How to Save California’s Forests

For about twenty million years, California’s forests endured countless droughts, some lasting over a century. Natural fires, started by lightening and very frequent in the Sierras, were essential to keep forest ecosystems healthy. In Yosemite, for example, meadows used to cover most of the valley floor, because while forests constantly encroached, fires would periodically wipe them out, allowing the meadows to return. Across millennia, fire driven successions of this sort played out in cycles throughout California’s ecosystems.

Also for the last twenty million years or so, climate change has been the norm. To put this century’s warming into some sort of context, Giant Sequoias once grew on the shores of Mono Lake. For at least the past few centuries, forest ecosystems have been marching into higher latitudes because of gradual warming. In the Sierra Foothills, oaks have invaded pine habitat, and pine have in-turn invaded the higher elevation stands of fir. Today, it is mismanagement, not climate change, that is the primary threat to California’s forests. This can be corrected.

In a speech before the U.S. Congress last September, Republican Tom McClintock summarized the series of policy mistakes that are destroying California’s forests. McClintock’s sprawling 4th Congressional District covers 12,800 square miles, and encompasses most of the Northern Sierra Nevada mountain range. His constituency bears the brunt of the misguided green tyranny emanating from Washington DC and Sacramento. Here’s an excerpt from that speech:

“Excess timber comes out of the forest in only two ways – it is either carried out or it burns out. For most of the 20th Century, we carried it out. It’s called ‘logging.’ Every year, US Forest Service foresters would mark off excess timber and then we auctioned it off to lumber companies who paid us to remove it, funding both local communities and the forest service. We auctioned grazing contracts on our grasslands. The result: healthy forests, fewer fires and a thriving economy. But beginning in the 1970’s, we began imposing environmental laws that have made the management of our lands all but impossible. Draconian restrictions on logging, grazing, prescribed burns and herbicide use on public lands have made modern land management endlessly time consuming and ultimately cost prohibitive. A single tree thinning plan typically takes four years and more than 800 pages of analysis. The costs of this process exceed the value of timber – turning land maintenance from a revenue-generating activity to a revenue-consuming one.”

When it comes to carrying out timber, California used to do a pretty good job. In the 1950s the average timber harvest in California was around 6.0 billion board feet per year. The precipitous drop in harvest volume came in the 1990s. The industry started that decade taking out not quite 5.0 billion board feet, and by 2000 the annual harvest had dropped to just over 2.0 billion board feet. Today, only about 1.5 billion board feet per year come out of California’s forests as harvested timber.

Expand the Timber Industry

What Congressman McClintock describes as a working balance up until the 1990s needs to be restored. In order to achieve a sustainable balance between natural growth and timber removals, California’s timber industry needs to triple in size. If federal legislation were to guarantee a long-term right for timber companies to harvest trees on federal land, investment would follow.

Today only 29 sawmills remain in California, along with eight sawmills that are still standing but inactive. In addition, there are 112 sites in California where sawmills once operated. In most cases, these vacant sites of former mills are located in ideal areas to rebuild a mill and resume operations.

The economics of reviving California’s timber industry are compelling. A modern sawmill with a capacity of 100 million board feet per year requires an investment of $100 million. Operating at a profit, it would create 640 full time jobs. Constructing 30 of these sawmills would create roughly 20,000 jobs in direct employment of loggers, haulers and mill workers, along with thousands of additional jobs in the communities where they are located.

The ecological impact of logging again in California’s state and federal forests will not become the catastrophe that environmentalists and regulators once used as the pretext to all but destroy the logging industry. Especially now, with decades of accumulated experience, logging does more good than harm to forest ecosystems. There is evidence to prove this.

In forests managed by Sierra Pacific, for example, owl counts are higher than in California’s federally managed forests. Even clear cutting, because it is done on a 60 to 100 year cycle, does more good than harm to the forests. By converting one or two percent of the forest back into meadow each year, area is opened up where it is easier for owls to hunt prey. Also, during a clear cut, the needles and branches are stripped off the trees and left to rejuvenate the soil. The runoff is managed as well, via contour tilling which follows the topography of the hillsides. Rain percolates into the furrows, which is also where the replacement trees are planted.

While clear cutting will not destroy most ecosystems, since it is only performed on one to two percent of the land in any given year, there are other types of logging that can be used in areas deemed more ecologically sensitive. Southern California Edison owns 20,000 acres of forest around Shaver Lake in Southern California where they practice what is referred to as total ecosystem management.

Earlier this year, when the Creek Fire burned an almost unthinkable 550 square miles in Southern California, the 30 square mile island of SCE managed forest around Shaver Lake was unscathed. This is because for decades, SCE has been engaged in timber operations they define as “uneven age management, single tree selection,” whereby the trees to be harvested are individually designated in advance, in what remains a profitable logging enterprise. Controlled burns are also an essential part of SCE’s total ecosystem management, but these burns are only safe when the areas to be burned are caught up on logging and thinning.

The practice of uneven age management could be utilized in riparian canyons, or in areas where valuable stands of old growth merit preservation. The alternative, a policy of hands-off preservation, has been disastrous. Tree density in the Sierra Nevada is currently around 300 per acre, whereas historically, a healthy forest would only have had around 60 trees per acre. Clearly this number varies depending on forest type, altitude and other factors, but overall, California’s forests, especially on federal lands, contain about five times the normal tree density. The result are trees that cannot compete for adequate moisture and nutrients, far less rain percolating into springs and aquifers, disease and infestation of the weakened trees, and fire.

This alternative – manage the forest or suffer fires that destroy the forest entirely – cannot be emphasized enough. In the Feather River Canyon, along with many other canyons along the Sierra Nevada, the east-west topography turned them into wind tunnels that drove fires rapidly up and down the watershed. Yet these riparian areas have been among the most fiercely defended against any logging, which made those fires all the worse. The choice going forward should not be difficult. Logging and forest thinning cannot possibly harm a watershed as much as parched forests burning down to the soil, wiping out everything.

Expand the Biomass Power Industry

If removing trees with timber operations is essential to return California’s forests to a sustainable, lower density of trees per acre, mechanical removal of shrub and undergrowth is an essential corollary, especially in areas that are not clear cut. Fortunately, California has already developed the infrastructure to do this. In fact, California’s biomass industry used to be bigger than it is today, and can be quickly expanded.

Today there are 22 active biomass power plants in California, generating just over a half-gigawatt of continuous electric power. That’s one percent of California’s electricity draw at peak demand; not a lot, but enough to matter. Mostly built in the 1980s and ’90s, at peak there were 60 biomass power plants in California, but with the advent of cheaper natural gas and cheaper solar power, most of them were shut down. These clean burning plants should be opened back up to use forest trimmings, as well as agricultural waste and urban waste as fuel.

At a fully amortized wholesale cost estimated somewhere between 12 cents and 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, biomass power plants cannot compete with most other forms of energy. But this price is not so far out of reach that it could not be subsidized using funds currently being allocated to other forms of renewables infrastructure or climate change mitigation. Moreover, this kilowatt-hour price necessarily includes the labor intensive task of going into the forests and extracting the biomass, creating thousands of good paying jobs. The numbers could work.

