Venice Beach Doesn’t Have a Homelessness Crisis

It has a quality-of-life enforcement crisis.

Last weekend, the New York Times Magazine ran an article on homelessness in Los Angeles. The article framed the problem of street vagrancy as almost entirely a result of insufficient housing. “The state needs to create 1.2 million more homes for low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness—which would cost roughly $17.9 billion annually,” the author, Jaime Lowe, reports. California needs to be smarter about building houses and apartments, but the facts Lowe uncovers don’t point to new housing as a solution to street homelessness.

The article zeroes in on Venice Beach, part of the Venice area of Los Angeles. Venice Beach is a once-gritty area that’s now “gentrified.” Except: it wasn’t that gritty. Twenty-five years ago, Lowe reports, the going rate for a house was $300,000. In 1996, the median home price in the U.S. was $112,000. If Venice Beach was ever the itinerant artist’s paradise that nostalgists depict it as, that was a long time ago. Today, the same house in Venice Beach goes for $2 million—a sign that its residents ought to consider some well-planned construction so that theirs doesn’t become a stagnant community.

In any case, though, such new housing won’t fix the homeless crisis. Nowhere in her 6,000-word article does Lowe find an example of the archetypal homeless person of casual understanding: a down-on-his luck, working-class man or woman who had a house in Venice Beach—whether rented or owned—and lost it after getting fired, having a spouse die, or suffering a disability or illness. That’s not to say that such cases don’t exist, but they’re certainly not the norm for the hundreds of people who have pitched tents and cardboard boxes or built plywood shanties along the beach, boardwalk, and sidewalks.

The homeless individuals featured in the article are all long-term transients afflicted with substance addiction, mental illness, or both. One young man tells Lowe that he came to Venice Beach from Washington State last year, “hoping for a new life apart from his estranged wife and children.” He appears to have no disability preventing him from working; he paints artwork to sell. He’s less a romantic artist than (likely) a child-support deadbeat who left someone else with the burden of making a living for his offspring. An older man, 64, says he’s been homeless for three decades, after “his family banished him because of his alcoholism.” The star of the story is a 19-year-old woman who goes by the name of “Angel.” She was recently arrested for weapons possession and recently refused government shelter inland, preferring the beach.

The story characterizes efforts to build housing for such individuals as facing a “fierce NIMBY pushback,” but it’s no mystery why Venice residents would oppose such measures as a 140-unit shelter building along the area’s main boulevard. It would be one thing if local officials could promise that after the area accepted the building, no one would ever sleep, defecate, or urinate on public property again. But nowhere does the article acknowledge that 140 new units—or 500, 1,000, or 10,000—in a resort town of 40,000 housed residents would not solve the problem. A beachfront community is by definition isolated from large employers in diverse industries. There’s little mass transit. This is a place where people buy property to relax or retire, not to invest in factories, warehouses, white-collar office buildings, or large-scale retail stores. Venice Beach is thus not the best place for a person with a short or nonexistent employment history and limited education to find an entry-level job and start to move up.

Venice Beach, then, faces not a displaced-persons problem but a transient problem. Owing to its nice weather, well-meaning volunteers who give out food and clothing, and Los Angeles’s lax approach to encampments, addicts and other lost souls are drawn there from around the country.

What kind of market housing could Venice Beach build that would be affordable to a 19-year-old woman with no job? The Times article is striking in its lack of curiosity about Angel’s background. A 19-year-old was a minor child not long ago. Where did she come from? If she could not live with her parents or guardians because of severe abuse, didn’t that town, city, or state have social services that would have put her into foster care or young-adult supportive housing and subsidize her college education or vocational training? Does her hometown have the same supposed severe housing shortage as Venice Beach does?

It’s dishonest to blame NIMBYs for this crisis or to paint local residents who don’t want to be harassed by vagrant men as somehow privileged. If Los Angeles does build subsidized, below-market housing around Venice Beach, why should that housing not go to people who already have stable jobs in the area, or who are interested in finding one—with a small fraction reserved for people who, at the very least, agree to start weaning themselves from alcohol and drugs, to learn skills needed for employment, and to pass each part of a mandated multistep program?

Rather than attempt to spend tens of billions of dollars a year to house the nation’s transients, California would be better off using limited resources to attempt to connect and re-integrate people like Angel into their home communities until they have the resources to start a new life by themselves. But to embark on such a strategy, Los Angeles would need a stick to go with the carrot. That could go something like this: the city will put you into temporary shelter if you have no other place to go, and it will get you inpatient mental-health and addiction treatment if warranted, but it will not offer transients with no long-term ties to the community any long-term housing—and no, you can’t live in a tent on a beach.

Nicole Gelinas is a City Journal contributing editor, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street—and Washington.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

Housing Policy – The Tax Implications of SB 9 and 10

The Legislature has gone into summer recess leaving a lot of unfinished business.

