalty charges.

Tingle got some relief from the IRS under a ruling helping victims of the more infamous Ponzi schemer, Bernard L. Madoff. California tax officials say they can't provide a similar break without a new law.

But help may not be on the way from Sacramento. Last week, the Senate Governance and Finance Committee killed a bill that would have allowed victims of some financial crimes to deduct losses from future tax liabilities.

The bill's author, Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) accused the opponents of "kicking (victims) when they're down."

But Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), the committee chairwoman, questioned the need for SB 797. "I'm not certain that it's really the role of the state treasury to step in ... when an investment goes wrong."

Tax time

It's that time of year. The Franchise Tax Board, which handled 16 million state income tax returns last year, is urging people who got early W-2 forms from employers to file now for a quick refund.

"The good news is they can log on to our website and file their taxes today," spokeswoman Denise Azimi said.

The biggest change for 2013 returns is a jump in the standard deduction for singles to $3,906 from $3,841. For joint filers it rose to $7,812 from $7,682.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter: @marclifsher

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