If, for example, biomass power capacity in California were roughly doubled to 1.0 gigawatt of continuous output, a six cents per kilowatt-hour subsidy would cost about $500 million per year. This must be compared to the annual cost of wildfires in California, which easily exceeds a billion per year. It also must be compared to the amount of money being thrown around on projects far less urgent than rescuing California’s forest ecosystems, such as the California High Speed Rail project, which has already consumed billions. And if this entire subsidy of $500M per year were spread into the utility bills of all Californians, it would only amount to about a 1.5 percent increase.

Will Politicians Do the Right Thing?

The logic of these steps seems impeccable. Thin the forests. Restore them to ecological health. Adopt time tested modern logging practices and revive the timber industry. Build biomass power plants on the perimeter of the forests. Reissue grazing permits for additional cost-effective brush thinning. Prevent ridiculous, costly, horrific, tragic wildfires. Help the economy.

But these steps have been known for decades, and nothing was done. Every time policymakers were close to a consensus on forest thinning, government bureaucrats obstructed the process and the environmentalists sued to stop the process. And they won. Time and time again. And now we have this: millions of acres of scorched earth, air so foul that people couldn’t leave their homes for weeks, and wildlife habitat that in some cases will never recover. If this failure in policy doesn’t leave Californians livid, nothing will.

The forest management policies adopted in California have decimated California’s timber industry, neglected its biomass industry, turned millions of acres of forest into scorched earth, and are systematically turning mountain communities into ghost towns. This is tyranny, and perhaps even worse, it is tyranny that lacks either benevolence or wisdom.

If the goal was to have a healthy forest ecosystem, that was violated, as these forests burned to the ground and what remains is dying. If the goal was do anything in the name of fighting climate change and its impact on the forests, and do it with urgency, that too was violated, because everything they did was wrong. Even now, instead of urgent and far reaching changes to forest management policies, we get more electric car mandates. That was the urgent response.

California’s ruling elites, starting with Gavin Newsom among the politicians, and Ramon Cruz, the Sierra Club’s new president, may prove they care about the environment by sitting down with representatives from California’s timber, biomass energy, and cattle industries, along with federal regulators, and come up with a plan. They might apply to this plan the same scope and urgency with which they so cavalierly transform our entire energy and transportation sectors, but perhaps with more immediate practical benefits both to people and ecosystems.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

History of Ballot Measure Committees Using Nonprofit Status for Mailing

Last night I linked to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle “Cash-rich, Uber-backed Prop. 22 campaign scrimps on postage.” The article starts: “Proposition 22, the ballot measure to exempt Uber and Lyft drivers and other gig workers from being employees, got a nonprofit postal permit for its deluge of glossy mailers, allowing it to save millions on postage.”

I was asked to give comment for this article about the use of nonprofit status for mailing, and I initially declined, because I am not following the Prop. 22 campaign finance issues closely and my expertise is on the federal, not state, side. The reporter then pushed for a general statement, and I said: ““I have never heard of a campaign using nonprofit status for campaign mailers and cannot think of any circumstances where that would be appropriate.”‘

That statement was true—I had never heard of it and it didn’t seem appropriate to me. But I’ve since learned from an election lawyer (who I believe may be representing the campaign) that there have been numerous instances of ballot measure committees using nonprofit status for mailing. There was even a 2006 case, Alliance for a Better California v. USPS, where a party challenged an opposing ballot measure committee for using this status with USPS, and the federal court dismissed the case for lack of standing.

It still seems wrong to me that ballot measure committees can do this, but I now know that there is a history of committees using the status for mailings.

It’s my own fault for giving a quote after initially declining. I regret giving a statement that reflects my ignorance on this question.

This post was originally published by the Election Law Blog.

San Francisco’s Not So Universal Basic Income for Artists

San Francisco proposes to pay artists $1,000 a month as part of the movement for a Universal Basic Income, this while the city sees many markers of decline due to the coronavirus, a hole in the city budget and multiple tax increases facing city voters on the coming ballot. 

While an unbalanced Universal Basic Income plan at a difficult time for the city, the move to pay artists is not without precedent on a national scale. 

During the heart of the Depression in the 1930s, the federal government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) through a subdivision called the Federal Arts Project subsidized artists to create art to help the country deal with the economic devastation. 

Similarly, the San Francisco proposal will instruct artists to create art reflecting safe practices during the pandemic. The Depression art focused on the working class and patriotic themes. 

As the Artsy.net website described the art of the Depression era, “The WPA years were perhaps the only successful period in American history when fine art and practical art were one and the same. And crucial to the resulting democratization of culture was a form of expression that addressed the experiences of the working class and was actively shaped by the working class. WPA art favored Social Realism, in the form of public artworks and murals that celebrated industry and labor. These works put art within eyesight of ordinary people going about their daily lives and are consequentially also among the most famous created through the WPA initiative.“

The Federal Arts Project, which ended during World War II, was controversial in its day as the San Francisco move is today. 

The city plan is to run a pilot program for 130 artists for six months. How these artists are selected—indeed, how art is defined—has not be clarified by the city.

The plan is seen as part of a national movement to create Universal Basic Income,  (UBI) an unconditional payment for citizens by government to meet basic needs. The movement for a Universal Basic Income has some momentum with test pilots in places like Stockton. However, when it comes to income for artists, that is not universal but just a subset of the population who create art under certain regulations. It is also not unconditional since the artists are expected to produce works for the payment. 

Calling the payments for what they are—subsidies for artists—moves it away from riding the coattails of the UBI movement. 

In addition, this three-quarter of a million-dollar giveaway comes at a time when San Francisco is hurting financially. 

The city budget of $14 billion has a $1.5 billion deficit. An attempt to close the budget hole is on the November ballot in the form of four taxes: a new business tax built around a business’s gross receipts; an increase of the property transfer tax; a parcel tax for schools; and another business tax calculated by comparing the income of the highest paid managerial employee to the median compensation paid by the company.

San Francisco’s tax base will contract due to citizen responses to the coronavirus. The city has seen increased office vacancies, empty restaurants, dramatic sales tax drop-off, rent drops, much less ridership on public transportation and people moving out of the city.

Art may be necessary for the soul, but the tough times San Francisco faces makes the move financially questionable at best.

 Joel Fox is editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

California will allow fans at pro sports but not Disneyland

California will let fans back in outdoor stadiums for pro sporting events in counties with low coronavirus infection rates but isn’t ready to allow Disneyland and other major theme parks to reopen, the state’s top health official said Tuesday.

San Francisco and neighboring Alameda and Santa Clara are the only counties that meet the threshold for pro sports. However, immediately after the announcement officials in Santa Clara, home to the San Francisco 49ers, issued a statement saying they weren’t prepared to allow even a limited number of fans into Levi’s Stadium.

Major theme parks, on the other hand, strongly objected to the state’s restrictions, saying they could safely operate even with thousands of people in attendance.

As many as 14,000 people could attend Levi’s Stadium events under the state’s guidance, setting up the chance of devastating “superspreader” events, said Dr. Jeff Smith, Santa Clara County’s executive officer. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press.