When they return, among the most controversial proposals left unresolved are bills addressing the state housing crisis.

While no one disputes the need for more housing, the broader policy issue is whether state micromanaging of local land use decisions is in the public interest.

There are several bills circulating in the capitol, but the two that have drawn the most public wrath are Senate Bills 9 and 10. Taxpayer advocates and neighbor associations oppose both SB9 and SB10 because of the potential loss of local control and higher taxes.

Senate Bill 9 permits “by right the development of two units on single-family lots” and allows “[subdivision of] a parcel that is zoned for single-family residential use;” that “in conjunction with the two-unit provision” could “result in a total of four units on the lot.” This is a reintroduction of last session’s SB 1120.

Senate Bill 10 would “authorize a local government to adopt an ordinance to zone any parcel for up to 10 units of residential density per parcel, at a height specified in the ordinance, if the parcel is located in a transit-rich area or an urban infill site.” It would override HOA agreements and voter initiatives that prohibited or limited such development in those areas. Last year’s version of this bill was SB 902.

Although not obvious, there are property tax implications with these proposals.

While owner-occupied single-family residences in single-family residential zoning will likely not see any reassessment from SB 9 and SB 10 thanks to Proposition 13, there’s a possibility that a tenant-occupied home would not have this protection. It’s also possible that an owner-occupied single-family residence that is not located in single-family residential zoning could similarly face a challenge to the valuation when it is sold.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Serious COVID-19 Cases On The Rise In L.A.

Los Angeles County health officials reported 2,089 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, with hospitalizations rising as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread.

There are 716 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 452 on July 16, officials said. The county also reported four new deaths, bringing the total to 24,628 fatalities since the pandemic began early last year.

On Saturday, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned that the Delta variant was “one of the most aggressive and infectious respiratory diseases known and currently makes up over 80% of sequenced cases in L.A. County.”

Although cases remain at a lower point than they have been during any of the previous surges, the rate of increase between July 3 and 16 was 135%. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Newly-Released Casebooks Provide Insights on California Government

After several years of work, my two casebooks on California government have been published this summer. The first casebook, “Cases and Materials on Direct Democracy in California,” was published by Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company. The second casebook, “The California Legislature and Its Legislative Process: Cases and Materials,” was published by Carolina Academic Press.

Both of these casebooks are the first of their kind, exploring in-depth California’s three forms of direct democracy, as well as the California Legislature’s powers and authority, as well as the state legislative process. They are intended to provide readers with a thorough understanding of direct democracy as it is used in this state, as well as the California Legislature and the process of enacting laws.

These casebooks are intended for college and law students, as well as practitioners. They have similar formats in that they both review the relevant state constitutional and statutory provisions and key appellate court decisions that interpret and explain many of the constitutional and Government Code provisions. There are also explanatory materials throughout the casebooks for many of the areas covered, as well as commentaries reflecting current legal issues. For the benefit of readers, and course instructors who use the casebook, many of these explanations, and all of the court decisions, are followed by notes and questions to provide further insights and prompt additional thought and discussion about the cases and materials covered.

In addition to the explanatory materials, numerous appellate court cases are included throughout the casebook. The cases included were chosen because they will help explain the relevant areas of law, and the cases are written clearly with analysis of the facts and law to demonstrate to students how the courts reached their decisions.

The Direct Democracy in California casebook is published by Kendall Hunt Publishing Company and can be purchased by following this link:

https://he.kendallhunt.com/product/cases-and-materials-direct-democracy-california

The California Legislature and Its Legislative Process casebook is published by Carolina Academic Press and can be purchased by following this link:

https://cap-press.com/books/isbn/9781531020392/The-California-Legislature-and-Its-Legislative-Process

More of California’s Big Cities on the Way to Becoming Next Detroit

Two waves have rolled through California in 2021. One so hot that high temperature records were set throughout the state. The other so chilling that stores have shortened their hours and even closed altogether to avoid it.

By now, the video of a shoplifter last month filling what appears to be a plastic garbage bag of the items of his choice at a San Francisco Walgreens, then pedaling off on a bike as customers and a security guard watched, has gone viral. Its capacity to shock, however, has since been surpassed by the video of at least 10 thieves running out of the San Francisco Neiman Marcus in open daylight on July 6 taking with them as much stolen merchandise as they could handle.

The Walgreens suspect was eventually caught – while “clearing shelves of cosmetics and placing the merchandise into a duffel bag” at another store, police said. The Neiman Marcus thieves remain free.

Retailers’ response to the shameless thieving in San Francisco has been to close stores – Walgreens has shuttered 17 in the city – or shorten business hours – Target believes forgoing four hours of sales is preferable to losing tens of thousands of dollars to theft, and is now closing its stores in at 6 p.m. rather than 10 p.m., because “for more than a month, we’ve been experiencing a significant and alarming rise in theft and security incidents at our San Francisco stores,” a company spokesperson said.