The Battle For California is the Battle for America

By now, this is a familiar story. California is a failed state. Thanks to years of progressive mismanagement and neglect, the cities are lawless and the forests are burning. Residents pay the highest prices in America for unreliable electricity. Water is rationed. Homes are unaffordable. The public schools are a joke. Freeways are congested and crumbling. And if they’re not still on lockdown or otherwise already destroyed by it, business owners contend with the most hostile regulatory climate in American history.

It is understandable that conservatives in the rest of the United States would be happy to write off California. But California is not writing off the rest of the United States, and therein lies grave danger to American prosperity and freedom.

What if California doesn’t implode, a victim of its own political mismanagement? What if California instead completes its transformation into a successful plutocracy, run by a clique of multi-billionaires in a partnership of convenience with environmentalist extremists and backed by the power of a unionized state bureaucracy?

What if the people who would resist this tyranny leave, and the remaining population peacefully accepts universal basic income and subsidized housing? What if all it takes to be a feudal overlord in progressive California is to proffer to the proletarians a pittance of alms, while reliably spouting incessant, blistering social justice and climate change rhetoric?

Why won’t that work? After all, it’s worked so far. California has the most progressive electorate in America.

Not because of California’s regulatory state, but in spite of it, California is by far the wealthiest, most influential state in America. With 40 million people, a diverse economy, and a gross domestic product of $3.2 trillion, California is almost a nation unto itself. And the progressive zealots who run California have been acting like an independent nation, with the avowed goal of transforming the entire United States to match its image.

What happens in California matters to the rest of the United States because California’s internal market is huge, its political and financial influence is powerful, and it rallies political allies throughout the U.S. If what California does to transform its own culture and economy isn’t stopped, the rest of the U.S. will fall into line. The result will be a comprehensive reinvention of society in all areas, political, economic, and cultural.

The difficult reality that conservative Americans must accept is that while California may be a failed state by the standards Middle America has come to take for granted, California may not fail by its own standards. The society California is building may prove viable, even if it is hideous to contemplate and morally wrong. It may prove viable even though the alternatives that it displaces offer more prosperity and freedom to more people. It amounts to an all-powerful tech plutocracy ruling over a micro-managed, dependent population, with rationing and redistribution in the name of social justice and saving the planet.

This model, which is a modern form of feudalism, may work not merely because it is politically and economically sustainable despite its many shortcomings, nor merely because it offers more power and profit to its handful of resident billionaires who already possess obscene levels of power and wealth. These reasons don’t fully explain the popularity of progressive feudalism. There is one more piece in the puzzle.

The progressive model also becomes viable because of a moral narrative that is flawed but nonetheless compelling: We live in an inherently oppressive society, so we must reduce the privileged middle class in the interests of social justice. We live in an era of limited resources and a stressed planet, so we must reduce everyone’s standard of living. Countering that narrative is the mission that must be sent into California. The misery that Californians have condemned themselves to live is not a moral choice. They are victims of a con job.

What follows are detailed examples of what’s happening in California. These examples are selected based on the level of transformative impact they are having, as well as their potential to be rolled into the rest of the United States. But this compendium, while lengthy, only scratches the surface.

The Labor Movement is the Glue

At the forefront of California’s populist progressive movement is organized labor. Assimilating the progressive battle cries on all the predictable topics—race, gender, climate change—California’s labor movement wields both their billions in dues revenue and a perpetually mobilized field army that reaches into every locale and institution. And in a major escalation of a battle soon to rage across America, California’s unions have taken on independent contractors.

Sailing through the state legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2019, AB 5 outlawed most forms of individual independent contracting and threw most of the rest into legal ambiguity. While aimed at rideshare drivers on Uber and Lyft platforms, it affected all businesses that use independent contractors, from nail salons and graphic artists to thousands of badly needed nurses and other health care professionals.

The most powerful injured parties, led by Uber and Lyft, have funded a ballot initiative that will repeal AB 5 for their specific industries. But small businesses, including sole proprietors, are out of luck. The move to ban independent contractors has now gone national, with Biden and Harris endorsing the policy. The Biden campaign is even running ads against the Uber and Lyft-backed ballot proposition: “Now, gig economy giants are trying to gut the law and exempt their workers. It’s unacceptable.”

The consequences of outlawing most forms of independent contracting are obvious, and disgraceful. Within realistic constraints, people should be allowed to exchange services for money without having to become employees of a company. That such a basic expression of freedom should come under attack illustrates the gravity of the fight we’re in. The motivation for this law is equally obvious and disgraceful; if people can be herded into companies as employees, then they can be organized and put under union representation.

It’s worth reexamining exactly what unions in California represent, rather than leaving it at that. California’s unions exist primarily in the public sector, where their “negotiations” are with politicians whose campaigns they’ve bankrolled, and their wage and benefit demands are paid for by taxes, not by businesses operating in a competitive environment.

And while unions may still play a vital role in the private sector, it’s fair to wonder why their political agenda—open borders in particular—is a goal that is shared by the tech billionaires and corporations these unions supposedly oppose. Why the contradiction?

The answers to this help explain the alliance between corporations and unions which, on the surface, seems contradictory.

First, the center of gravity of union power in the United States—and this is especially the case in California—now rests with the public sector. And why wouldn’t public sector unions want open borders, and moreover, why wouldn’t they want unrestricted immigration with no regard for the ability of immigrants to speak English, bring useful skills, and assimilate? The more numerous and dependent America’s immigrants are, the more numerous and expansive the roster of government employees necessary to assist them in their new country.

The public schools of Los Angeles, to cite an obvious example, receive revenue based on how many students are enrolled. The more immigrants arrive, the more revenue these school districts collect, and the more unionized, dues-paying members of the teachers’ union have to be hired. If these students have had poor education in the nations they are arriving from, and if these students lack English language skills, then the public schools of Los Angeles will qualify to collect even more revenue, and hire even more specialized staff, in order to better assist the special needs of these students.

In most areas of public service, the more dependent and difficult to assimilate immigrants are, the more public services required: social workers, welfare administrators, police, probation officers, translators, and assorted bureaucrats. More generally, the more the population grows through immigration, the more government will grow, benefitting government unions. Population growth, of course, also fulfills corporate objectives, expanding the labor force and driving down wages.

Less acknowledged but perhaps even more significant, a larger population simply creates a larger critical mass of consumers. In the broadest, most macroeconomic sense of the term, a “consumer” is any living resident of a nation, even someone totally dependent on the government. They still require food, medical care, and shelter. They still buy products, and someone—a private-sector government contractor as often as a government agency—will be remunerated to fill those requirements.

This still doesn’t explain why private-sector unions would favor open borders, but here ideology and opportunism align synergistically to provide the answer. On one hand, the leftist narrative of anti-racism, replacing the oppressors, displacing and overthrowing the colonizers, etc., provides an ideological rationale for even private-sector unions to agitate for open borders.

And the internationalist perspective of these union leaders, where increasingly their concern is not for the American worker, but for the “workers of the world,” also gives them cover to call for open borders even though that increases the supply of labor and drives down wages. Many of them simply don’t understand the realities of supply and demand and are fully committed to an economic dream of socialist redistribution, but for those who do recognize economic reality, there is another more practical motive: the worse off the workers are in their bargaining units and in the economy generally, the more likely they’ll be to join a union in an attempt to better their circumstances.

In any case, by far the most powerful unions in California are public-sector unions, for which policy and program failures constitute success, because to address the failures, they can agitate for more policies and more programs. This agenda is playing out in Democratic cities and states across America.

Unionizing Police and Firefighters

California’s state legislature doesn’t have to do anything to unionize public employees including police and firefighters, that’s already an established fact. But if Californian Democrats have anything to say about it, unionized public safety is coming to America. California’s 45 Democrats in the U.S. Congress, by far the most numerous and influential coalition of Democrats from any state, have introduced federal legislation to that effect.

Legislation to unionize public safety, misleadingly dubbed the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, HR 1154, authored by Los Angeles-area Representative Karen Bass and co-sponsored by 201 other Democratic representatives (including all of California’s Democratic House members), would impose exclusive California-style collective bargaining for police and emergency services to the roughly 20 states that don’t already have it.

The consequences of unionized law enforcement and firefighting are many and dire. Every year these unions will collect hundreds of millions in dues, and they will use a significant percentage of that money on political spending to flip battleground states from purple to blue. This bill would also require union bargaining over police officers’ wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment, increasing costs to taxpayers.

These costs are not trivial. Police and firefighter pay and benefits are breaking the budgets of cities and counties across California. The average sheriff in a California county in 2019 earned pay and benefits of $158,000. That’s average, and that’s on the low side compared to other categories of public safety. For example, on average, a police officer in a California city in 2019 earned pay and benefits of $176,000. And firefighters earned, on average, much more: In California’s counties in 2019, $214,000; in California cities, also $214,000.

These averages, if anything, are understating the reality, insofar as they don’t take into account the increased costs of prefunding their pension benefits if there isn’t another bull market, nor do they take into account the full cost of prefunding their retirement health care. Most reasonable people agree that it is very important to support police and firefighters, and to pay them well. But these averages are so high they are often met with disbelief. They are unaffordable, compromising the ability to maintain adequate forces, and taking funding away from other vital public services. They are a direct result of unionization.

And if unionizing is not to save money, since clearly the opposite has happened, then what is the motivation? In contrast to Democrats’ stated aims, unionizing police departments per this legislation would exacerbate systemic police violence, by protecting bad cops from accountability. So why support it? Because government unions want it. Passing the bill allows Democrats to expand the revenue of the unions that quietly fund their campaigns.

Environmentalist Extremism

In 2006, California passed AB 32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act.” Signed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, AB 32 empowered the unelected bureaucrats on California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) to regulate CO2 emissions in California with the goal of reducing them to 1990 levels by 2020. Since the passage of AB 32 there has been an unceasing flow of follow-on legislation, executive orders, and CARB regulations. To name just a few:

In 2008 California’s Public Utilities Commission released their “Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, which, among other things, requires all new residential construction to be “zero net energy” (ZNE) staring in 2020, all new commercial construction to be ZNE by 2030, and 50 percent of all commercial buildings to be ZNE by 2030.

SB 350 in 2015 requires California to generate 50 percent of its electricity from “renewables” by 2050, with emissions-free nuclear power not eligible for inclusion.

More recently, Newsom has ordered CARB to implement the phaseout of new gas powered cars and light trucks by 2045, barely 14 years from now. He also called on the state legislature to ban fracking.

These recent executive orders from Newsom are motivated by the series of cataclysmic wildfires that have again claimed millions of acres of forest in California, wildfires that Newsom alleges were caused by climate change. But the biggest factor by far in causing these wildfires was forest mismanagement, thanks to environmentalist policies pioneered in California.

For decades, California’s foresters and timber harvesters knew the forests were dangerously overgrown. Tree density had progressed in the vast Sierra Nevada from a historical and healthy norm of between 10-50 per acre to upwards of 300 per acre.

While natural fires were suppressed with increasing efficiency, for many years healthy forests were nonetheless maintained by logging and controlled burns. But between 1950 and 2020, California’s timber industry’s annual harvest declined from 6 billion board feet, which maintained an equilibrium between natural growth and annual removals, to less than 1.5 billion board feet.

California’s powerful environmentalist nonprofits, such as the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, used litigation and lobbying—not only within California, but in federal court and the U.S. Congress—to coerce sympathetic judges and legislators to nearly destroy California’s timber industry, at the same time as CARB regulations and other onerous permitting obstacles prevented forest thinning or controlled burns.

When it comes to progressive ideology in general, and California’s environmentalists in particular, irony abounds. Let this sink in: California’s environmentalists destroyed California’s forests. Any attempt to deflect this catastrophe onto climate change is sophistry. Densely packed, tinder dry forests will burn like hell, and that’s exactly what happened. It doesn’t matter one bit if summers are slightly dryer and slightly hotter. They’ll still burn.

Cripple the Housing Industry, Destroy the Suburbs

In all aspects of what Democrats now market as the Green New Deal, California’s state government has led the way. This is vividly expressed in the critical area of zoning for high-density housing, based on the largely unchallenged assumption that suburban sprawl results in higher per capita greenhouse gasses. By cramming nearly all new home construction into the footprint of existing cities, the price of entitled real estate in California has become artificially inflated. But that’s just the beginning of the ordeal facing developers.

Along with higher-priced land, home builders have to contend with costly building codes (such as requiring “zero net energy” homes), excessive fees, and uncertain, prolonged delays in gaining approval to begin construction. The result of California’s restrictive policies is that it has become impossible for unsubsidized developers to build and sell affordable homes.

A key piece of restrictive legislation is SB 375, enacted in 2008, which ties transportation funding to cities and counties adopting higher density residential zoning. A more recent example of the relentless drive towards higher density is SB 743, passed in 2013 but just now being implemented by CARB. This new law requires every new housing development to assess the likely “vehicle miles traveled” by the residents per year, and if that amount is considered excessive, the builders must pay extra fees or in some way “mitigate” for this. Needless to say, this renders the price of homes even more unaffordable.

All these laws being passed in California are designed to increase the density of housing, as well as to mandate home builders move to multi-family dwellings with a percentage of them designated for low-income renters. Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly introduced bills that will supersede local control over zoning to force, for example, fourplex projects to be approved in neighborhoods that currently are for single-family homes.

The entire regulatory ecosystem that has been created not only denies middle-income Californians the ability to purchase homes, or long-standing homeowners the right to preserve the ambiance of their neighborhoods. It also enriches a corrupt class of developers whose business model relies on tax credits and public subsidies to build housing for low-income families and the homeless at a statewide average cost that has now eclipsed $500,000 per apartment unit. At this extraordinary per unit cost, nothing is solved. But the tax-subsidized developers and investors do very well.

And the more money these developers make, the more political influence they have. This is the model for housing that California is exporting to the rest of the United States. Their goal is to eliminate the single-family dwelling altogether, which they justify by characterizing free-standing homes as ecologically unsustainable and disproportionately allocated to people with unwarranted privilege based on the color of their skin.

Through all of these examples of progressive feudalism that California is perfecting even as they export them to the rest of America, the same themes apply. Reduce consumption. Ration energy and water. Ration the supply of available land for construction. Reduce the privileged middle class, in this case by transforming their suburbs into high-density neighborhoods with abundant subsidized housing. Justify all of it in the name of saving the planet and social justice.