“Crime,” says the self-identified photographer and reporter who posted the Neiman Marcus video on Instagram, “is legal basically” in District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s San Francisco.

Truth is, it’s tough all around in California. Across the Bay, Oakland Police fought their way through “12 hours of nonstop chaos” over the July 4 weekend. Between 6:30 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. Monday there were seven shootings in the city. A 48-year-old man died, the city’s 67th homicide of the year. A 35-year-old male was shot and killed the morning of July 6, found at a homeless camp. Later in the evening, another man was shot and killed while driving home. There were only 39 homicides in Oakland by this time last year.

To the south, San Jose Police recently recovered nearly $100,000 worth of allegedly stolen goods. A suspect was arrested in May, and officials believe he is “the middleman for an underground network for stolen goods,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Still farther south, the growing brutality recalls another era remembered for its violence. Los Angeles officials reported in June that homicides in the city had increased to 162 from 129 over the same period in 2020, while shootings reached 651 compared to 434 last year. Though reported sexual assaults and robberies have fallen, overall violent crime is up by 4.3%, according to Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, with aggravated assaults growing 9.5%. Over the July 4 weekend, Los Angeles police “recorded 12 murders and the Sheriff’s Department another four,” says Los Angeles magazine.

The capital has not been spared, either. Sacramento is ranked 10th by the National Retail Federation in its list of cities with the worst retail crime. (Three California cities are in the top 10, with San Francisco fifth, Los Angeles No. 1.) But violence has risen, too. “As of June 2, there were 24 homicides in the city this year, compared to 16 through the same period last year,” the Sacramento Bee reports. “Through May, there were at least 200 firearm-related assaults, more than a 120% increase over the first five months of 2020.”

Meanwhile, San Diego police are asking for the “public’s help to fight the ‘disturbing surge’ in violent crime.”

Earlier this year, the question was asked by PRI in the Daily Caller if San Francisco and Los Angeles could become the next Detroit due to rising crime.

Given the recent trends in San Jose, Oakland and others, perhaps the question now should be could any, or all, of California’s major cities become the next Detroit? (Gamblers should still put their money on San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the district attorneys have been so lax in prosecuting crimes that both are targets of recall efforts.)

The historical narrative says that Detroit was one of America’s greatest cities. At one time it ranked as the fifth-largest municipality in the country, and the global capital of automobile manufacturing. Its name was synonymous with progress. It was often said that as General Motors goes, so does the nation.

But in the present, “Detroit’s violent crime leads the nation,” according to the local media.

“Progressive” economic and regulatory policies – identified by economist Thomas Sowell as “increasing taxes, harassing businesses, and pandering to unions” – have wrecked nations and can do the same to cities. While these factors contributed to Detroit’s decline, they were not, however, solely responsible. The Motor City was hollowed out in part by the flight of residents fed up with the crime. Sowell said the riot of 1967, which killed 43, injured nearly 1,200 and damaged more than 2,000 buildings, “marked the beginning of the decline of Detroit to its current state of despair.”

Don’t think it can’t happen here.

Proposition 47, “pushed by George Gascón,” then San Francisco’s district attorney, now the top prosecutor in Los Angeles, and passed by voters by a 60-40 margin in 2014, rolled out the welcome wagon for thieves. Among its several provisions was to allow shoplifters to steal as much as $950 in merchandise without being charged for a felony. It created a class of criminals who have been “going into stores with a calculator so they can make sure that what they steal is worth less than $950,” says Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Robin Shakely.

It has also created conditions in which an ordinary shopping trip can turn into a dangerous encounter with thieves.

While shoppers have been sharing aisles with shoplifters, the “defund the police” movement has “inspired” some policymakers to surrender to the extortionist demands of rioters. The Los Angeles City Council, for instance, has slashed the Police Department’s budget by $150 million. Oakland cut its police budget by $17 million.

Not all, though, have yielded to the mob. San Francisco Mayor London Breed proposed last year shifting $120 million away from law enforcement, but it appears funding will be instead increased in coming years. Sacramento is considering a $9.4 million increase on police spending, and San Diego has passed a budget that sends more money to law enforcement, despite pressure to starve the department of resources.

What could have possibly caused an apparent re-evaluation of the campaign to defund the police?

Could be that videos of thieves playing on a loop was a persuasive argument against demands to treat criminal behavior as a nuisance that, like a cracked sidewalk, just has to be tolerated.


Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

SF Bars Now Requiring Proof of Vaccination

COVID-19 numbers in the Bay Area have been trending up and bars in San Francisco are reacting accordingly.