Make Basic Necessities Unaffordable

The consequence of California’s excessive, environmentalist-inspired policies is to make the state unaffordable. It comes from a fundamental worldview that California uses all of its cultural influence to reinforce in America and across the globe: Austerity is necessary to save the planet. This goes all the way back to Jerry Brown’s “era of limits” philosophy which he promoted during his first terms as governor back in the 1970s.

The basic necessities of life—housing, transportation, energy, and water—cost more in California than anywhere else in America. This is because of artificially imposed scarcity, a choice that is entirely avoidable. Along with making it impossible to profitably build affordable market housing, California no longer makes significant public investments in energy, water, or transportation infrastructure—preferring instead to redirect available funds to public employee pay and benefits. They justify this by claiming they are protecting the environment, but the real winners are the special interests.

The fully co-opted, unionized public sector is a primary beneficiary of a hyper-regulated state where everything costs more than it should. Stratospheric home values translate directly into higher property tax receipts. Elevated utility and telecommunications prices to the consumer enable higher returns from the hidden taxes and fees embedded in the monthly billings. Public employee pension funds benefit when their real estate portfolios soar in value.

Also benefiting from artificial scarcity are landowners, established corporations, public utilities, and investment funds, all of which realize higher profits and returns when competitors are shut out and captive consumers bid up prices on limited supplies. Public utilities offer a particularly pernicious example of how artificial scarcity elevates profit. The profits these regulated utilities can earn are limited to a percentage of their revenues. But when expensive renewable energy is delivered on this cost-plus basis to the consumer, they can sell the same or even fewer kilowatt-hours for far more revenue. Since they are allocated a fixed percentage of their revenue for profit, higher revenue always means higher profits.

This philosophy of limits and austerity, pioneered in California and pushed relentlessly into the culture, is as dangerous to the prospects of ordinary Americans in the rest of the country as the actual policies enacted by California’s politicians.

The blessings of capitalism, where competitive development and innovation yield ongoing and broadly distributed prosperity, are assigned no credibility in California. They are discredited as harming the planet and inherently racist, in a stunning inversion of logic promulgated as much by high-tech billionaires as by the zealous millennials emerging from California’s K-12 system of public school indoctrination. Which brings us to public education.

Destroy Public Education

There is one area where California’s influence is felt every election cycle in the rest of the United States, and it comes courtesy of California’s unionized public education system. California’s public employee unions collect and spend over $900 million per year, mostly from member dues. More than half of that, nearly a half-billion per year, comes from public education unions, chief among them the California Teachers Association.

The leadership of these unions are willing to spend hundreds of millions every election cycle to support Democratic candidates and causes. Everywhere. With California’s cities and counties and school boards almost universally dominated by California Teachers Association-approved Democrats, along with both houses of the state legislature and all higher state elected offices, the teachers’ unions have money to burn in the rest of the United States. And that’s exactly what they do, sending out millions to swing close elections to the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and state offices around the country.

Where there’s money for politics, there’s the political clout to completely dominate California’s school system. Thanks to the influence of the teachers’ union, state laws are slowly squeezing charter schools out of existence, with a rising assault on homeschoolers only deferred by the COVID-19 school shutdowns.

Thanks to the teachers’ unions in California, the work rules that prevent teacher accountability and school accountability are already well-established law. Attempting to fire a teacher, or retain the best teachers in layoffs, or even to extend the period of time before a teacher gains tenure and has a job for life, are all rendered nearly impossible in California.

The ways teachers’ unions have used their power to affect the curriculum of California’s public schools are well documented. Most notably, the recent mandate to implement “gender studies” instruction across all age groups that borders on pornographic. Still pending, the mandate to require “ethnic studies” courses as a prerequisite for high-school graduation—something that would have already become law, except the various “stakeholders” haven’t yet agreed on which victimized groups would occupy which positions on the victim hierarchy.

In general, California’s teachers’ unions have committed public schools to a pedagogy that indoctrinates students with their own political ideology. America is a flawed nation founded on racism. White men are oppressors. Capitalism is inherently exploitative. Socialism is the only path to social justice and environmental health.

The impact of the teachers’ unions to reinforce and catalyze California’s socialist vision for America and the world cannot be overstated. Year after year, their money pours over the Sierra Nevada to decisively influence countless political races in the rest of the nation. The national teachers’ unions that lobby for similar curricula around America are dominated by the California leadership and California’s dues revenue.

For over a generation, students thoroughly steeped in socialist ideology have graduated from California’s K-12 schools. As graduates of this indoctrination, they have spread into every state, from the streets of Portland and Seattle to the precincts of Allegheny County. They staff HR departments and activist nonprofits. They are code warriors and social media influencers. The teachers’ unions of California have done their job well. Their proteges are everywhere.

Foment Identity Group Tension

Fundamental to California’s progressive culture is the deconstruction of meritocracy. It’s all an illusion, of course. No start-up that aspires to be Google or Facebook’s next unicorn acquisition expects to achieve such glory by hiring incompetent programmers. But the institutional drive towards erasing colorblind, genderblind criteria has progressed further in California than anywhere else in the United States. For any corporation still doing business in California, these policies have enterprise-wide impact.

Just last month, for example, Newsom signed AB 979, which requires publicly traded corporations to “appoint directors from underrepresented communities to their boards.” A close reading of this law reveals the brazen, punitive arrogance of California’s Democrats, exemplified by the announced fine of $100,000 merely for “failure to timely file board member information with the Secretary of State.”

A tactic of the Left, perfected in California, is to measure aggregate group achievement, by ethnicity or by gender, and then to ascribe all variation between groups either to racism or sexism. And to the argument that perhaps there are factors related to competence, qualifications, and merit, rather than racism or sexism alone explaining these disparities, the response has been to eliminate those factors as official evaluation criteria, or even as subjects we are allowed to discuss.

Why else is it that the regents of the University of California, yielding to pressure from the state legislature, haveeliminated the use of the SAT and ACT tests as a method to evaluate college applicants? Why is it that California is lowering the score required to pass the bar exam and become a licensed attorney?

All of these steps and more are being pioneered in California. In November, California voters will even have the opportunity to bring back affirmative action, which would restore the explicitly racist (and sexist) requirement for public and private institutions to achieve proportional representation by race and gender in admissions, hiring, pay, and promotions. Where does this end?

It doesn’t end there. Governor Newsom has just signed another bill, AB 3070, which will “establish a first-in-the-nation task force to study and make recommendations on reparations for slavery.” Critics have suggested this is just Newsom’s way to position himself to run for president in 2024 or 2028. Maybe. And he could win. But meanwhile, given their record to-date, there is no evidence whatsoever that California’s state legislature would not enact a reparations bill.

As part of their relentless, intrepid quest for social justice, California’s woke Democrats are not just trailblazing quotas, affirmative action, and reparations and exporting them across the United States—another pioneering innovation is to declare racism to be a public health emergency. This notion gained national traction in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but it was already being pushed by health providers in California.

Which brings us to California’s excessive attention to public health, to the point of absurdity and beyond.