If you’re planning to visit the city this weekend, you might want to carry your vaccination card as many bars are now requiring to see proof of immunization.

Aside from your ID card, bars such as 7 Stills Brewery and Distillery started asking for proof of vaccination only if dining inside their establishment.

“Proof of vaccination either means you have your actual card or photo of your card. But that’s only inside,” said manager Texas Enkil. “Outside you can dine or drink in our beer garden, no proof of vaccination required.” …

Click here to read the full article from NBC Bay Area

Rights In Conflict: Individual Liberties vs. The Public Good In A Time Of A Pandemic

The conflict between the civil liberties of individuals and the collective public good could not be more clearly defined than it is now on the issues of vaccinations and masks as we battle a deadly pandemic. While I consider myself a defender of civil liberties, in the current dichotomy I come down strongly on the side of the collective good.

To arrive at this position I had to reach an accommodation with two points raised by civil libertarians.

1. The vaccines are not fully approved, thus under rules established after WW II to preclude future atrocities such as those perpetrated by the Nazis, people cannot be required to take experimental drugs.

2. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) protects individual privacy in medical matters so people cannot be asked if they are vaccinated or required to show proof of vaccination.

To the first I say this is not Nazi Germany and the circumstance are far different than the Nazi medical experimentations of the early 1940s. While the vaccines have not yet been fully approved, evidence is clear that they are effective in quelling the spread of the pandemic and promoting the general welfare.

To the second I say HIPPA is intended to provide protection for personal health information and gives individuals an array of rights with respect to that information. It was not intended to shield disease-carrying individuals from their responsibility to the greater community or to prohibit society from protecting itself.

The notion of setting aside certain civil liberties when rights are in conflict is widely recognized and accepted both legally and morally.

A. Your right to free speech does not give you the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.

B. Your right to throw a punch ends just short of the tip of my nose.

There are people among us who assert their right to remain unvaccinated and roam about unmasked. They have demonstrated their commitment to resist appeals to reason and a better nature. They do so even in the face of a COVID surge that is raging almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. …

The full version of this article can be found at www.thepoliticaldish.com.

The Prosperity Economy – Fixing California Part Nine

The policy topics considered in this series — energywatertransportationhousinglaw enforcement and the homelessforestry, and education — have all been hijacked by ideologues.

Because of this, and regardless of the relevance, climate change and racism are the two broad and urgent themes that dominate policy discussions and decisions on these issues. And in all cases, these alleged crises are used to distort policies and derail projects. They become the primary focus, limiting options, enabling impractical and expensive schemes, and always with a pessimistic outlook. This series has offered a different set of perspectives through which to view these topics: abundance, pragmatism, and optimism.

There are other big challenges that dominate the political dialogue in California and throughout America. It is a broad and diverse list. But the seven topics chosen, if properly addressed, fulfill a practical goal. They give back to Californians — all Californians — something that’s been missing for decades: a prosperity economy where anyone willing to work hard can afford to live a secure life.

The governing ideology in California today is corporate socialism hiding behind the moral imperatives of fighting climate change and combating racism. California today is run by an alliance of special interests — tech monopolies, public-sector unions, leftist billionaires, extreme environmentalists, and social justice warriors — who are crushing the middle class. Their motivations differ, and their intentions may not be so explicit, but their actions share the same goal. Environmentalists believe the middle-class lifestyle is ecologically unsustainable. Social justice warriors believe the middle class is racist and exclusionary. To the extent small businesses are wiped out and consumers are forced to buy green gadgets and pay more for everything, tech monopolies and billionaires accrue even more wealth and power. Public-sector unions share the ideology of the environmentalists and social justice warriors, and use collective bargaining to largely exempt themselves from the worst consequences afflicting the private sector middle class. But it’s all wrong.

Wanting to save the planet and end systemic racism may be legitimate moral concerns. But the policies being implemented in their name are not working. Rationing, redistribution, and retribution are the themes behind current policies. But rationing breeds corruption and squeezes resiliency out of the system. Socialist redistribution destroys incentives, and, not incidentally, socialism managed by mega-corporations is still socialism. It is an authoritarian, centralized system of governing that replaces the competitive, decentralized, and pluralistic economy that is essential to maintaining freedom and prosperity. Moreover, continuously accentuating the negative aspects of environmental health and race relations is one-sided, punitive, pessimistic, inaccurate, and psychologically unhealthy. We have come so far. We have done so much. Where is that recognition? Where is the optimism?

Practical solutions that lead to abundance need to be the ideology, if you want to call it that, to inform policy on issues affecting prosperity in California—and the United States, for that matter. With abundant desalinated water from the ocean, perpetually recycled wastewater, and storm runoff that’s saved for timely release from high dams, environmentalists have more ways to maintain downstream ecosystems and ordinary people can take showers again without worrying about getting fined.

Abundant water and energy provide resilience to climate change. Building more suburbs opens up opportunities for everyone to achieve homeownership. Enforcing vagrancy laws and laws against hard drugs and petty theft creates a deterrent, pushing individuals towards making healthy choices in their lives. Next-generation roads give everyone mobility. Practical education with immutable standards creates uniform incentives, so everyone knows that if they can meet the standards they will not be passed over.

The policy recommendations that appeared throughout this series are not written with any attempt to adhere to any conventional ideology. Libertarians and anti-tax activists may object to certain public works projects, particularly with respect to water and transportation. While the recommendations concerning California’s energy sector focus primarily on deregulation, and rely mostly on private investment, environmentalists may not accept the argument that California can set a better example to the world by pioneering the cleanest methods possible to use natural gas and nuclear power. Environmentalists will certainly struggle with the solution to forestry management—logging, grazing, and controlled burns—but properly done and privately funded, these enterprises would restore health to the forests and create thousands of jobs.

Public investment is an essential part of any solution to California’s punitive cost of living and hostile business environment. By investing in water and transportation infrastructure and deregulating energy production, enabling infrastructure costs less to the end-user. Homebuilders don’t have to build into home prices the fees to build the roads and utility conduits. Businesses don’t have to pay prices for gas and electricity that are more than double the rates in most other states, and many times the rates in other nations.

There’s an important irony to recognize in the calls from both environmentalists and libertarians for the state to not make these investments. Why spend $50 billion on civil engineering projects to increase California’s annual supply of water to farms and cities by 5 million acre-feet or more? Why not just conserve, and save all that money? Notwithstanding the resiliency argument, which ought to be reason enough, the irony is that the money will still be spent. Instead of wealthier households paying slightly more in taxes, low-income households will have to cover the costs of new “water sipping” appliances that don’t work very well, higher water bills, higher electric bills, and more expensive homes to buy or rent. Subsidizing the capital costs for enabling infrastructure yields long-term reductions to the cost-of-living, and distributes those savings to everyone.

There’s also an important factor that is too often lost in the panic over climate and race relations, and the rush towards authoritarian solutions to these sudden emergencies: corporate special interests benefit when there is scarcity. Does anyone think the financial firms trading water futures want cheap water? Or that corporate agribusiness doesn’t plan to buy every family farm that can’t financially withstand consecutive years of drought? Does anyone think public utilities want to go back to delivering cheap energy, when their profits are pegged by law to a fixed percentage of revenue? Does anyone think the homeless-industrial complex doesn’t love the subsidies attendant to building “permanent supportive housing” on some of the most expensive real estate on the planet? “Inclusive zoning” requires that they locate their projects on land that in some actual cases would sell for over $10 million an acre. This is an outrageous scandal, but if you object, you’re a racist. If you’re wondering what “corporate socialism” means, this is it.

California’s public education curricula, along with California’s policies that prevent effective law enforcement, also reflect the corporate socialist mentality. “Restorative justice” is meant to atone for systemic racism and capitalist oppression. Students and criminals alike are victims of society. Better to tell them this lie than admit the reason California is unaffordable is that mega-corporations are rolling up the entire state and turning it into a company town. Don’t teach them practical skills, make them angry. Don’t punish crimes to create a deterrent to more crime, let them sow chaos. Exploit the unrest to nurture a generation of activists demanding racial justice and environmental justice by any means necessary. Then oblige them. Because no group is easier prey for grifters and demagogues than angry people.

The policies to reverse California’s regressive, authoritarian drift require a cultural shift. An awakening. And this awakening requires a movement not of indignation but of joy. The only way to convince millions of thoroughly indoctrinated, deliberately embittered and panicked Californians is through controlled passion. An unforgettable excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster provides a cautionary example:

“It was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost.”

How do you wipe out anger and horror? How do you erase the negativity that is the currency of the social justice warriors and the climate catastrophists? Facts matter. But to cast light into darkness and change hearts, facts are useless without also presenting a beautiful vision.

The other side can afford hysteria and hate, they can afford to divide their own ranks and eat their own, because it is all smoothed over with rivers of money. Our side can only win if we exude not just tough resolve, but love, compassion, humility, tolerance, and empathy.

This is the power of optimism, the belief that abundance is possible, the suggestion that ideology matters, but sometimes practical solutions matter more. Critics of California’s dysfunction accurately describe the problems and the culprits, often with justifiable rage. But there is an irresistible, contagious joy in imagining a future where homes are affordable again, where good jobs are plentiful, where the schools are succeeding and the streets are clean. There is joy in imagining what Californians can do if they have a reliable supply of cheap water and electricity and uncongested roads and freeways. There is joy in imagining the next great leaps in innovation that can come from California—innovation in politics as well as in technology.