Health and Safety Mandates 

The COVID-19 lockdowns may have grabbed the headlines, but California has been going off the deep end in pursuit of health and safety for decades. A good example is Proposition 65, the “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,” sold to voters in 1986. This is the California law responsible for cancer-warning signs so ubiquitous that most Californians know it’s better just to ignore them.

In bars and restaurants, on playground equipment, shoes, umbrellas, and golf club covers, even around Disneyland, consumers are warned that a product served on the premises—even the place itself—“is known to the state of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm.”

While most Californians have gotten used to these warning labels, they are no laughing matter. They expose small businesses to ruinous lawsuits. Prop. 65 is often out of step with scientific consensus because it draws from a reference list of nearly 1,000 chemicals, chosen if, according to state regulators, they could cause “one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifetime.” But with criteria like that, everything causes cancer.

Like so many regulations, the biggest victims of Prop. 65 are small businesses. Prop. 65 deputizes private trial lawyers to search for evidence of noncompliance. Small businesses, which generally don’t have the resources to fight costly legal battles, are often compelled to settle. Because the penalties for “failure to warn” are so steep, businesses paid $35 million in Prop. 65 settlements in 2018, with more than three-quarters of this total going to attorney fees. Some lawyers who specialize in this area take home more than $1 million in fees per year.

The federal government is the only backstop against a law so broad that it applies to products produced anywhere in the world and that are sold in California. In August 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the unprecedented step of issuing guidance stating it won’t approve of Prop. 65’s “false labeling” on the weedkiller Roundup because the science doesn’t support it. EPA didn’t mince words: “It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy.”

This federal action against Prop. 65 came on the heels of a long-sought exemption for coffee in June. This about-face was the result of outrage from coffeemakers, drinkers, and even scientists who demonstrated that coffee was not a cancer risk. Another federal agency—the Food and Drug Administration—threatened to “step in” if the state went ahead with Prop. 65 labels for coffee. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explained that these “could mislead consumers to believe that drinking coffee could be dangerous to their health when it actually could provide health benefits.” Imagine a White House in the hands of someone more favorably disposed to California’s global ambitions.

The Battle For California Is the Battle for America

But again, it’s not just coffee or weed killer. California’s long reach is far more ambitious. What we drive, where we live, and how much we pay for basic necessities—all of these questions are destined to be answered with far more restrictions making everything far more costly, if California’s policies are successfully exported to the rest of the United States.

Despite covering a lot of ground in this discussion of how California is transforming itself and the rest of the nation in the process, there are more examples of equal significance left unexamined. California’s proposed wealth tax borrows from proposals from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and returns the favor by creating a model for states and possibly even the federal government to emulate. There’s also California’s minimum wage laws, set to drive the statewide minimum wage to the highest in the nation; California’s extraordinary hostility to small businesses; and California’s punitive rates of taxation.

To counter California enacting laws and regulations that corporations will simply adopt for their entire global product line, or HR manual, the political and cultural values that dominate California must be challenged. Sadly, many corporations have decided it is more cost-effective for them simply to adopt these practices than to bother fighting them. In California, most corporations have realized their commercial aspirations are actually better served by adhering to the excessive restrictions imposed by California, because it creates artificial scarcity which drives up prices, it creates captive markets purchasing mandated products, and it throws up barriers to innovative competitors lacking the financial resilience to comply.

For these reasons, out-of-state interests must recognize California for what it is—a plutocracy that has put its own interests before the interests of its residents.

This power of this plutocracy is almost indescribable and extends well beyond their alliance with environmentalist nonprofits and public sector unions. California’s plutocrats not only have personal wealth measured in tens of billions, but they control the most powerful corporations on earth. These corporations have monopoly power over America’s online communications and search platforms, and equally if not more significant, their companies are at the epicenter of a high-tech ecosystem capable of developing and rapidly deploying advanced autonomous weapons systems. In a low-intensity civil war, California, allied with other blue states, might easily hold its own.

The Battle for America is the Battle for the Future of the World

California’s plutocrats don’t just have their eye on America, they want to conquer the world. For them, progressive feudalism is the political economy of the future, enabling them to preside over a reduction in the quality of Western lifestyles and individual freedom and a leveling of wealth around the world, while exponentially increasing their own wealth and power.

Once they’ve taken over the United States, they may face a reckoning with the progressive electorate and militant cadres that were their enablers on the ground, but it wouldn’t last long. By then the technology-driven police state will be perfected, with limitless access to robots, slap drones, nanobots, cyberware, and precision pathogens offering effortless control of even the most restive populations.

For these reasons, overcoming the progressive feudalists now, by changing the sentiment of California’s electorate, is not only preferable to violence, it has a higher probability of success. Most Californians have figured out that something is wrong, but they have been brainwashed into fearing the alternatives. They fear meritocracy. They fear capitalism. They fear racism. They fear climate change. They have slowly become accustomed to what is becoming tyranny, and they believe material poverty is necessary to save the planet and atone for racism. And in all these areas, the people who could offer common-sense solutions have been censored and disparaged.

But the progressive feudalists have one fatal weakness: They are wrong. The fundamental premises they use to justify their actions are flawed.

Meritocracy is the only way a free people can create an efficient, prosperous, opportunity society. Without it, nobody has any incentive to innovate or work hard. The capable and hard-working become cynical and resentful, while the incompetent and the indolent know they don’t have to step up, because they can live for free.

Capitalism is not dangerous, it is the engine of progress. It has been conflated with corporate monopolies and financial speculators. What a free nation does is use thoughtful regulations to amputate the gangrenous appendages of capitalist corruption, the predators and the gamblers, leaving the pure and competitive heart of capitalist competition to thrive.

Racism is an odious fact of history, in all nations and cultures, but the facts today in California tell a very different story. Racism, such as it is, is institutionalized to favor nonwhites in every aspect of society, hiring, admissions, and promotions. To the extent racial disparities exist in academic group achievement, it is the result of schools that have been destroyed by the teachers’ union monopoly, which has been proven to disproportionately damage schools in low-income areas. And as courageous conservatives in the black and Latino communities are asserting with increasing confidence, building wealth and income in these communities requires internal cultural change: stay married, work hard, stay in school, study marketable skills, reject drugs and alcohol and gangs. There are ample examples of communities in the United States that have overcome discrimination, or possible discrimination, and have thrived. It can be done. Take responsibility.

Finally, there is climate change, the trump card of the collectivists, played by progressive feudalists whenever they decide it’s time to end the debate and get on with their agenda. But everything the environmental extremists have done in recent years has caused harm. Suburban expansion doesn’t stop climate change, it just makes housing unaffordable. Forest “preservation” doesn’t preserve forests, it turns them into tinderboxes that are periodically obliterated by fire. Natural gas is affordable and clean, and has already allowed Americans to lower their ratio of CO2 emissions to energy consumption to the lowest of all industrialized nations. Are the Chinese and Indians going to lower their emissions? Because if they don’t, so what if Americans do? And what about nuclear power? Why is the renewables lobby shutting down Diablo Canyon?