Think big. Embrace solutions, but also imagine them realized. Visualize California in just a few decades, heading toward the 22nd century. Imagine a state where abundant energy and water and new, smart roads have enabled megastructures in the urban core and spacious suburbs spreading like penumbra along the interstate corridors. Picture passenger drones and subterranean tunnels crossing the great cities. Spaceplanes carrying passengers from San Francisco to Singapore in 30 minutes.

Consider California, a nation within a state, with mountains and deserts separating it from the rest of America, vast and golden, nestled on the Pacific Rim. Consider California in 2050, with the people fulfilling every bit of their potential and realizing their aspirations, because back in the 2020s and 2030s, Californians had the foresight to invest in massive but practical projects and transformative but sensible policies. This is the prosperity economy. This is the opportunity to advocate today. This is the choice. Anything is possible.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Poll: More Than Half of California Voters Say Gov. Newsom is Responding Poorly to Homelessness

An estimated 161,000 people are experiencing homelessness in California, more than in any other, and the crisis continues to grow. Advocates say they can’t house people quickly enough with a shortage of housing units and high rents.

An exclusive Inside California Politics / Emerson College poll asked respondents to rate Newsom’s response to homelessness in the state.

The poll of more than 1,000 registered voters, which has a margin of error of +/-2.9%, revealed more than half of respondents rated Newsom’s response to homelessness as poor. A total of 25% voted fair, 16% for good, and 7% of respondents said his response was excellent. …

Click here to read the full article from KTLA5

Illegal Marijuana Farms Are Stealing California’s Scarce Water

One day last spring, water pressure in pipelines suddenly crashed In the Antelope Valley, setting off alarms. Demand had inexplicably spiked, swelling to three and half times normal. Water mains broke open, and storage tanks were drawn down to dangerous levels. 

The emergency was so dire in the water-stressed desert area of Hi Vista, between Los Angeles and Mojave, that county health officials considered ordering residents to boil their tap water before drinking it.

“We said, ‘Holy cow, what’s happening?’” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. 

It took a while for officials to figure out where all that water was going: Water thieves — likely working for illicit marijuana operations — had pulled water from remote filling stations and tapped into fire hydrants, improperly shutting off valves and triggering a chain reaction that threatened the water supply of nearly 300homes.

As drought grips most of California, water thievery across the state has increased to record levels. Bandits in water trucks are backing up to rivers and lakes and pumping free water they sell on a burgeoning black market. Others, under cover of darkness, plug into city hydrants and top up. Thieves also steal water from homes, farms and private wells, and some even created an elaborate system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines during the last drought. Others are MacGyvering break-ins directly into pressurized water mains, a dangerous and destructive approach known as hot-tapping. 

InMendocino County, the thefts from rivers and streams are compromising already depleted Russian River waterways. In one water district there, thefts from hydrants could compromise a limited water supply for fighting fires, which is why they have put locks on hydrants.

“Any way that you can imagine that somebody is going to grab water, they’re doing it,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall. “For goodness sakes, everybody knows what is going on.”

It’s as predictable as a dreary economics lesson: When a commodity becomes scarce and demand soars, it’s worth stealing. 

Officials say water thefts are increasing at about the same rate as the decline in California’s water supplies. Complaints have risen sharply this year, mirroring the drought’s inexorable advance.

Halfway through this year, 125 Californians have reported thefts to state authorities, more than twice as many as a decade ago. Those numbers don’t capture calls to local officials or small water districts that shoulder the bulk of enforcement responsibility. 

The water thefts not only strain police agencies but also damage valuable equipment. In the Antelope Valley, water main breaks, which can cost $10,000 each to repair, had been averaging about two a year. In the past year, there have been a dozen, Saraiya said.

Water users are now proactively protecting their supplies. Many fire hydrants are being locked or removed altogether. Water tank owners have installed security cameras. In rural areas, residents who have no access to municipal water systems and rely on key-activated water stations are finding their critical lifelines are shut down because of incessant tampering. A robust black market for the keys has popped up, and now most stations operate only during daylight hours.

In the Antelope Valley city of Lancaster, impound yards are hosting growing collections of confiscated water trucks. In one area, fire authorities removed 100 of the area’s 176 hydrants deemed not essential to public safety. Remaining hydrants were fitted with locks.

No cache of water is safe. During the last major drought, businesses, schools and even a fire station were victims of water theft. In 2014, thieves pumped water from storage tanks belonging to the North San Juan Fire Protection District in Nevada County, in the mountains northeast of Sacramento.

“I came to the station one morning and there was a big wet spot,” said Boyd Johnson, the district’s former battalion chief. He said the water was taken for several weeks until they locked the system. “We share that water with CalFire, and, obviously, water was critical to firefighting.”

California’s water and weed 

The most-common culprit of water theft: illegal pot farms. While farmers, ranchers and licensed marijuana growers scramble to obtain water through legal channels, clandestine operations are stealing it or purchasing it from illicit trucks.

In the Sierra Nevada, as many as 4,000 illegal grow sites are operating in Nevada County, according to county estimates. In the Antelope Valley, illegal grows have doubled from 200 last year to 400 today, according to county data, while other estimates put the number in the thousands. 

While the vast desert affords a degree of privacy to pot operations, it lacks a critical component to growing things: water. One cannabis farmer near Lancaster bought a house simply to run a garden hose across the desert to his illegal grow site. Officials shut off the line, but the ever-resourceful thieves tapped into another underground line and kept watering their plants.

Marijuana is not a particularly thirsty crop — using about the same amount of water as a tomato plant — but the drought’s severity means that even a modest water diversion can have impacts.

“Most Californians would be shocked and disappointed at the amount of water these unlicensed, illegal grows are using, especially as California suffers from a drought,” Curt Fallin, a federal Drug Enforcement Agency agent, said during a recent news conference. “By our calculation, the illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day.”

That’s enough water for 72,000 people, almost half the population of Lancaster, which is so water-short that the city imposed temporary restrictions on lawn sprinklers last month.

In far northern, mountainous Siskiyou County — which is facing extreme drought conditions this year —  sheriffs estimated that during the last drought, illegal pot sites consumed two million gallons of water a day. That would supply three-quarters of the county’s residents today. 

With climate change driving longer and more severe droughts around the globe, researchers last year estimated that as much as half the world’s water supply is being stolen every year, citing statistics gathered by the United Nations and Interpol in Europe. 

Whack-a-mole in the Mojave

On a recent hot July day, Charles Bostwick, an assistant field deputy for county Supervisor Barger, piloted his Jeep down mile after mile of dusty roads in the Antelope Valley, past dozens of cannabis grow sites.

Stark white “hoop houses” rise from the flat desert floor. When lit at night, the compounds cast an eerie glow. Operators make little effort to hide the sites, which are littered with trash baking in the Mojave Desert sun and guarded by armed men. Scattered along the road to one site was a porcelain toilet, plastic chairs and a coiled garden hose. Bulldozed Joshua trees lay in haphazard piles. The fender of a rusting truck was spray painted “out” and next to it was another one with “keep” scrawled on the side.

Bostwick drove up to a grow that was recently raided and razed in a multi-agency bust. The thieves were nothing if not industrious: Not only had another marijuana compound sprouted across the rutted road, complete with a water tank and a large RV, but the just-destroyed site was in the midst of rapid rebuilding.

“We bust them and they move somewhere else and begin again,” Bostwick said. “It’s a non-stop game of whack-a-mole.”

He said drought is accelerating water theft in the already water-stressed region. 

“We have no water to spare and our farmers are making do with less,” Bostwick said. “We never had water thefts here (in the Antelope Valley) two years ago. A homeless guy climbing over the fence of a trailer park and filling his five-gallon jug in the laundry room — that was our water theft.”

Law enforcement officials around the state are employing satellite imagery and drones in high-tech stakeouts to track water diversions. But the thieves are brazen, no longer confining themselves to nighttime water raids. Los Angeles County supervisors have allocated more than $250,000 for enhanced sheriff’s patrols, hunting for water trucks. 

But, again, the thieves are a step ahead. When it became clear that law enforcement was on the lookout for suspicious water tankers, thieves shifted to putting 275-gallon water cubes in the back of their pickups or on trailers. More recently, they have taken to renting U-Haul vans to hide their cargo. Any conveyance with space to carry is put to work: Bostwick said someone in the area is driving around an old fire truck, and another guy is using what appears to be a converted airline fuel tanker.

The jerry-rigged water haulers are dangerous and road accidents are common, Bostwick said. A cube containing 275 gallons of water weighs a ton. Lashing such a heavy and easy-to-shift cargo on trucks can cause it to tip over. In May, the driver of a pickup truck hauling a water cube died after he lost control on a two-lane road near Lancaster and ran head-on into a semi tractor-trailer.

Everyone seems to be in the water business. Jose Huerta set up shop from his pickup at a remote desert crossroads, selling empty 55-gallon water drums for $55 and water cubes — stout plastic containers surrounded by a metal cage — for $100. Business is brisk, he said, adding that he doesn’t ask what his customers do with the containers. “Everyone needs water,” he said.

Some take a more direct approach. Locals in the Antelope Valley report high-pressure tactics to sell land for the wells or water rights. 

Gailen Kyle grows alfalfa in the arid desert on a farm he works with his wife, Julie. Their home is surrounded by illicit pot operations, which he finds both frightening and frustrating. He’s had intimidating characters come to his door pressuring him to sell out, he said, and other farmers are already reporting that illegal over-pumping is lowering production in their wells.