These are the messages that must be taken to California’s voters, without apology or equivocation. Expand suburbs along the freeway corridors into the vast rangeland of California. Build new reservoirs and restore the aqueducts. Build desalination plants up and down the California coast and keep Diablo Canyon open. Thin the forests, restore the timber industry, and build biomass power plants to turn the trimmings into clean electricity. Instead of squandering billions on the bullet train, widen the roads with smart lanes for high speed, high tech cars. Drill for natural gas in the Monterey Shale. Mine lithium in the Mojave Desert. Deregulate, so builders and business owners can spend their time, talents, and money on productive work instead of permits and fees. And launch a frontal assault on the teachers’ union by enacting school choice with vouchers parents can redeem wherever they want.

This is a contract with California that would entice everyone. This is the enlightened, empowering capitalism that delivers the broad prosperity and freedom that progressive feudalism promises but cannot possibly deliver. This is the agenda that will enable voters in California to understand that competitive abundance is a morally preferable choice. California can be affordable again without compromising environmentalist values.

California can deliver opportunity to everyone again, no matter who they are or where they came from. Americans who want to prevent the Californication of America must step up, dollar for dollar, to counter the spending of California’s public sector unions and resident billionaires.

California’s seething population, searching for answers, must realize the premises used to justify their misery rely on convenient illusions, conjured by special interests for their own gain. But the battle must be fought. Somebody has to tell them.

What is at stake in California is not just California. It is the future of America. It is the future of the world.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

California’s Failed Climate Change Policy

As California burns, Governor Gavin Newsom fiddles – with California’s climate change goals. In response to record-breaking wildfires, the Governor announced that California must accelerate its goal of reaching 100 percent green electricity by 2045. And on September 23, as dark smoke infiltrated our lungs and millions of acres burned, the Governor issued an executive order, requiring the sale of all new cars to be zero-emission by 2035.

But pronouncing distant goals does nothing to reduce the risk of devastating wildfires over the next decade and beyond.

Maybe it’s time to address the consequences of climate change, rather than merely hoping to stop climate change. After all, there is no guarantee that California’s climate change policy will have any effect on arresting climate change, given that California accounts for less than 1 percent of global emissions. But it is virtually guaranteed that our health, homes, and lives will suffer from continued wildfires if the State fails to address the effects of climate change.

None of this means that California should cease its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. But it does mean that California must adopt a more effective, data-based policy for the following reasons:

First, by failing to take sweeping action to address the growing fire risk, the State is actually undermining its climate change goals. The 2018 fires alone released more than 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing over nine times the emissions that were reduced in 2017, according to Beacon Economics. This year’s record-breaking fires will further set back California’s efforts.

Second, California government has utterly failed to conduct any cost-benefit analysis in setting its green energy goals. A review of the legislative reports behind the 2018 legislation, requiring 60 percent of electricity to be derived from renewable energy resources by 2030 and setting a goal of achieving 100 percent renewable or zero-carbon electricity by 2045 reveals an utter lack of empirical analysis regarding the goals’ impact on energy reliability or electrical costs. As a result, electricity prices in California have increased five times as fast as the national average since 2011, affecting jobs and incomes.

Separately, the California Independent System Operator has warned the Public Utilities Commission that California risked energy shortages by shutting down traditional power plants in favor of solar power, which can generate 20-25 percent of the State’s supply, but which vanishes in the evening. That prediction came true this year when a prolonged heat wave resulted in rolling power outages. Yet, California advances its renewable energy goals without assuring energy reliability.

Third, our aging energy infrastructure can spark wildfires when stormy or windy conditions damage transmission lines. After all, the equipment that caused the Paradise fire was on a line built in 1921. However, diverting utilities’ resources to develop more expensive green energy sources has left them without sufficient resources to undertake the necessary, but massive, effort to harden their energy infrastructure.

This year’s record-breaking fire season demonstrates that the State needs to take a less doctrinaire and more pragmatic approach toward addressing climate change. This includes the following:

1. Authorizing a sufficient number of traditional power plants that can immediately supply dependable energy when there are energy shortfalls, as we increase reliance on renewable energy.

2. Implementing a massive program to thin forests and clear them of deadwood. Last month, the Governor and the U.S. Forest Service announced a future joint effort to reduce wildfire risks across one million acres a year through controlled burns and debris removal. By contrast, in an average year, Florida’s state forest service authorizes 2.1 million acres of controlled fires, according to its agriculture department.

3. Using cap-and-trade revenues to help fund an accelerated program to strengthen our aging energy infrastructure, whose vulnerability places homes, lives, and property at risk when high winds knock down transmission lines.

It is time for pragmatic leadership that protects the public today because tomorrow’s goals are no substitute for today’s action.

Dan Kolkey is a former judge and former counsel to Governor Pete Wilson and serves on the board of the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Trump Visits California Sunday for Private Fundraiser in Newport Beach

President Donald Trump made an approximately 2 1/2-hour visit to Orange County Sunday for an early afternoon private fundraiser at tech mogul Palmer Luckey’s Newport Beach estate.

The fundraiser consisted of Trump participating in a roundtable discussion with supporters, then making a speech, according to the White House. It was closed to reporters, like many high-priced fundraisers conducted by presidents of both parties.

Invitations for the fundraiser show tickets ranging from $2,800 for individual admission to $150,000 for a couple to attend and take a photo with the president. Ric Grenell, Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence, was also slated to attend the event. …

Click here to read the full article from the Desert Sun.

San Francisco, Bay Area Rents Plummet Due To Space Concerns, COVID-19

On Tuesday, reports by several realtor and rent-tracking companies found that San Francisco has seen overall rent prices drop by up to 31% since September of 2019, with other Bay area locations also seeing significant drops in rent prices.

According to a Realtor.com study, the average price for a studio apartment in San Francisco fell by 31% to $2,285 a month, a large fall compared to the 0.5% average decline nationwide. Three of the top five counties on the list were from the Bay area, with Santa Clara County and San Mateo County also seeing drops of close to 20%. Alameda County was also in the top 10 with a 12% drop.

The ten largest rent drops per county in the United States since September 2019. (Photo: Realtor.com)

Zumper National Rent Report also found that rent drops are hitting larger apartment as well, with one bedroom apartments falling by at least 20% throughout the city.

The rent drops have been largely due to the COVID-19 lockdown forcing many people to stay at home, with many finding that they want extra room that apartments in suburbs or even cities farther away can provide. Many have also left because of rents simply being too high.

“Before the coronavirus, we had people not minding smaller apartments because of the great area they were in,” noted San Francisco realtor Patricia Hayes-Faber, to the Globe. “But during the virus, so many began working from home, especially tech sector workers. They were now in these small apartments all day, and they couldn’t leave to go to the shops or restaurants around them because they were all closed.

“And that’s when more and more went on the market. Everyone I asked was heading out to Stockton, across the Bay or more south. A few said they were going to LA because it was cheaper there. Imagine that.

“So rents have been going down since then, and are showing no signs of stopping. A lot of these firms that bought these places up during the boom are now panicking because they aren’t getting the desired return on investment. And as more and more leases end, we’re going to see more apartments for cheaper prices.