“I have zero water, all we have is wells,” said Kyle, whose water allocation has been reduced by 50% this year. “They cut my water and these marijuana grows are operating on stolen water. They are getting water from all over and watering hundreds of acres. This is anarchy.”

For those without wells, the problem is more acute. In Lancaster, at a water district parking lot, a water station that supplies residents was in disarray. Scraped and gouged, an armored door appeared to have been opened with a screwdriver rather than a key. A fire hose lay uncoiled on the asphalt, damp and limp.

The water station had been targeted by thieves so often that authorities shut it down. Its digital readout blinked: “Port has been disabled by host.”

Lax penalties and intimidation

The increase in water theft has exposed not only the vulnerabilities in the state systems to secure water, but also the complications of enforcing laws with penalties that no longer reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Authorities in California say they are working with limited tools to understand and combat the problem. In 2018 California law legalized recreational marijuana use by adults, and reduced penalties for cultivation of large quantities of pot from a felony to a misdemeanor. So law enforcement officials say it’s difficult to prosecute water theft for illegal grows because judges are circumspect about issuing search warrants for a low-level crime. 

“I don’t mean to be rude, but the state is taking the word ‘criminal’ out of the dictionary,” said Marina West, general manager of the Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency, which serves about 2,000 customers north of Palm Springs.

“We’re here to provide water to this community, we’re not here to provide cheap water to an illegal business that’s making millions of dollars.”

Another impediment to more robust reporting and enforcement: intimidation. According to Kyle, the Antelope Valley farmer, one of his neighbors was shown a photograph of a bullet-riddled truck and warned by an alleged cartel member that it could be her fate if she made official complaints about the illegal cannabis sites. Growers monitor and routinely photograph anyone coming near their operations. 

Two managers of Southern California water agencies backed out of interviews with CalMatters, saying they were afraid that going public with information about water theft would put their employees at risk.

The state Water Resources Board, which has a modest cadre of 80 investigators who track water diversion and theft from California’s rivers and streams, cannot begin to keep up with the epidemic of stolen water. Nor is the agency’s $1,000 a day fine for water theft proving to be an effective deterrent to offset the rewards for a multi-billion dollar criminal industry.

After the last drought, in 2018, state officers found nearly 1,000 water rights violations and imposed more than $1 million in fines. Last year, inspection work was severely curtailed because of the pandemic.

“What we are recognizing is that water scarcity is the new norm. It’s offensive to see water go to support this illegal industry when legal industries are struggling for water,” said Yvonne West, the water board’s director of enforcement. 

West’s department keeps an eye on 5,000 legal marijuana cultivators, but an estimated 25,000 are operating illegally “outside the program.” The imbalance keeps state enforcement efforts on a constant back foot.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” she said.

Local authorities are seeking more control. Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, fed up with water theft and their lack of authority to address it, passed a resolution to petition state legislators to give them power to prosecute water theft, especially during severe droughts. Other counties are either considering similar actions or, like Siskiyou, have already called on Sacramento for help.

“As the state enters another potential drought emergency, we need to ensure that this new activity does not further exacerbate water scarcity,” said Barger, who co-authored the Los Angeles County resolution.

A model from Down Under

As California officials lament the lack of legal teeth to prosecute water thieves, they can find an enforcement model in Australia, the planet’s driest inhabited continent.

Illegally siphoning of the Murray and Darling rivers, which irrigate crops and livestock in Australia’s agricultural heartland, was until a few years ago common — and commonly overlooked. Fruit, grain and cotton growers operated massive pumps at will, often pulling out many times more water than legally permitted and drawing down the river during droughts.

The powerful growers stole water “with no fear of sanction,” said Grant Barnes, chief regulatory officer for the New South Wales’ natural resources department. “There were more parking wardens in a town in New South Wales than regulators in the entire state.”

Barnes estimated that tens of billions of dollars worth of water was being stolen. But Australian authorities had little understanding of the volumes pumped illegally because farmers often removed or tampered with meters. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Barnes said.

That changed in 2018 when the new agency led by Barnes clamped down with a large enforcement team backed by fines and the threat of revocation of water licenses. In their three years on the beat,  the new water cops — about 100 inspectors and other staffers — have prosecuted 31 cases, compared to 8 in the previous 17 years.

Farmers were told “no meter, no pump.” An accurate meter connected to the state system was mandatory before water could be pumped out of rivers.

The New South Wales team employs satellite images, drones, remote-controlled watercraft and software that compares what’s growing on farms with their legal water allocation.

“To steal water, to make it economically viable, you have to take vast volumes and you have to store it. By virtue of that storage you make yourself open to satellite technology,” Barnes said. “Now you can’t hide it.”

CalMatters’ Rachel Becker contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.