“If the pandemic goes on for awhile, and people don’t returns to offices right away or places don’t open up, parts of San Francisco can be cheap-ish again. And right now we’re seeing skyrocketing costs of places in Texas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere, so people are being discouraged enough to not move too far out – I’ve had so many clients say they wouldn’t be caught dead in Texas. But we’re going to be seeing a cheaper San Francisco when this is all over, which may bring another boom.”

Political rent shifts in 2020

The shift of rents is also playing havoc with elections this year, as many neighboring areas are seeing a new, generally Democratic-leaning group of voters come in. Some Congressional districts, such as the 4th district, are seeing closer races than usual due to voter influx. Meanwhile, majority Democrat cities themselves are seeing a slight bump in Republican percentages as they have been less likely to move.

“There aren’t a lot of Republican here,” said San Francisco apartment renovator Joel Rourke to the Globe. “But a lot of business we’ve had since COVID-19 has been people who said they were Republican or implied that they voted that way. Five years ago, it was all Democrats who were calling me. But many of them have been leaving. And the people who have been staying are generally wealthier and more Republican. A lot of real estate agents and apartment owners I work with mentioned this too.

“I mean, the city is still very much Democratic. But wouldn’t it be wild if the city starts to go the other way?”

However, despite the large drops, San Francisco still leads the nation in the most expensive one-room bedroom apartments, with the median being priced at $2,830.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Misusing Taxpayers’ Money for Campaigns

California voters are not only voting on presidential, congressional, legislative and local government offices and a dozen statewide ballot measures but deciding the fate of 234 local tax and bond measures.

The California Taxpayers Association estimates that if passed, the local tax measures would raise about $1.5 billion a year in new revenues. The proposed bond issues, mostly for schools, total nearly $15 billion and their passage would automatically trigger increases in property taxes to repay lenders.

These are hefty financial stakes and the local officials that placed measures on the ballot have reason to worry about their passage. Voters rejected 62% of the 239 local measures on the March 3 primary ballot — and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic struck home, the state’s economy plummeted and more than two million jobs were erased.

The recession that’s still raging is a two-edged sword for local government and school officials. It has cut their tax revenues sharply and also tends to make voters even more leery about paying higher taxes.

City council members, county supervisors and school trustees are tempted, in their zeal to persuade voters to vote for new taxes and bonds, to violate a state law prohibiting them from using taxpayer funds for campaign purposes.

Government Code Section 54964 forthrightly declares, “An officer, employee, or consultant of a local agency may not expend or authorize the expenditure of any of the funds of the local agency to support or oppose the approval or rejection of a ballot measure, or the election or defeat of a candidate, by the voters.”

In fact, such violations have become commonplace in recent years. Under the guise of providing “information,” local officials routinely hire campaign management firms to design advertisements, mailers and other material aimed at persuading voters to pass the proposed taxes and bonds.

They have done so because they know that state and local prosecutors just as routinely refuse to prosecute violations of Section 54964 by their fellow officeholders.

The only investigative agency to interest itself in such violations is the California Fair Political Practices Commission and while the FPPC lacks authority to enforce Section 54964, it can treat agencies that step over the line dividing information from advocacy as campaign contributors.

Recently, for example, the FPPC targeted the County of Los Angeles, which in 2017 spent a million dollars for an ill-disguised, but successful, campaign to pass Measure H, a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax. The campaign included broadcast commercials in English and Spanish that used the slogan “Real Help. Lasting Change.”

County officials, without admitting liability, agreed to pay the FPPC a $1.35 million penalty for failing to report their spending as a campaign contribution. However, that pales in comparison to the estimated $355 million a year that Measure H’s passage will generate.

Last week, the FPPC invited the public to use its “AdWATCH” program to monitor the materials local officials are using to promote their tax and bond measures and upload questionable items to the agency for examination and perhaps investigation.

“The public can play a vital role in helping our enforcement division in making sure campaigns and public agencies are following the rules and ensuring a level playing field,” FPPC Chair Richard C. Miadich said in a statement.

The FPPC’s efforts are welcome, despite being an indirect and relatively weak way of discouraging improper use of taxpayer funds for campaigns, but it’s likely to be the only way as long as prosecutors refuse to enforce the law.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

Prop. 20: Will Voters Fix Unintended Consequences in State’s Soft-on-Crime Shift?

Starting with the Legislature’s approval of former Gov. Jerry Brown’s public safety realignment plan in 2011, California has undergone a big change on criminal justice policy.

Turning its back on policies like “Three Strikes” that were passed during the 1990’s, voters approved three ballot measures (Props 36, 47, and 57) that reduced mandatory sentencing laws and shifted thousands of offenders serving time for serious offenses into local communities.

Writing in the forward to Kerry Jackson’s 2019 book Living in Fear in California, PRI President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy Sally C. Pipes writes that, “these collective policy changes represented a radical departure from California’s history of tough-on-crime policies.

With citizen-initiated consequences frequently comes a host of unintended consequences.  Unless there’s a specific provision in the law to allow the Legislature to act, voters must act again to correct them.  That’s what Proposition 20 on the November ballot will give voters the opportunity to do.

Jackson writes in his book that, “since the passing of Prop. 47, some opponents have said that the ballot measure has left law enforcement with less incentive to pursue low-level offenders.”  He writes of a surge of automobile break-ins and surge in repeat burglaries and property crimes since the measure’s passage.  In addition, the surge in shoplifting cases against retailers statewide since these changes went into effect has been well-documented.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s analysis of Prop. 20, any person with two or more prior convictions for theft-related crimes could be charged with a new crime of serial theft.  Those acting with others who commit petty theft or shoplifting two or more times within a 6 month period and the value of the goods stolen exceeded $250 could be charged with organized retail theft.   Both new crimes would be punishable by up to 3 years in county jail.

Proponents write in their official ballot argument that “nonviolent crimes in California include domestic violence, exploding a bomb, shooting into a house with the intent to kill or injure people, raping an unconscious person and beating a child so savagely it could result in coma or death.”  Prop. 20, if enacted, would restore the definition of these crimes – 22 in all – as violent crimes.

As Jackson writes in Living in Fear in California, “expanding the catalog of violent crimes whose violators should not be considered for early release is a rational response to the flaws that have plagued some of the state’s criminal justice reorganizations.”

Opponents of Prop. 20 call it a “prison spending scam” in their official ballot argument.  They make that case that its passage would “waste tens of millions on prisons while cutting rehabilitation programs and support for crime victims.”

To be sure, the Legislative Analyst’s office estimates that “more than several thousand people would be affected by the proposition each year” and annual state and local corrections spending would increase by tens of millions annually if it passes.

But proponents note that under the specific language of Prop. 20, offenders charged and convicted under Prop. 20’s provisions would be “directed to local jail or rehabilitation programs.”

During the Prop. 57 campaign, Gov. Jerry Brown publicly stated that he would exclude sex offenders from parole when implementing the measure.  While Brown may have been sincere in his intent, a judge ruled that they would be included in the rules implementing the measure.  “If the voters had intended to exclude all registered sex offenders from early parole consideration under Proposition 57, they presumably would have said so,” Judge Allen Sumner wrote.

With Prop. 20, California voters now have a chance to say so.  Its fate will have a significant impact on whether the countless incidents of crime related to the passage of last decade’s sweeping public safety policy changes will become a way of life for some time to come.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.